Eagle Island Twist is two games in one. Eagle Island was released in 2019, on pretty much every platform other than an Xbox (what did we do to you, Eagle Island?). It’s a rogue-lite platformer, with plenty of procedural dungeons, tied together with an explorable world.
It was successful enough to warrant some free DLC in 2021, called ‘Eagle Island Twist’. Rather than double down on the same template, the DLC was effectively a new game that went for a more conventional approach. Forty-five levels were authored by the dev team (no procedural levels here), with collectibles and bosses strewn about them. It was tied in a bow with a Super Mario World-style map.
One of the benefits of getting Eagle Island so late is that we’re getting both games stapled together in one offering, creating a mahoosive package. There’s at least a dozen hours of gameplay here – more if you start chasing the various collectibles. As a package, it’s almost as generous as a Super Mario All Stars, and not as far as you’d think from their overall quality.
Suggesting one to start with is a coin-flip. Eagle Island Twist is doing what platformers have been doing for decades, so might be more familiar, while Eagle Island has a more modern structure but introduces you to the various power-ups one-by-one, rather than tossing them at you willy-nilly. It’s no biggie which one you go for.
We’ll opt to go chronological in terms of release, starting with Eagle Island. There’s a reasonably small hub world here, and you’re guided to Dr Ornis who’s trying to stop a giant eagle called Armaura from bird-napping the various totem birds of the island. You’ll mostly be following in Armaura’s slipstream, catching up with her as she captures the birds. All’s not lost, as the totem birds will leave a feather behind, and that feather will power up your partner for this trip, a little falcon called Koji.
The falcon is Eagle Island’s MVP. Not too dissimilar to the Yoshi games on Nintendo systems, you can halt the platforming to lob your eagle like a projectile. It’s a combination of clumsy and cruel at first: we kept accidentally chucking Koji into walls, and felt like we were going to get gang-tackled by the World Wildlife Fund. It doesn’t help that she does a little screech and flashes as if to say “I can wait, but I’ll gouge your eyes out later”.
It all becomes a little more second nature as the game progresses, and Eagle Island does some neat things with it. When you ‘throw’ Koji, you hover in mid-air, meaning you often attack by jumping at an enemy, hovering in front of them, and then giving them a Glasgow Kiss of the avian variety. If you hit them, you can also chain combos, staying in mid-air to aim at the next enemy. You get into a cool juggling state, and – depending on the difficulty mode you chose – it means extra hearts and power-ups showering down from those enemies as you do so.
It has its awkwardnesses that never quite molt away. If you miss an enemy, you’ve got a short one or two-second period where you’re completely vulnerable, and it makes some stages – particularly later ones – a pain. You’re double-punished for missing, and it feels harsh. You have to be exact, too. There are auto-aim options and power-ups that ‘home’ Koji towards enemies, but they’re band-aids on a mechanic that can, only occasionally, feel a bit too exact and limited.
In Eagle Island you will find procedural dungeons to raid, and they’re reasonably short affairs that culminate in a boss. Each time you play them, the difficulty ramps, and you’re graded on the various things it tracks, like coins gathered, combos, creatures killed, etc. There are crow-chests to open if you have the coins required, and these hand over power-ups, and you can socket four at a time. They’re a mixed bag of extremely useful and naff, but they really liven up a dungeon. You will grow to have favourites, and – while they rain down a little too often, slowing down a run as you switch between them – they’re a great addition.
Bosses aren’t anything to write home about: they’re so big that you’re often able to ‘juggle’ your hits, staying in the air and dispatching them quickly (this becomes less viable an approach as the difficulty increases). But defeat them and you get one of the totem feathers, and these layer new projectile effects on Koji. A fire-feather causes your falcon to explode at the end of its arc, while a light-feather chains enemies together, for example. These are transformative, but they’re also limited – you can only use them while you have crystals available. We loved using these effects, but the limited quantity of crystals meant we were switching back and forth between falcon-styles more than we would have liked. When coupled with the power-up-switching, the speed of Eagle Island can get lost.
As more random dungeons unlock, you reach a point in Eagle Island where feelings of grind appear. The levels aren’t quite interesting enough to support multiple runs. If you’re feeling the burn, we’d recommend switching over to Eagle Island Twist.
It’s on the B-side of this release that the better game lies, in our opinion. Eagle Island Twist is effectively a jukebox of different riffs on the Eagle Island formula. Rather than force you to earn different falcon effects, it gives you one or all of them, depending on the needs of the level. And the levels are creative, with a hook that makes them stand out from the rest.
On one level you might be plunged into darkness, but your owl (Eagle Island Twist switches it up to a different bird of prey) is carrying a lantern, so you’re chucking her into the darkness to light the way. Another might give you ever-stacking spring power-ups, meaning that you can reach previously inaccessible platforms by bouncing like a loon. Another has you riding on the back of a flying dragon, so your juggling becomes less of a thing. It’s a one-armed bandit of different gameplay ideas, and there’s a joy to seeing what level will emerge once the wheels stop.
With forty-five different levels to play, a medal given for your performance in each one, and a hidden green gem to find, there’s a lot of content here. It’s bemusingly generous, considering it was free DLC, and we’d reason that it’s better than the original game. It has its own problems – it feels like a series of skits without a story or progression system tying them all together – but it pushes at the edges of its toolkit to create some cracking experiences.
Around the frills, there are plenty of options. Four wildly different difficulty modes make Eagle Island fully calibrated to your skill level. There are more accessibility options than we’d expect from an indie title, and that should be celebrated. And some multiplayer party games, like falcon races and Smash Bros.-Lite brawling, are throwaway but welcome additions, particularly if you’ve got a whole family playing Eagle Island.
We will be honest, we didn’t know much about Eagle Island Twist, and we didn’t have high hopes for it either. 2D pixel platformers pass through our offices weekly, and they’re more often on the shonky side rather than swanky. But Eagle Island Twist nails most of its manoeuvres: it has a simple and unique mechanic, but does so much with it. Then it offers a huge playground with two games, dozens of levels, and lots of weirdo riffs on its own formula. In content terms, it’s the Orange Box of platforming (Bird Box?), and – aside from some gameplay quibbles – isn’t too far off the quality either.
You can buy Eagle Island Twist for £10.74 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S