Metroidvanias aren’t in short supply – even Nintendo themselves brought back the mighty Metroid last year – so it’s definitely a lot harder to stand out from the crowd in the genre.
Luckily, Islets does – and how. Set on an island that’s been ripped apart and scattered to pieces – you play as a young mouse warrior named Iko. Equipped with a bow, sword and flying ship you travel through the land to put the island and its inhabitants back together again.
Islets wastes no time throwing you into the thick of it. You’re given a brief explanation of the controls then thrown into finding your own way around and exploring the environments.
Controlling Iko is tight and responsive and we soon found ourselves flying through levels in no time, especially after a few upgrades. If the default controls are not to your liking, you can helpfully customise your button layout.
As you explore further, you open up the ability to use your flying ship. This is how Iko travels from island to island, and introduce you to the Sky City. The Sky City acts as the hub world where you can spend upgrades on your ship, read mail from fellow travellers and even use your resources gathered to ask for hints.
You will meet plenty of other travellers on your way, some looking to reconnect the islands like Iko, others just residents of a certain island. Some are just a bit more mischievous and have to be treated with caution.
Meeting these range of interesting characters is a huge plus – adding a much needed level of human (animal?) connection into your journey. At the start of the game it can feel a rather lonely experience – but once you start connecting the islands together things really take off.
Each item you use starts off being fairly basic – the ship doesn’t even have a weapon for instance – but once you explore and find upgrades you’ll soon bring them to their full potential. Along with upgrades to your equipment Iko improves throughout your journey too – and just like any other Metroidvania this grants him access to paths he wouldn’t have had able to get to before.
Boss fights are scattered over the islands and are quite frankly brilliant. Everytime you stumble across a boss in the game you get a huge buzz.
Every boss is inventive and provides a different challenge to the last. Bosses in the sky are equally rewarding, even when your ship is weaponless – as you are then forced to think on your feet and find inventive ways to defeat them.
The hand drawn visuals are also hugely charming and lend a grander scale to the world. Each new island connects seamlessly to the next with every one absolutely gorgeous. Sound design is also a plus, although we did find character voices a tad annoying. There’s no voice acting, but the voice overlays became a tad grating.
There’s plenty of backtracking – which can be frustrating – there are save points and teleportation points but as the island expands these start to feel further and further apart. With teleportation points not labelled on the map, you can find yourself wandering around for ages looking for the next point – not ideal. A few extra spots and some clearer guidance on the map would have been very welcome.
Islets is a fairly challenging game too, although we never found it to be unfair – even on the easiest setting it can provide a stiff challenge and will leave inexperienced players dying often. Which can be frustrating if you’re thrown back miles to a save point.
Overall Islets is a brilliant take on the Metroidvania genre though. The fast paced gameplay, brilliant boss battles, and interesting characters, all add up to it being a beautiful and unique take on the genre.