I’ve been damn excited to get my hands on Trek To Yomi since it was first announced at the Devolver Digital Showcase last year. The black and white stylisation of a side-scrolling samurai game was everything I’d wanted coming off Ghost of Tsushima. After playing for around an hour, I’m happy to say my excitement has been well placed in Trek To Yomi, which is ticking all the boxes I want it to be.

If you watched the trailer for Trek To Yomi and thought, “damn, I love Akira Kurosawa films, this looks like that”, you’re correct. The inspiration of the classic Japanese filmmaker is all over Trek To Yomi, from cinematic presentation to the traditional narrative of a loyal lone samurai fighting against greater odds. 

Across the game’s first two chapters, I found a surprising amount of narrative flair and the ability to wander off the beaten path. The first level has you playing as a young Hiroki, who follows his master into battle to protect the village from invaders. This opening chapter sets up Hiroki as a loyal and brave warrior. It also introduces the player to the fast-paced combat system, and although it seemed easy at first, I quickly learned you could go down just as quick as your foes. 

There are three main attack patterns at the start of the game, although I did unlock a few different combos the more I played. Pressing X was a straight strike with the katana while holding up or down with the analogue stick at the same time would target the legs or upper torso. There’s a block button, and pressing it at the right time will parry your opponents’ attack. It seems basic, and at first, I thought it was a little too easy as I felled enemies with ease. But I quickly realised that the combat is primarily built around quick slashes of the blade and ending your opponents’ life in as little movement as possible. In action, this can make the game look easy, but playing it correctly, parrying your opponent into a two-slice death attack is all that’s needed to end most lives. Some enemies with armour did take more hits, which was fair, and in the one boss fight, I found out some enemies would survive more than a few slashes across the face. 

The boss fight was interesting because it took me a few attempts and showed the game has room for playing to your strengths or looking for weaknesses in an enemy’s tactics. At first, I had attempted to block most of the enemies’ attacks before getting in a couple of strikes myself, but this proved a long-winded approach, and one wrong move would see me struck several times and left for dead. I eventually tried a more aggressive approach, opening the fight with a running attack that performed a slow and easily interruptable heavy attack, but the boss didn’t stop me, and this took a massive chunk out of his health bar. Overall, the boss fight wasn’t the extremes offered by games like Sifu or Elden Ring released this year, but it did show there will be some challenging moments in Trek To Yomi

Talking about the challenge: one key question I’ve had about Trek To Yomi for ages now was just how hard the game would be and if there would be multiple difficulty levels. Well, I’m happy to confirm there are several difficulty options here, and you can change them up mid-level if you wish. I played on the “normal” equivalent titled ‘Bushido’, but there’s a difficulty level above that one, and another which I assume has to be unlocked by beating the game titled ‘Kensei.’

What will give you the upper hand in fights is exploring inside buildings and going down hidden paths if you find them. These rewarded me with upgrades to both my maximum stamina and maximum health. There’s no reason not to want to explore either as the game has a nice spread of checkpoints, so even if you ran into many enemies, you’re never going to have to replay too much. The most challenging section in what I played was the back end of the second chapter, which seemed to have checkpoints spread out further than before, but I ended up realising there was a gap in a wall I was walking past which I could squeeze into and find a checkpoint and an upgrade inside, which guaranteed I cleared the level. 

Trek To Yomi is shaping up to be a must-play game for 2022. I am an admitted sucker for its gorgeous black-and-white art style, however, and the cinematic flourishes are more or less buying my love at this point. Be that the way the camera moves to exciting points of view to give the game a movie-like feeling, or the burn-in and scratches that appear on-screen like to give Trek To Yomi a well-worn cinema-reel look, along with the letterbox aspect ratio. Combat can get tricky, especially when multiple opponents surround you, but I appreciate that this appears to be a game built upon mastering the basics. There are no flashy combos here or hectic dodge rolling around the screen. You face your opponent, and you’re either the better swordsman or not; it’s that simple. 

I was disappointed when my preview build came to an end, especially as we don’t have a final release date for Trek To Yomi yet; hopefully, we will soon, as I can’t wait to get back into the world, action and see what happens next with Hiroki.