May 29, 2018
'Charming' is a word used all too often when it comes to describing games of a certain ilk. I'm also acutely aware that I'm guilty as sin when it comes to busting out superlatives like 'endearing' and 'charming' to sum up a certain inviting appeal that something has. But dammit, Yoku's Island Express really is charming. A hand-painted adventure that boasts a similar, though not quite as stylish, aesthetic to Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends, Yoku's Island Express is also rather unique as an open-world platformer sort of crossed with Sonic Spinball. It's a 2D pinball platforming adventure. How many of those have you played?
Taking place across one gigantic, seamless open-world level, Yoku's Island Express sees the eponymous dung beetle becoming postmaster to the tropical paradise of Mokumana, which involves embarking upon an adventure that takes him across the whole length and breadth of the island. Tethered to a big marble, Yoku can roll around wherever he likes, using flippers and bumpers to ping around the environment, some regions of which adopt the convenient, natural formation of a pinball machine.
The result is an immensely enjoyable hybrid of platforming and pinball, with a few Metroidvania mechanics thrown in for good measure, like the Dive Fish that enables you to delve deep into water or climbing apparatus that can be used to swing from flowers. Throughout your journey, you'll collect pieces of fruit that act as currency for acquiring new gear (like a larger wallet for storing more fruit) or for gaining access to Mokumana's beeline network, enabling you to fast travel across the island and reach otherwise out-of-reach platforms.
Each island inhabitant has its own set of errands for you to run too, like locating pieces of a statue for Willo, planting mushroom spores for Rinn, aiding in a rocket ship launch for a bunch of space monks, scaling a treacherous mountain peak, or battling a giant spider. There's a wonderful variety of things to see and do, some of it easily missable side content, but all part of heading towards a 100% completion. The main narrative itself sees Yoku striving to heal and awaken the slumbering ancient island god, requiring you gather the chieftains of Mokumana's residents to perform a ritual and save the island.
Using the game's map, you can survey the entire island expanse, from its lush jungle floor to its snowy summit and perpetually rainy areas, and Mokumana is pretty darn big. There are waterlogged caves to explore too, hiding subterranean secrets, like little buried Wickerlings that once collected unlock a mystery at the heart of Yoku's sprawling island. There are 30 postboxes to stuff with mail too, late packages to deliver, and when you're doing the pinball bits, certain mechanics to wrap your head around, like activating and smashing rune gems to open gates to new areas switching on lights or hoovering up explosive slugs to smash dark crystals blocking your way.
Boasting traversal puzzles and pinball-based problems to solve, there are few games out there like Yoku's Island Express. A fantastic mash-up of ideas, Villa Gorilla's game will elicit smiles from beginning to end, with charming (there's that word) characters, a vibrant open world and smartly-designed environments. There's rather a lot to Yoku's Island Express, and it's more than the sum of its parts. In short, it's the best game starring a dung beetle you're ever likely to play.
Fun, jaunty tunes and gobbledegook chatter from a cast of colourful characters that'll make you smile. Lovely.
Wonderful hand-painted watercolour vistas reminiscent of Rayman Legends' gorgeous backdrops, with nicely animated characters to boot.
Rolling around Yoku's colourful island is good fun, while for the pinball bits, bumpers and flippers are colour coded (yellow for the right, blue for the left), so you don't get into a muddle. Things can occasionally get a little fiddly, but never to the point of frustration.
An extremely well put together game that lasts a good 4-5 hours or so, and even longer with collectibles, secrets and such.
Not a bad little list, rewarding completists who put the time in with a well-earned Platinum trophy.
A cool hybrid of platforming, puzzling and pinball, Yoku's Island Express is a bit of a one-off, and therefore well worth seeking out.