Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, keep that ball’a rollin.
It’s not often that you hear of a game that everyone that plays it loves. Even games like Hollow Knight and Undertale, which have wide critical acclaim still cause some division between fans that love them or think they’re over rated. Yoku’s Island Express seems to be one of those few exceptions, receiving both great review scores and admiration from players. So when I caught the game on sale for 40% off, I had to give it a try.
You play as Yoku, a dung beatle, on his first day of his new job as the island of Mokumana’s post man. For some strange reason, the post people on the island seem to be like super heroes, as Yoku is tasked with saving the island from a looming calamity.
The island’s deity is deeply wounded by a mysterious creature and Yoku has to gather up Mokumana’s chieftains to help heal the god and expel the evil doer.
However, along the way interesting and quirky characters will block your path, forcing you to think on the spot and take other options to round up the quarrelling chieftains. Time is of the essence though, as one more surprise attack on the deity could kill it! The story in Yoku’s Island Express (YIE) isn’t that vast or deep, it’s there to serve the purpose of sublimenting the game’s unusual but genius gameplay.
YIE mixes genres that really shouldn’t go together. Firstly, the game is a platformer with metroidvania mechanics sprinkled in. Yoku himself is attached to a ball that he has to push around from one side of the screen to the other. What’s interesting considering the game’s a platformer is that Yoku cannot jump. So to combat this, Swedish developers Villa Gorilla added in pinball bumpers to move Yoku around the map and unlock gates.
‘So you have a metroidvania mixed up with a pinball machine, it’s weird but it works extremely well!’
So you have a metroidvania mixed up with a pinball machine, it’s weird but it works extremely well! YIE has the perfect balance of the two genres. There’s enough of both to keep the games entertaining and move it along at a fluid pace. Honestly, the game isn’t that long, I beat it in about 5 hours but that time flew by as I was emerged in Mokumana’s beautiful world.
Exploration is a key part of YIE and the fact that you slowly unlock the map through items and unlocks is fantastic. I felt like the devs tease you all the time with giving you glimpses of areas you’re unable to access, making it all the more satisfying when you gain the item you need to unlock these areas. Furthermore, the characters add so much to the game’s world with their quirky, and at times, weird designs always making them interesting to talk to.I know there are plenty of terrible, free pinball games that may have scared some of you.
The pinball aspect of the game may be a turn off for some players. I know there are plenty of terrible, free pinball games that may have scared some of you. However, all of the pinball portions of YIE are great! Most of them are used to unlock gates, with things you need to hit with Yoku to open them. Each time I played one, I felt it lasted just long enough to be fun and never turned tedious. Plus, there are bumpers in the world to move Yoku around quickly and it was always satisfying to whack him around with them!
Art and Music
If you play YIE you have to play it on your TV, there is so much detail in the game’s world that you’ll miss playing on your handheld screen.
I can’t state how beautiful this game is. The art style looks like a moving painted picture, with bright colours making the world look organic and alive. There are different biomes within the world that look equally stunning and varied, only adding to the exploratory nature of the game and making you think ‘what’s that? I want to go over there’.
The music is calming and relaxing and a joy to listen to as you wonder around the world and bump into its characters, giving off a summery island theme.
Early on in the game I’d say it’s quite difficult to to gather fruits, which are the currency in the game. It’s annoying because you need them to unlock bumpers that give you access to new areas. Therefore, you might have to wonder around looking for fruit to get to new areas. Later in the game this isn’t a problem as the fruit becomes overly available, however early on it’s a pain.
Yoku’s Island Express on paper shouldn’t work.
Secondly, though the map is gorgeous its extremely hard to navigate around. This is because some lanes can be hidden on the map, so when you’re looking to get to a new area there may be no obvious sign from the map where you have to go. At times I felt a little like the guy from Always Sunny in Philadelphia, going crazy trying to connect all the points on the map with bits of string.
Finally, the map is extremely easy to fall off, especially when you’re trying to climb the mountain! Because the map is all interconnected and because fast travel doesn’t exist until the end of the game, if you fall of the map you’re pretty much taken back to the beginning of the game! This problem is solved later in the game with fast travel, but early on it frustratingly happened more than once with me!
Yoku’s Island Express on paper shouldn’t work. The mix of platformer, metroidvania and pinball mechanics sound like they shouldn’t fit together. However Villa Gorilla have managed to take all of these pieces and craft a great game, filling it with a wonderful, though simple story with interesting and quirky characters. Each aspect of the game’s mechanics are balanced perfectly, making the pacing of the game carry you through its 5 or 6 hours of gameplay.
There are some little annoyances in the game like the map being hard to navigate around and actually being able to fall off it. However, these are resolved by the end of the game. Yoku’s Island Express is a must for any indie game fan, it’s a unique game and well worth its asking price of $19.99, I’m just lucky I got it on sale.
Therefore, I give Yoku’s Island Express by Villa Gorilla my score of
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