Gaming editor Christopher Hall reviews Yoku’s Island Express where pinball, platforming and exploring are combined with pleasant results
‘Metriodvanias’ are one of the most common types of indie games out there in 2018. All you have to do go through something like steam and you will trip over at least half a dozen in no time and as a result of this the genre is crowded at least for now and unless your game is great, chances are it will get ignored (and, even then, if your game is great it might still get buried under). Being competent simply isn’t enough when there are many games that have out that are similar. Similarity also breeds contempt. So it’s refreshing to see when something like Yoku’s Island Express come along. It’s a pinball metriodvania and it actually works rather well. Two completely different genres that you would think will never work but Villa Gorilla has put in the work to make a very enjoyable, if short, game.
This game is about a dung beetle who comes to this island that has been cursed and the god of the island needs save it. He needs to be woken and they need your help to do this. You become a postman for the island delivering post many characters who have charm and are written pretty decently. Overall, the story is pretty forgettable, but it doesn’t harm the game either.
However, what is far more memorable are the pinball mechanics how they work in the game. The game has a decent amount of variety when it comes to collecting objects to open gates or collecting fruit. They add some some gimmicks that work well with the pinball aspect, such as the bomb slugs you suck up and need to get to some rocks on time so they blow up there. Fruit can be used to activate other flippers which open more sections of the world and more secrets as you get further through the game. Boss fights are far better than they have any right to be. While gimmicky, these pinball mechanics work well with it and they are quite unique boss fights with enough skill needed to be engaging even though they not hard. The controls are simple, intuitive and it also works well with the game.
As far as upgrades go you don’t get that many upgrades. You get upgrades that let go carry more fruit and you will need to carry more fruit for unlocking some of the flippers. You will eventually get the ability to suck up the bomb slugs you will need to blow up certain rocks to unlock paths and will also another ability to swing on certain flowers that will you need to go to other places.
The game sounds and looks very good with tunes that give off a friendly feel with gentle tunes which is exactly suits the game and art style is bright and colourful and really quite good. It also runs very solidly on Switch (which is where I played it) with very few noticeable frame rate drops.
There is one big criticism that plagues the game: backtracking can be very tedious at times. While there are places where there are hive cannons to get previous areas quicker, there are still problems due to a very unconventional way of moving through some parts via pinball and as a result the map isn’t as clear is where you go as it should be.
There other potential criticisms and it’s the fact that there isn’t a ton of depth in the pinball mechanics but it is also short and while you could have a criticism about the game being too short, the length is absolutely right for this type of game, so the other criticism isn’t a big one at all. It neither outstays its welcome neither it feels like you are short changed. If the game is any longer then the game starts to outstay its welcome so the length is spot on and the game doesn’t wear too thin to the point of not being enjoyable.
Yoku’s Island Express is an experiment and one that has worked out well for them. There are problems with this game but when a game tries to be this different, the problems are forgivable. If a sequel is ever going to happen with ironing out the problems and adding more depth the sequel could be very, very special but even if that never happens, we still got Yoku’s Island Express. A rock solid example of how to stay fresh in an crowded genre and it’s almost impossible to dislike, even if doesn’t quite reach the highs of the metroidvania genre.