Years in the making, Trek to Yomi is the vision of indie developer Leonard Menchiari, backed by Polish studio Flying Wild Hog and publisher Devolver Digital. Essentially a side-on slash 'em up, its hook is its spectacular aesthetic: feudal Japan and the samurai code recreated through cinematic camerawork in striking black and white. An homage to vintage Japanese films – most notably those of Akira Kurosawa – Trek to Yomi is a samurai story of revenge and redemption. It dives into the Shinto underworld of Yomi carrying some moral question marks to add a bit of intrigue.

The mood is set in an opening tutorial scene that sees protagonist Hiroki learning sword skills from his master. Suddenly, the master is called away on some serious business and Hiroki sets off in pursuit. What follows is a gorgeous, sweeping run of the camera through Hiroki’s village. Controlling in 3D, as you descend the towering steps from the dojo and follow the road directly down towards to bottom of the screen, the camera dollies backwards along the bustling main street of the village.

Our hero is joined in this scene by his master’s daughter Aiko, hurrying alongside him and daintily rattling down the steps in her geta and kimono as they exchange lines across bartering tradesmen and bickering locals. Light dapples through trees and banners flap in the breeze, lending an impressive reality to the world. We don’t use the word “cinematic” lightly here: the grandeur of this shot is utterly compelling.

Given the importance of the visuals in Trek to Yomi, however, the game does struggle on Nintendo’s rather mature portable system. There is light shimmering through the trees, but there is also an odd, accidental shimmer to the graphics as you run through this early shot, which stops when you stop moving. It breaks the illusion, unfortunately. Typical of many Switch ports in Unreal Engine, shadows are low-res and muddy. Dappled light through leaves sort of works, but it falls apart as more solid objects cast shapes on the scenery. Moving parts of scenes are also sparser than in other versions.

While we’ve focused on the opening shot here, it’s representative of the whole game – the visuals are critical to Trek to Yomi’s appeal, and they’re hampered on Switch to the extent that our imagination was pulled out of the game world, the often excellent mise en scène was obscured, and playability dropped while trying to control a tiny figure in a patch of darkness.

And when it comes to control, the gameplay is quite monotonous. The game is paced as if each fight is a cautious psychological showdown, but Hiroki’s attacks are no more subtle than a classic arcade brawler. The meat of any battle is dodging, parrying, and countering, but it’s usually as simple as waiting for a loudly cued attack, blocking, then executing a lethal slash or stab. The game defaults to the easiest difficulty, where at least fights need rarely be replayed. On harder settings, it stretched our patience.

At just a handful of hours, Trek to Yomi sadly still manages to outstay its welcome. It asks its visuals to carry the gameplay, but their novelty wears off before the final act. This is particularly true on Switch, where dropped resolution and simplified scenery steal some of the magic and ugly character close-ups blemish the overall aesthetic. As imaginatively as Yomi is realised, the game still feels like a trek.