Yoku’s Island Express is a Metroidvania Pinball game that is as unique as it sounds. Play as a little beetle tethered to a ball twice his size who has just accepted a new job as a postman (postbug?) on the tropical island of Mokuma. However, Mokuma is in danger as the ancient island deity is trapped in a restless sleep. So it falls to you to gather the three chiefs and save the island… for some reason.
The gameplay in Yoku’s Island Express is smooth and intuitive, never overcomplicating itself or making things confusing. The little guy you control cannot jump, so it’s all about walking left or right and using the bumpers to traverse the island. As you collect fruit on your travels, you can use them to unlock bumpers, leading to new areas as you progress.
There are various upgrades (as you’d expect in a Metroidvania game) that allow for story progression and uncovering hidden areas. Due to the wackiness of Yoku’s Island Express, the game can break free from genre cliches by having unique upgrades like the Slug Vacuum and the Noisemaker. Any great Metroidvania game knows how to incorporate upgrades in order to make the experience more enjoyable, and Yoku’s Island Express is no exception. The upgrades start off minor, but they soon become elaborate and a whole lot of fun.
Boss fights are outstandingly clever with the perfect blend of puzzle solving, item management and difficulty that you’d expect from a regular Metroidvania, all rolled in with pinball mechanics.
A big worry you might have is having to backtrack if you fall, but worry not! Villa Gorilla were kind enough to put a “Restart from Checkpoint” option in the pause menu, which saves HEAPS of time. That being said, it does get rid of any progress you’ve made in any puzzle since last activating a checkpoint, so click wisely.
The map consists of the entire island, requiring you to get to certain locations by making your way through pinball sections. The map is clouded and you’ll clear it away as you proceed to new areas.
the dialogue is well-written and often endearing. You’ll sympathize for the characters, but never to a point where it takes away from the game’s upbeat tone. The dialogue is also quick and straight to the point, avoiding bloat and getting the player back to that crazy pinball fun.
The soundtrack is utterly enchanting, with a tropical Polynesian vibe that fits the mood perfectly and will absolutely get stuck in your head. Yoku’s Island Express is also BEAUTIFUL! The colorful hand-painted tropical theme is well captured and makes the game feel as magical as it plays. Colors and unlockables are easily distinguishable, whilst not making things too obvious.
Yoku’s Island Express makes it clear that the pinball sections are the most fun aspects of the game, but they did so at the expense of making walk speeds slow and tedious. In between exploration periods, walking up to NPCs and making your way around the world on foot can be a real chore, especially when Yoku needs to push a ball up a hill. However, the game can often be clever in how it gets you to traverse when you’re on the right track, which is a plus.
Whilst the pinball mechanic makes traversing the world fun, it certainly makes backtracking frustrating and confusing. Luckily, Villa Gorilla included the ability to fast-travel with the addition of the Beeline, a cannon-like system that shoots you from one to the other. This system doesn’t become available to the player until a few hours into the game. Also a small complaint, but there are some horrendous frame-rate dips when traveling on the Beeline, but it doesn’t cause any gameplay issues.
We found ourselves wanting to check a quest journal for context on side quests. The game merely uses markers on maps, which is helpful, but it doesn’t provide much if you are returning to a task. Also despite the map being incredibly detailed, a key to outline the various landmarks would have made for a simpler user experience.
All of these criticisms boil down to one thing: backtracking and collecting everything is a tedious chore that dampens the magic of the overall picture. It turns a unique traversal mechanic into a frustrating nightmare that feels like you’re playing on a needlessly complicated board of Snakes and Ladders.
And just as a final thought, the final boss fight seemed oddly timed and anticlimactic, despite the absolutely amazing music that didn’t seem to fit quite right.
Final Score 85%
Yoku’s Island express ticks nearly every box: gameplay, world design, soundtrack, art style and story, with some ticks feeling a bit more confident than others. Proceeding through the main story is an absolute blast and the gameplay is smooth and engaging. The soundtrack is incredible, encapsulating the moods in most instances, only feeling out of place once or twice. The main downfall to Yoku’s Island Express is in its completionist aspect, with some frustrating backtracking moments when going for that sweet 100%.
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