Trek to Yomi is a 2.5D sidescrolling action game that’s been fully submerged in a bucket of the liquefied filmography of Akira Kurosawa. Watch any trailer for this game and it’ll be immediately clear what Polish studio Flying Wild Hog, best known for their rebooting of the Shadow Warrior series, is going for. I was lucky enough to play a preview build of the game, which consisted of the first two chapters; about an hour’s worth of gameplay.
The narrative premise is a familiar one. You play as a young samurai lord, Hiroki, whose world is turned upside down when his village comes under attack by a murderous warlord and his gang. Based on the trailers Trek to Yomi will be dipping a toe into the supernatural, but this was only very lightly hinted at in what I played.
Beyond the extremely strong visual style, the graphics are actually super impressive. The camera doesn’t stay zoomed out, moving right in close for cutscenes, letting you see the detailed character faces and set dressing. Some parts of a level even feature a fixed camera angle ala Resident Evil (or a closer comparison being perhaps the Castle Town in Ocarina of Time). It’s clear after only a few minutes that Trek to Yomi is far more than an indie game with a stylish look, it feels high budget and polished.
The commitment to the aesthetic is admirable, there are little ‘cigarette burns’ that hover near a character or object you can interact with, and when reaching a checkpoint there’s an effect like you’re switching to a new reel of film.
Combat is fairly straightforward. You have light and heavy attacks, you can block and parry and, with the right timing, counter-attack. While there’s no visible XP bar, it does seem that your character levels up and learns new skills and combos as you defeat enemies and explore levels.
One concern I have is how deep the combat will be in the full game. It takes a moment to get used to, but once you get the counter-attacking down it makes most encounters a breeze. It remains to be seen whether Trek to Yomi will be a beautiful, cinematic sidescroller that just happens to have combat, or an easy to learn, difficult to master gauntlet with a distinct visual style. I can only hope that it succeeds at both.
There is a little bit of exploration throughout the two levels I played. This will usually take the form of one of two branching paths, one will continue the mission, the other will lead to a side room or alleyway or shrine that has a collectible or a short interaction with an NPC (friendly or otherwise). The way the camera frames these side areas makes finding them a treat in and of itself, it’s not often you can talk about cinematography in games but there’s really no better word to describe what I mean here.
Despite all this talk of style and cinematic beauty, Trek to Yomi’s opening levels are extremely grim. They’re both set in and around towns being raided by bandits so there are innocent farmers dying in the mud, families wailing in grief, severed heads on spikes, the whole kit and kaboodle. The violence is not overtly stylised and there are no over-the-top heroics from the protagonist (other than the fact he’s a lone swordsman killing all the bad guys). This tone obviously makes sense if the mission statement is Kurosawa: The Game, but I have to wonder whether all the horror will become tiresome if extended out over the course of the whole game.
Trek to Yomi makes a powerful first impression. I’m sold on the visuals and vibes but remain a little uncertain about how particular elements like the combat and overall tone of the narrative will play out in the final product. Publisher Devolver Digital has proven to be a good judge of quality when it comes to smaller titles like this, so I’m cautiously optimistic that Trek to Yomi will end up being a journey worth embarking on.