Review: Yoku's Island Express
Posted 29 May 2018 at 13:17 by Dennis Tummers
Sometimes you start playing a game without any knowledge or context about said game. You go in blank, without any idea what to expect. It could be another mediocre indie game with retro graphics, or maybe a filler party game. And then, the game turns out to be the most charming, creative and original title you have played all year. This is how I experienced my first moments with Yoku’s Island Express, a game by the Swedish studio Villa Gorilla. And to jump to a conclusion early on, yes, the game keeps on delivering throughout.
In Yoku’s Island Express, you are the titular Yoku, a little beetle who washes up on the shores of Mokumana, an island which is in dire need of a new postmaster. Pretty soon you get the job, and apparently this function is about more than just delivering packages. Casually, you are asked to solve a pressing matter as the island’s patron is assaulted and hurt by the mysterious God Slayer. It is up to you to gather all the island’s chiefs to heal the creature and save the island from imminent destruction. All in a day’s work!
Is that a Rabbid hiding in that tree?
By now you will probably have recovered a bit from the shock of your job scope, and from admiring the game’s beautiful hand-drawn visuals. Because this game does look pretty. The island itself breathes atmosphere, and the various creatures and animals you encounter vary from cute to impressive, but all with a good sense of personality.
Being a small beetle on a big island, it would normally take a lot of time to navigate around such a vast area. Luckily, there is a faster way of movement: pinball! This is in fact one of the most unique aspects of this game. Basically you are playing a 2D platform/adventure game, but it is infused with pinball elements. The world is filled with blue and yellow pinball flippers, which you can work with the ZL and ZR buttons. Luck has it that our little Yoku is tied to a ball, making him the perfect target for all those flippers. Pretty soon you find yourself juggling little Yoku all over the island.
What are ya buyin'?
These pinball parts make up a big part of the game, as you need to play your way through a lot of areas that act like little pinball machines. These include bumpers, flippers, switches and spinners, like you would find in a “normal” pinball cabinet. You need to go through them to cross the island, to find upgrades or treasures and even boss battles take place in a pinball environment. Controls are tight and a bit more forgiving than in regular pinball games such as Pinball FX3 or Stern Pinball Arcade. Aiming the ball (in this case: Yoku) is easier than it is in the aforementioned titles.
The beauty is that all these pinball bits are well integrated in the island itself and do not feel like separate parts. The whole of Mokumana is one big pinball machine, but it does not feel like one. It just feels like a big island, filled with little secrets and areas to explore. Because exploration is a big part of the game. After you receive your main quest you are basically free to go wherever you want. Without going into too much detail, it usually takes a couple of smaller quests to tackle a part of the main quest. And while the island is an open area and you can go anywhere, you are limited in your abilities at first. For example, you can see a treasure chest underwater but you don’t have the ability to dive yet meaning you will have to come back later in the game.
It's not just Skyrim and Breath of the Wild which have snow-capped peaks.
This does lead to some backtracking, as you will have to revisit areas when you have added a new trick to Yoku’s portfolio. This never really becomes too much of a drag though, although sometimes it is a bit hard to see what route you have to take. There is a map, but it is zoomed out quite far, even in the close-up zoom. It also misses the option to place markers, which makes finding that particular spot again sometimes a bit difficult. Sometimes you feel that you are going in circles (or are in fact going in circles). What helps is that you can unlock a form of fast-travel to quicken up your navigation around the island.
On your quest you will traverse various areas, such as a jungle, desert and a snowy peak. These are not the most original settings (and it is curious how you can have so many microclimates on one island!), but they are presented in such a good way that it does not feel like you have seen it before. In addition the island is inhabited by a good variety of creatures. Some can sell you useful items (like an item showing you all the treasure chests in an area, a useful tool for the completionists amongst us!), some send you on a sidequest. You can complete the main quest in a couple of hours, but finding every secret in every nook and cranny of the island will take you a bit more time.
Is it a Pinball game? Is it a Platformer? Neither... it is BOTH! A true hybrid... fancy that.
All this exploring and playing pinball with live animals is done with an excellent and fitting soundtrack in the back. Sometimes laid-back, sometimes groovy and uptempo, it really adds to the experience. When the credits of the game roll you can see all the instrumentalists who made the music, meaning that the music is genuine, adding even more to the charm.
N-Europe Final Verdict
If you are looking for a fun game to play, look no further than Yoku's Pinball Express. It is charming, original, pretty and has a great soundtrack. The combination of platforming and pinball is fresh, and there is a beautiful island to explore. Even some minor issues such as backtracking cannot ruin the experience. This game gives you a lot for a very fair price.
Original mix of platforming and pinball
Gorgeous setting with dito graphics
Map could have been made more useful