Review: Yoku’s Island Express (Switch)


By Robert Marrujo. Posted 07/06/2018 09:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
Editor's Choice
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Innovative mix of pinball mechanics and Metroidvania gameplay; stellar presentation; puzzles and boss battles are smart
Poison Mushroom for...
Navigation can be confusing; map has no labels; sometimes tackling the pinball mechanics can mean getting stuck in certain areas for long stretches

Sometimes there are games that come along and surprise with just how unusual and innovative they are. Yoku’s Island Express is one of those games. Villa Gorilla is an indie developer that came up with the delectable idea of fusing Metroidvania gameplay with pinball mechanics, a combination that somehow goes together like tortilla chips and melted cheese. The pinball gameplay and exploratory elements of Yoku’s coalesce into a very unique and fun package that is not to be missed.

The game starts out with the nominal beetle hero being tasked with playing delivery boy. Yoku has freshly landed on the island of Mokumana ready to live the good life when the island deity is assailed and all sorts of craziness starts up. Yoku is the island’s only hope and he encounters a ton of platforming and puzzle challenges throughout his adventure. Yoku is definitely not a typical video game hero and I quickly warmed to the odd little beetle. He’s adorable and I couldn’t help but feel for him as he made his rounds on Mokumana. It can’t be easy spending an entire game getting whacked around constantly.

Conceptually it might be a bit difficult to envision how a game like Yoku’s even works. How can it be a platformer mixed with pinball? Well, the answer is more straightforward than one might suspect. The gameplay is all 2D. Yoku moves around tethered to a large sphere that acts as the pinball. When Yoku is pattering about the island, he can interact with NPCs and discover new areas to explore. The exploration itself, however, is mostly done via pinball mechanics. There are flippers, bumpers, and rails that all send Yoku to different heights and different areas. Littered throughout the environment are a variety of collectibles and hidden items that Yoku needs to gather, and utilizing a well-timed flip of a bumper to get Yoku to reach them is a real joy.

The game itself looks like it was painted onto the screen. The visuals are sumptuous, brought to life by a palette of rich colors and immersive, engrossing world design. Mokumana isn’t particularly large compared to the worlds in other Metroidvanias, but there is a lot to see as Yoku completes his journey. Different environments help spice things up and they all look wonderful. It’s also worth noting how great the sound design is here. Individual characters all have their own unique garbled speech sounds (think Animal Crossing or Banjo-Kazooie). Ambient noises like rain patter really sell a sense of place. The soundtrack, though, is perfectly fitted to the action on-screen and is quite memorable.

Anyone who’s played pinball in real life (or some of the excellent digital recreations available on Switch) knows how hard it can be to time and/or direct a shot a certain way, and Yoku’s is no exception. In that regard, it can sometimes be a tad frustrating trying to maneuver Yoku to a particular spot without making countless attempts to do so. Yet, practice does often make perfect, and as I mastered Yoku’s controls and became intimately familiar with its physics, this slight irritant became an afterthought.

What was more irksome wasn’t the physical motions of getting from place to place on the island, but rather knowing where to go. Like most Metroidvanias, Yoku’s is fairly non-linear. It’s easy to stumble across a variety of different passages and trails that lead to new secrets and so on, which is great. When trying to simply determine where to go in an effort to beat the game, that’s where things get dicey. The map isn’t the best, as nothing on it is labeled. Perhaps more frustrating, however, is that there are times when it’s possible to become sucked back into a segment of pinball that can’t be quickly completed. This can make backtracking, a staple of Metroidvanias, a slog.

Ultimately, these problems are small and don’t overly detract from the experience. There’s plenty of incentive to gain new abilities and come back to areas to discover new goodies. The puzzles and bosses are also perfectly challenging and fun. As has become tradition on Nintendo consoles, Yoku’s is an indie title that stands on level footing with some premium offerings in the eShop. Don’t let this one roll past you as you scroll through the different games on offer for Switch, as it’s a genuine delight.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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