Yoku's Island Express Reviews

Titanium Dragon
Titanium Dragon
TSA Score for this game: 474
Posted on 14 January 19 at 04:59
This review has 2 positive votes and 0 negative votes. Please log in to vote.
Yoku’s Island Express is an open-world 2D Metroidvania Pinball game.

Yes, really.

I have played a couple of creative pinball games in recent years, but this is by far the best of them. Yoku’s Island Express makes use of pinball mechanics to navigate a large 2D island environment, collecting various upgrades that allow you to progress to new areas without fundamentally upsetting the core pinball nature of the game.

The main character of the game is Yoku, a dung beetle who has been appointed as the postmaster of Mokumana Island. Rather than rolling around a ball of dung, however, Yoku rolls around a large, smooth round stone which doubles as a pinball. Yoku can roll the ball around on relatively flat ground, allowing them to move around the island between puzzles and engage in other navigation. Yoku has no ability to jump and cannot go up steep inclines, requiring you to find other means – the numerous paddles distributed around the world – to make your way around.

This allows the game to be more than a bunch of pinball tables, instead interspersing with other forms of environmental navigation. While paddles appear quite heavily in the game, many springboards also appear, launching the player through the air. Acquired abilities like swinging off of flowers, diving underwater, and sucking up explosive slugs serve to allow the player to access new areas, as well as mixing up the core pinball game with some other pinball-esque environmental navigation.

All of this allows the game to include the secrets and exploration that is key to Metroidvania games, while simultaneously mixing up the gameplay and keeping it fresh and allowing the player to navigate the island and access what amounts to a bunch of environmental pinball tables. The variety here is reasonable – the game not only has a bunch of traditional pinball, but also has sections where the player must play with what amounts to multiple pinballs at the same time. The game even features (fairly simple) boss fights in the form of pinball tables!

The game is also quite aesthetically pleasing. The whole island is very vibrantly colored, and the 2D hand-drawn art here is quite excellent. While the characters are mostly fairly limited in their animation, they still are fun to look at, and there’s a nice variety of environments, from a dark and dreary underground to vibrant tropical beaches to overcast rainforest to snowy mountain peaks.

Yoku’s Island Express is unapologetically a family game, suitable for people of all ages, so long as they don’t find pinball too frustrating. The animal characters in the game are mostly very cutesy, but they aren’t excessively so – they’re basically the sorts of things you’d expect in a family game, generally being fairly one-dimensional, but doing their job in populating the world and giving the player hints in where to go and a small number of quests to do. There’s only a relatively small amount of cartoonish violence, and on the whole, this is a broadly acceptable game. The humor in it is fairly light, and while it never made me laugh out loud, I found myself enjoying the game for what it was.

Following on the idea of broad accessibility, there’s no way to die in this game. Where there is a drain for your ball to fall into in a number of puzzles, the penalty is at worst only a few fruit, the game’s currency that you end up with far too much of anyway, and which can easily be made up for; the player will then quickly be put back into play to continue trying to solve the physics puzzle. Thus, the challenge is not in running out of lives or anything so mundane, but in simply completing the pinball puzzles, which are of a reasonable level of difficulty – not excessive, but not so easy that it feels facile. These are definitely not the hardest pinball tables of all time, but for someone like me who only periodically plays pinball, it was fairly easy but difficult enough that I felt like I was modestly challenged by a number of the puzzles.

Yoku’s Island Express knows what it wants to be, and also knows that it only has so many tricks to show the player. Thus, the game only clocks in around 6-8 hours to beat, and perhaps 10-12 if the player wants to get everything. I felt like the game was the appropriate length; while I enjoyed my time with it, I’m not sure how much more of it I would have actually enjoyed.

And while the secrets are harder to get that just completing the game, on the whole, it isn’t too frustrating. The game includes some in-game hints, such as maps that can be purchased to show the locations of missed unlockables on the map, which helps serve to allow the player to collect everything by the end, so the player hopefully won’t be wandering around blind – but I missed one of these maps when I played through, and only figured out how to get to it at the very end of the game. There’s a couple of tricks that the game never explicitly tells you, but that also allows you feel kind of smart for figuring them out; these tricks aren’t critical to completing the game, but are the only way to get some of the secrets.

The only real hitch was a bug I encountered a couple times towards the end of the game where the game stopped registering that my controller was plugged into my computer; while restarting my computer fixed the issue, it was a little bit annoying.

This is a game I’d recommend, especially to people who enjoy pinball mechanically but who feel like playing the same tables over and over again gets repetitive. The game makes use of pinball mechanics in a very novel way, and as a whole it was a pleasure to experience this game. There’s no grand story here, just a fairly simple and satisfying gameplay experience.
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