Yoku’s Island Express review14/09/2018
Yoku’s Island Express
I grew up, all those many years ago, playing classic 2D platformers like Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, & Sonic the Hedgehog. Of course over the years games evolved with more platformers becoming 3D and also my tastes changed a lot as I got older and I moved away from playing the genre to more action-packed and story-driven games. Last year at EGX I spotted Yoku’s Island Express on the Team 17 stand and was instantly drawn to it as it reminded me of my childhood gaming experiences. I never got a chance to play it at the event but made a mental note to check it out on release. 9 months later and around the 6 hours that it took for me to complete the game, I’m happy to report that Yoku’s Island Express is an absolute delight and has rekindled my long lost love for platformers.
If you’re looking for a traditional platformer, like the most recent Rayman releases, this isn’t it and thankfully it’s all the better for it. Yoku’s Island Express uniquely fuses traditional Metroidvania platforming with pinball mechanics to create a game that is not only fun but incredibly satisfying to play. It’s a breath of fresh air for the genre and an achievement at just how natural the pinball-platforming mechanics feel. It begs the question why hasn’t this been done sooner?
You play as Yoku the dung beetle that inadvertently gets washed up on the tropical isles of Mokumana. I can only imagine that Yoku was sick of his days rolling dung in Africa and decided to set sail on a new venture or was instead expelled from his community for preferring to roll a big silver ball about instead of traditional smelly dung. Anyway, on landing on Mokumana Island, Yoku is pretty much forced to take on the roll of a postmaster from the local pterodactyl, yes pterodactyl, who seemingly knows that trouble lies ahead and flies his ass off the island. This results in Yoku taking over his job to make deliveries across the island and in doing so meet a whole host of charming and bizarre creatures along the way that give him a whole host of different quests to do. These characters do talk in the gibberish dialect, similar to characters in games like Yooka-Laylee and Animal Crossing. This usually tends to really grind on me but for some reason, it suits this game perfectly and adds to its charm.
Mokumana Island is a vast open world which includes regular platforming exploration merged with confined intricate pinball areas that play like small pinball machines with all the ramps, rails and bumpers that you would expect to find. Unlike most platformers, you can’t jump at all and instead, all vertical movement is through activating pinball flippers and bumpers (controlled by the controller’s shoulder buttons) to bounce and roll Yoku into tracks and around obstacles to traverse the map. Eve outside of the dedicated pinball areas there’s plenty of little creatures to free, targets to hit and fruit to collect.
If your pinball skills aren’t up to scratch please don’t be put off by this game. The creative level design makes for a very satisfying experience that in some places can be a little tricky, mainly in timing the flippers to bounce Yoku in the right places, but it’s generally not a frustrating game. There are also no enemies to face as you travel across the island, however, there are a handful of rather excellent multi-ball boss battles, where the main challenge of the game lies.
The Metroidvania aspects of the game largely come in to play in completing the hefty number of side quests, hidden collectables and discovering secret areas which become more accessible once you gain new abilities such as being able to swim underwater and blow up boulders with the amusing exploding slug vacuum cleaner. This is aided by the adorable Beeline fast-travel system, which unfortunately doesn’t open up straight away and therefore means that there is a fair amount of backtracking through the island having to repeat some of the same pinball areas that you have already completed. This is a tad tedious and is my only negative for the game, however, there are plenty of shortcuts and when the fast travel system does become available it’s well worth the reward as it’s ridiculously adorable.
Another highlight is the beautiful vibrant and lush painterly artistic visuals of the game world. There are many environments ranging from dense jungles to frozen peaks and each is suitably detailed not only in the foreground but the background too making the island feel alive. The art direction is complemented by outstanding sound design and a musical score which matches perfectly with being on a tropical island. It’s all very cheery and catchy and you will no doubt find yourself whistling along to the tunes. It really adds to the already joyful personality of the game.
Hats off to Villa Gorilla for successfully combining two distinct genres to create an unlikely and innovative experience that is thoroughly enjoyable throughout. I haven’t had this much fun with a platformer for a very long time, it really is the complete package. With an entertaining cast of characters, light-hearted and fun story complimented by joyful art and sound design, Yoku’s Island Express is a game that will put a beaming smile on your face and deserves to be played.
You just got to keep rollin’ rollin’ rollin’ with Yoku in this unique and creative pinball platformer