Yoku’s Island Express Review

 

 
Overview
 

Genre: Pinball platforming adventure
 
Rating: G
 
Release Date: 29 May, 2018
 
Overall
 
 
 
 
 
4/5


User Rating
no ratings yet

 

Positives


- Unique blend of genres
- Engaging gameplay
- Vibrant 2D visuals
- Lots of content on offer

Negatives


- Lack of greater character development
- Backtracking can get tiresome


Posted June 19, 2018 by

 
Full Article
 
 

Platformer, pinball, adventure. You wouldn’t expect those three genres to be used in the same sentence, let alone the basis of a videogame. And yet, here we are with Yoku’s Island Express, an indie title from developer Villa Gorilla. The unique concept really makes the game stand out from the abundance of platformers that have appeared over the last few years, and it’s backed up by engaging gameplay and a genuinely interesting world. This is easily a contender for Indie Game of the Year.

Yoku’s Island Express centres around a dung beetle named Yoku, who has taken up the position of Postmaster on the fictional Mokumana Island. While reporting to his new boss, Yoku discovers that the island’s namesake deity, Mokumana, has been attacked by the mysterious God Slayer and has been put into a deep slumber. Yoku is tasked with alerting the island’s tribe leaders so that they can combine their powers and heal Mokumana. Despite the overarching story, it isn’t expanded upon too much throughout the adventure. You get more involved with the side quests the world has to offer – each leader has their own issues you must resolve, and there’s a whole cast of other characters who play a small role in Yoku’s journey. At times it does feel like there isn’t a lot of character development, but it has also allowed for the developers to focus on gameplay and level design.

As mentioned, the game has an interesting blend of genres. It’s primarily a 2D sidescrolling platformer, with Yoku wandering around the island collecting fruit which acts as in-game currency. Initially you are only able to walk left and right, but you will soon unlock the “noise maker”, which is used to reveal hidden objects and pop bubbles containing fruit and other items. You will also gain the ability to dive underwater and swing on purple flowers using a “sootling leash”. This would normally be standard flare for a platformer, but what really livens up the gameplay are the pinball mechanics.

Between areas you will come across pinball grids complete with flippers, but sadly no nudge feature. Because Yoku is a dung beetle, he rolls a ball which doubles as the physical pinball being shot around with poor Yoku trailing behind on a string. It’s here where you’re challenged with collecting purple gems to unlock doors and break obstacles using timed exploding slugs. Like real life pinball tables, the grids contain various switches and bumpers to activate which reward you with fruit. While the physics aren’t quite as accurate as simulators such as Pinball FX/Zen Pinball, they’re still on target and take into account the speed and geometry of the ball. It can at times get challenging as there are very specific angles you need to shoot the ball for it to travel down the desired path. I never got irritated by any of the pinball grids in the game, and felt like there was a good balance of trial and error. In terms of the amount of platforming versus pinball, you can expect Yoku’s Island Express to be geared slightly more towards the pinball segments. Once again though, there’s a really good balance and it’s an engaging gameplay experience.

The pinball mechanics also make their way into the main platforming areas. Here there are blue and yellow platforms which can be activated by pressing either flipper button, and they’ll push Yoku into the air to a higher platform or other point of interest. All that fruit you collect will also come in handy – many of these platforms are locked unless you spend your hard earned currency.

The island itself offers several areas to explore, including a forest, beaches, caves, hot springs, a snowy mountain range and small settlements. Throughout the story there is some backtracking involved which can get a little tiresome, but as you progress you’ll gain access to Beelines which let you travel across vast distances quickly. Don’t be so hasty though, the world is full of side quests and collectibles to uncover, warranting a second look at previously explored areas, especially once you have unlocked all of Yoku’s abilities.

As Yoku is a Postmaster, there are side quests that involve delivering mail to letterboxes scattered throughout the island and also personally delivering packages to customers. The latter proves to be a bit more challenging, as the customer may have moved address so you must investigate where their new home is, or in one case disguise yourself as a bee to gain access to a hive and meet a Queen Bee. Hidden throughout the island are also treasure chests that contain wallet expansions and baubles, which alter Yoku’s ball colour. There are 80 hidden Wickerlings, which are creatures that unlock a special end game bonus that this review will not spoil. There’s definitely a lot here that encourages exploration and should keep you occupied easily for 15 hours or more.

Yoku’s Island Express boasts vibrant 2D visuals and charming animations. If you stop and take a closer look, you’ll notice the grass and leaves around Yoku gently blowing in the wind, while clouds glide overhead and cast shadows upon the ground. It’s very gorgeous to behold and is further enhanced by the sounds of waterfalls crashing against rocks, birds tweeting and the wind blowing across the mountain tops. The music is typically island-themed, featuring flute and ukulele tunes which compliment the environments and helps set the mood.

With a unique and engaging blend of platforming, pinball and adventure genres, Yoku’s Island Express is an incredible effort by developer Villa Gorilla. There are plenty of side quests and hidden items, which are a joy to uncover as you pinball your way across the vibrant Mokumana Island. There are some standard platformer tropes here and there, some slightly tiresome backtracking and a story arc that lacks greater character development. But overall the execution is solid and should not be overlooked. Definitely a contender for Indie Game of the Year.


Joseph Rositano

 
While Joseph's main hobby has always centered around video games, he's also taken an interest in movies, musicals and traveling around the world. No one quite knows what Joseph's true motivations are, but rest assure he is always planning his next grand adventure!