With similar settings, influences, and mechanics — but a very different perspective — it’s easy to think the samurai movie-inspired side-scrolling hack & slash action game Trek To Yomi (Xbox Series X / S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, PC) is just a 2D version of the samurai movie-inspired hack & slash action game Ghost Of Tsushima. But while the similarities are undeniable (and, I suspect, more coincidental than intentional), the biggest one they share is how both games are bloody good fun.
Set during Japan’s Edo period (1603 – 1867),
Trek To Yomi casts you as a young samurai named Hiroki who seeks revenge against those who destroyed his village, a quest that eventually takes you on a mystical journey to a spiritual place. Hence why you’re running around, slicing and dicing anyone who dares come at you with a sword, spear, or bow & arrow. Just don’t forget that you also have a bow, some throwing knives, and later an ozutsu (a real-life shotgun like weapon that may remind you of the thing Kirk used against the Gorn in Star Trek), any of which can help when you’re surrounded by enemies and want to thin out the herd before they swarm you.
Though Trek To Yomi isn’t just about the killin’. Okay, yeah, it’s mostly about the killin’, but there is some exploring as well, though mostly to find different ways to the next fight, or to find arrows and knives to replace the ones you’ve used. Though there are also times when taking the less obvious path can be helpful. Like when, instead of running up the stairs and confronting the two guys talking on a walkway, you instead go underneath it, cut the support beam out from under them, and watch as they drop to their deaths.
It’s this kind of cleverness that makes Trek To Yomi so engaging. Had this just been you running to the right and button mashing to beat down an endless stream of bad guys, it would’ve gotten old rather quick. But you not only run to the left as well, but you also go up and down, and towards the camera as well, while the aforementioned bad guys are just as varied in their choice of weapons and willingness to attack solo or en masse.
Trek To Yomi also offers optional objectives. You might, for instance, run into a guy who tells you there’s a bandit in their house, giving you the choice of facing the intruder or running away as the home owner calls you a coward. And while yeah, it’s not much of a choice — we all know you’re going to do the right thing — you might think twice if you’re health is low and you don’t know when you’ll next be able to restore it.
the combat is also nicely varied, and not just in how you also have the aforementioned bow, throwing knives, and Gorn gun. Or how you have this genre’s usual mix of multi-button combos, light and heavy attacks, dodging, finishing moves, and the ability to block and, if successful, land a counter-strike. By moving the right thumbstick, you can also choose to strike high or low. Granted, it’s something other games have done (though not always), but it still adds another option to the combat, one that’s especially handy when fighting bosses and guys in armor.
Just pace yourself; Trek To Yomi has a stamina meter, and while it replenishes quickly, you can run out of breath during those aforementioned tougher fights. Especially if you mistake this game for one where you can button mash your way to victory.
This is not the only way that Trek To Yomi doesn’t go easy on you. Though it’s not rogue-like or Demon Souls-esque — it does, after all, offer three accurately described difficult options: “Easy,” Medium,” and “Hard” — it does balance things out by having you save your game at shrines that also replenish your health. The kicker being they can only be used once.
Good thing you improve your health potential and stamina as you progress. Well, sort of. It’s not actually through progression that you improve your physicality; it’s by finding collectibles. Which is also how you learn new combat combos, though these are also learned by beating some of those aforementioned tougher bad guys.
It’s just too bad…
that this cleverness occasionally backfires. For instance, when you want to turn around to face someone who’s come up behind you, you have to hit a button. But while this adds another layer of challenge, it also adds a layer of awkwardness to an otherwise fluid game.
What’s worse, while you can also turn around by moving the right thumbstick — y’know, like you usually do in this kind of game — it doesn’t work right away, especially during combat. Which makes for even more awkward moments.
The cleverness conundrum also comes up with Trek To Yomi‘s otherwise impressive visuals. Taking cues from classic samurai movies, the game employs a sharp black & white color palette, a letterbox format, and a rather cinematic score. But it’s really in its use of light and shadow that Yomi‘s visuals shine, not just by giving it a cinematic feel, but also in how it helps set the mood. When your village is burning through the night, for instance, the flickering flames really make your home seem like it’s dying.
This also makes some rather interesting choices when it comes to the angle of the camera, doubly so when you get to the otherworldly realm.
Trek To Yomi‘s cleverness can sometimes work against it. Because it uses a stationary camera, and sometimes puts foreground objects between your character and the camera, it can occasionally be difficult to figure out where to go next. Granted, this is often used to hide secret areas, but it just as often makes it hard to find the right way to go. And that goes double when you come back to the game after taking a break to, I don’t know, watch a movie?
The black & white palette also causes problems with the subtitles, which you need to have on since the dialog is in Japanese. Because the text is white, and not given an opaque background, the subtitles are occasionally obscured when the image behind it is white or partially white as well.
Now, admittedly, much of what I’ve said about Trek To Yomi can also be said about Ghost Of Tsushima, especially if you play Tsushima in its optional “Kurosawa” mode, which turns the normally colorful game into stark black & white. They’re so similar, in fact, that I wouldn’t suggest playing them back-to-back any more than I’d suggest playing Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands and Borderlands 3 back-to-back, or Forza Motorsport 7 and Gran Turismo 7 back-to-back.
But a few months apart? Absolutely. Because as similar as they may be, they’re also very different. And not just in their perspective and where it takes you. No, it’s more because the biggest similarity between Trek To Yomi and Ghost Of Tsushima is how both are effortlessly engaging. And (ironically), unique. We haven’t had a lot of samurai games lately, and even fewer that were so cinematic in their approach and presentation, and as good as these two.
for those who haven’t yet played Ghost Of Tsushima, Trek To Yomi is even more unique. Sure, it’s not the first side-scrolling hack & slash game ever made. Or even released this year (Salt And Sacrifice is supposed to be good). But it is far more clever than ones that just try to recreate the feel of an ’80s game. Yomi, as I mentioned, has a cleverness to it, one as inspired as by the similar games that came before it as it is by some classic movies.