HIGH Getting that Bee suit
WTF I have a fish attached to my derriere
There are very few games that can get away with effervescent personality alone, but within minutes of playing Yoku’s Island Express I was absolutely in love with the summer vibe, bouncy music and bright color palette. At this point it had already earned my attention so the question then became – was there more to it than that?
The premise is that Yoku, the newly-appointed mail master of a small tropical island, is a dung beetle tethered to a ball. A mysterious attack on the island’s protector/creator puts all its inhabitants in danger, so as well as delivering the post, Yoku must unite the tribes of the island to save everyone.
Progress in the game aligns to something like Metroid. The map is dense with areas to explore and abilities to find that then unlock new areas and plenty of secrets hidden therein. The spin that Yoku takes on this formula is that every area is navigated using pinball mechanics.
Each section of the campaign is split up into mini-tables, and to proceed to the next section there are certain requirements and targets that must be hit. Additionally, there are secret objectives and extra targets that will generate the game’s currency of fruit. Fruit is used for unlocking other sections, and is the only thing that’s tracked in terms of penalties.
I was a little worried at first – a platformer/pinball hybrid was a hard sell as I’m bad at pinball, and the idea of having progress impeded by dropping off the board and dying a lot was daunting. To counter this, the developers, Villa Gorilla, have smartly chosen to have no fail state. Dropping off the bottom of any board costs fruit and Yoku is instantly dropped back on to each table. Challenge ramps up as progress is made, but it never felt unmanageable to a pinball newcomer like me.
Instead of constantly raising its bar, most of the hardest sections are locked behind sidequests and extra missions, all of which are entirely optional. As such, progress in the campaign feels mostly fluid, and there’s so little downtime between levels that Yoku’s never outstays its welcome.
The only time Yoku’s grates is when it comes to backtracking — a staple of the metroidvania genre. Because some of the pinball table/levels have multiple layers and peculiarities of design, it can be confusing when trying to figure out how to return to previous areas. Even though there are shortcuts everywhere, the direction they go isn’t always clear, and wrong turns can lead to annoying repeats of previously-completed sections.
The backtracking isn’t enough to dampen the vibe, though. Yoku’s Island Express is a cheery, bright, frictionless experience that adds much-needed twists to an established formula and despite my hesitance for pinball, it sold me on a kind of gameplay that I never knew I wanted.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Villa Gorilla/Sold Out and published by Team 17 It is currently available on Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XBO-X. Approximately 7 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10+ and contains Animated Blood, Crude Humor, Fantasy Violence. The game is extremely mild when it comes to violence – some of the monsters are creepy but it is unlikely to scare or intimidate anyone but the very young.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game is fully playable without sound. All story is delivered by text. Subtitles cannot be resized, and there is no choice of font colours.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. This game does not offer a controller map diagram, but movement is on the left stick. The triggers are used to control the flippers and trigger one ability, Y button opens the map, X button opens the inventory, the A button triggers certain special abilities.