Metroidvanias have really taken off in recent years, especially in the indie world, with titles like Hollow Knight and Ori and the Blind Forest receiving critical acclaim. Islets is a new game developed by Kyle Thompson that will seamlessly join that list of great indie metroidvanias. There’s a lot to enjoy in Islets, from its rickety airships to its brightly colored floating islands.
Islet’s gameplay is simple yet fun. Most of your combat will revolve around mashing the Y-button to have the playable mouse Iko attack with his sword. You’ll face various enemies throughout the floating islands of Islets, like spikey crabs to floating ghost-like creatures that shoot projectiles at you. There’s enough enemy variety to keep the combat engaging, even upon repeated runs after dying.
You can upgrade the sword throughout the game to deal more damage, but don’t expect to find other weapons throughout. Iko only has a sword, and a trusty bow, for combat. I would have liked some more weapons to use to be able to mix things up, but Islets‘s gameplay is fun nonetheless. Each time I died on an island I quickly wanted to jump back into the game, meaning the game was excelling at its job — sinking its hooks in me.
Islets is without a leveling system or skill tree; instead the game opts for a simpler upgrade system. Some upgrades include having enemies explode upon impact, sending a shockwave of damage out when Iko reaches low healthsy, and upgrading the amount of arrows Iko carries as well as the speed in which he can unleash them. Finding various hidden spots where upgrades are available, solving minor puzzles, or purchasing upgrades from vendors are your avenues to enhancing Iko.
The game doesn’t take place entirely in the levels of Islets‘s floating islands, however. There are also some boss fights in the airspace between those islands. Iko, in his rickety airship, goes against pirates in a fish-shaped ship in the first encounter. I died over 20 times (!) against this boss, and started to wonder if the game wasn’t for me. Thankfully the aerial gameplay isn’t a large component of the game and, once I stopped dying, I could quickly move on to exploring the next island.
The boss fights within the island levels I found to be much easier, and more enjoyable. You’ll have to time your attacks and dodge rolls just right to escape danger and get your licks in. Bosses also have phases of sorts as they sometimes change move sets and appearances as the fight progresses. I always love nice surprises in boss fights, and Islets delivers.
Platforming is another core tenant of gameplay. You’ll jump, dodge roll, and free fall your way through well-crafted levels, searching for upgrades, shrines (which act as checkpoints), and boss fights. I found the platforming to be fast-paced and easy to get the hang of (even if I died plenty of times missing my jumps). I sometimes found myself enjoying simply navigating the levels more than taking on enemies. Like in some From Software titles, I would sometimes chare past enemies when I grew frustrated racking up deaths and wanted to simply progress the level.
One of my favorite aspects of the platforming was Iko’s double jump animation. It’s a delight — he jumps once and nonchalantly spins around for the second jump wearing a blank expression. It made me laugh and contributed to the wholesome feel of the game.
There isn’t a ton of story to Islets. You play as Iko, an adventuring mouse who flies from floating island to floating island to reignite their magnetic cores and hopefully reunite them once more. It doesn’t get more complicated than that, but also doesn’t really need to. There’s some great worldbuilding present in Islets that make the game feel fleshed out, like the other adventurers you meet along the way, the various airships they fly, and the floating marketplace, of sorts, where you can fly vendor to vendor to purchase upgrades. One of my favorite NPCs was the shady tour guide you meet early one who is definitely not trying to lead Iko to his death, no siree.
What Islets lacks in intriguing story it makes up for in charm and personality. The game is described as a “surprisingly wholesome metroidvania” by the developer and it lives up to that billing. It’s just so damn cute. The world is bright and colorful, with soft blues and green dominating its palette. Even the “spooky” areas and enemies are still done in a non-frightening, and sometimes adorable, way. I loved the cartoon-y feel, and there’s a great animation-like look to the game. Islets‘s music also adds to its charm. The soundtrack is often relaxed and complements the exploration well, while the boss fight tracks ramp up the intensity.
The game runs really well, and I encountered no bugs, glitches, or framerate dips during my playthrough. I mostly played in the Switch’s handheld mode, and the game looked beautiful on the OLED screen. Islets is a game meant to be enjoyed while snuggled in bed, and I did exactly that.
While I recognize I may not have been the greatest Islets player (as evidenced by my death count, which I refuse to share here), I still had plenty of fun with the game and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of metroidvanias. It possesses a wholesome charm and easy to pick up and play, and at the very least will hold your attention during the wait for Hollow Knight: Silk Song.
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