I love a good Metroidvania, and I love how indies have taken the genre and ran with it. We’ve all heard of the greats, like Hollow Knight and Blasphemous, but there are also some smaller, more niche titles that I feel don’t get enough attention for how good they are. A recent game that I’ve come to love is Islets. This hand-drawn Metroidvania by Kyle and Eric Thompson contains a focus on exploration, combat, and atmosphere. It’s cute, unique, and fun.
Islets takes place in a world of floating islands and airships, populated with various sapient animals. In an age past, five islands merged and created a paradise where the animals prospered. To keep these islands from drifting apart in the future, a magnetic core was constructed on each island ensuring they would stay connected. However, as years passed, these cores fell into disrepair, and the islands separated.
You play as Iko, a mouse, one of many warriors who have made it their goal to seek out these islands, reactivate the cores, and restore this paradise. Along the way you’ll meet a lovable cast of fellow warriors who are also seeking fame and glory by saving villages and slaying beasts. I won’t spoil the narrative or the characters, as it’s a huge joy discovering them for yourself, but I will say I was grinning ear-to-ear for the entire game.
Now, as I mentioned before, Islets consists of hand-drawn art, in everything from the character sprites to the background art. The characters are adorable, drawn with a very cartoonish style, while the backgrounds are beautiful. Each of the game’s various islands contain several biomes. which all look unique from each other and have their own mechanics and enemies. For example, one early area has you utilizing floating grapple points to jump through the air, while another has you navigating through constantly moving mechanical platforms. You’re constantly being introduced to new ideas, which are all a great pleasure to engage with.
The music is pretty good, too. Eric Thompson’s OST provides a beautiful ambient backdrop perfectly complimenting the feel of each area. It’s a bit somber, never upbeat, so it may come off as unmemorable, but the more I listened to it the more I came around to it. Really, my only major complaint is that the boss music, while good, feels a bit out of tone with the rest of the game.
Of course, the most important thing about a Metroidvania for many people is the exploration aspect. How much fun is the world to traverse? What upgrades to you get to facilitate that? What puzzles lie in the world to keep you engaged? Well, I can say with certainty that Islets’ exploration is one of its best aspects. While your primary goal is to find the core on each island, there are plenty of optional collectables to find, from upgrade stickers that give you a selection of one of three random buffs, to hidden pots full of currency, to ship parts that will improve your own airship’s abilities. Some of these are in more obvious spots, and some are in more devious locations, but there’s enough information that tracking down every item for 100% is never frustrating.
What are your main collectables though? Well, you have your main ability upgrades which let you visit more areas. While I won’t spoil them, they admittedly aren’t the most interesting abilities, with one notable exception. However, what’s more exciting is finding the various cores on the islands. Finding two cores lets you combine two islands together, which opens up new shortcuts and areas. This is probably the most unique mechanic in the game, and it’s so satisfying quite literally rebuilding the world into one giant connected landmass.
Now, simply exploring can be fun, but having some enemies to fight can really help break up an otherwise dull adventure. I can confidently describe Islets’ combat system as “solid.” You have two offensive options: your sword and your bow. You can stab horizontally or above you, which is typically your most damaging attack. As you find new abilities, your sword options increase, allowing you to do even more damage, but requiring more skill to use. However, an auxiliary function of your sword is restoring arrows: for every hit on an enemy, you gain one unit of ammo for your bow. Your bow doesn’t do a ton of damage, but it has a very high rate of fire and homes in on your target, meaning that as long as you have ammo your DPS is actually greater with your bow than your sword. You also have a dodge roll, allowing you to cross distance quickly as well as have invulnerability through attacks. This is an essential ability to learn, especially for later bosses.
Unfortunately, while this is all very fun for the most part, it doesn’t quite feel as good as it should be. The most annoying mechanic is the lag after slashing with your sword which prevents you from executing a dodge roll right away. In some of the later bosses it becomes pretty essential to attack and then immediately dodge, and I feel the game makes it more awkward to do this than it needs to be. I’m also not a fan of the fact that there’s no way to heal between checkpoints, which made me feel like I had to go out of my way to return to one more times than I wanted to. Finally, this is more of a personal gripe, but the game’s combat feels way too simplistic. If you’re used to more complex games like Hollow Knight, I’d actually recommend turning the difficulty up to hard which makes enemy and boss AI more complex.
Speaking of bosses, they’re fun! There’s a wide variety, and each one requires you to learn and respond to patterns. No attack is unavoidable. While you’ll probably die a few times to each of them, a generous save system ensures that you can retry them very quickly, and they never felt unfair.
Islets may very well be my game of the year. While it’s far from perfect, its flaws are relatively minor, and I absolutely loved it and recommend this game to anyone looking for a new Metroidvania to play.
Now before I sign off–wait, did Andy steal my topic? The nerve, and after I was the one to introduce him to it! Ah, oh well, can’t be angry at a fellow Team Omega Metroid for long. If Islets sounds interesting, and you want to hear more about it, how about you check out the Omega Podcast episode on Islets by Andy and Daniel?
So, does Islets look like a game you’d be interested in playing? If you did play it, what did you think of it? Let us know in the comments below!
Islets is available on PC, Switch, and Xbox One and Series X.
Source: Armor Games Studios
GameWyrm (AKA GameWyrm97) is a Website Reporter for Omega Metroid. Probably binging a random YouTube series.