We want to thank “Villa Gorilla” and “Team 17” for providing us a review copy of the game.
Have you ever wanted to play a Metroidvania -like a side-scroller, that controls like a game of pinball? Well, you’re in luck because Yoku’s island express is all that and more, beautifully presented in a way that will make you smile the moment you pick it up. But will you be smiling the entire way through?
This is What They Should Do, presenting my guest review for Source Gaming. And let’s delve right into this incredible experience of a game.
The story of Yoku’s island express is a relatively simple one. You play as Yoku the dung-beetle, and he’s been appointed as the new postmaster for the island of Mokumana. However, you’ll soon learn that something mysterious has recently been happening. The island is in trouble, and Yoku soon finds out that he’ll need to help the island dwellers, in more ways than just delivering their mail.
The gameplay of Yoku’s Island express is primarily focused around one main mechanic: pinball.
As a dung-Beetle, Yoku is happily rolling around a ball throughout his journey. You control Yoku by moving left or right, and occasionally pressing “A” to interact with characters and objects.
But the real fun is whenever you come across a Flipper or bumper. It’s at that point where you can control these bumpers to interact with Yoku’s ball and have it bounce and fly around the screen, dragging Yoku along in the process. And it feels as if it were taken right out of a classic pinball cabinet.
Simply press the Shoulder buttons to control the flippers. Orange for right trigger, blue and left. The flippers control really well, feeling fast and responsive. Some flippers can send Yoku careening at top-speeds, and some smaller bumpers are used to reach higher ledges. These smaller ones are used in place of a conventional jump button. Yuko himself can only move left and right.
You will immediately understand the mechanics and gameplay style after just the first few minutes of play. It’s at this point that you’ll likely make up your mind about whether you’re a fan of the pinball-style gameplay and you find it unique and compelling, or maybe it’s not quite your cup of tea and you find the pinballs segments… frustrating.
And that’s the word I hear many people throw around regarding Yoku’s island express. It’s not a bad game by any means, but at times it can definitely feel frustrating.
You see, because Yoku’s island express is designed to be played like a Metroid-Vania, that means a lot of backtracking throughout the world map. Backtracking in and of itself is fine, and in fact, it can be exciting to revisit older locations and discover new paths you can take once you unlock a new ability or item that you’ve picked up in your adventure.
However, getting to the old local can feel “dragged-out” by having to replay certain pinball segments. This is really not too big of an issue because the game makes it relatively obvious for you where you need to go to continue the main plot. And thanks to the beautifully draw world-map, you shouldn’t really feel lost at any point.
Especially once you get past a certain part of the story and unlock the game’s fast-travel mechanic, the bee-line. This is when the game really starts picking up. The bee-line makes re-visiting older locals a breeze, and the dotted path it displays on the map makes navigating the island 100% easier.
Although you unlock it relatively early on, part of me wishes that it was unlocked even earlier. There’s one particular segment that’s a vertical “climb” to Mokumana village, the initial journey up can be exhilarating, but at the same time it felt like a pinball version of “getting over it”.
You see, the pinball mechanic is very easy to grasp. It’s extremely easy to understand what you need to do in order to beat certain levels. And you’ll usually know how to do it. i.e.: what flipper to press and when. The real challenge is in the execution.
For me personally, I loved pinball as a kid. Well, I always enjoyed it but was never especially good at it. I was no pinball-wizard by any account. So, for me, the gameplay of Yoku’s island express was most of the time engrossing and fun, but at the same time frustrating. I feel like with pinball, most players feel either like they’re “in the groove and nothing can stop you” or “it’s just not your day, maybe try again tomorrow”. Either it’s a walk-in-the-park or it’s incredibly frustrating.
But, Here’s the reason why Yoku’s island express can make this Pinball Playstyle dichotomy work: it’s just so darn charming. Even during those times when your pinball game is just off, Yoku’s island express will definitely feel frustrating, but never rage inducing.
Let’s go through the motions. You keep missing your shot and you’ve been stuck on the same pinball segment for the past 10 minutes. You feel your anger creeping up about to explode… but then you take a breath and look at what’s happing onscreen.
You’re controlling a cute little dung beetle who either happily rolling his ball or being yanked around by the momentum of the said ball. No matter what dangerous events may be happening, no matter how many times He’s been slammed against the walls, bumpers, and loop-de-loops… Yoku just keeps smiling.
The world and atmosphere of Yoku’s island express in and of itself are what brings you back to that feeling of “simple, light-hearted, FUN” even if you’ve been stuck on the same pinball segment forever.
At the end of the day, pinball is just a game of Patience. And Yoku’s island express never has any feeling of pressure. There’s no time limit and every segment is rewarding you with fruit, even when replaying tables that you might have just stumbled into accidentally.
The game also doesn’t have a real scope of difficulty, because you can never truly die. If you land in the gutter, you just lose some of your fruit. No real punishment, just a minor setback.
Going back to the fruit that I was mentioning, fruit that you collect is this game’s currency. You’ll need to spend it often to unlock new bumpers and panels while exploring the map. These are to get to new locations and thus, continue with the story. But don’t worry, you come across fruit fairly regularly, and I never really felt the need “grind” any older segments in order to collect more fruit. One tip though: Get those wallet expansions whenever you can, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll reach the max amount of fruit that Yoku can hold.
As you can tell, Yoku’s island express is gorgeous. The beautiful art-style is bursting with color at every step of your journey. That art mixed with the feel-good nature of the game as a whole makes for something really special.
Every character you come across on the island seems unique, both in the way they look and sound, but also in their own motives and tasks they ask Yuko’s help with. Although most of the characters don’t serve a bigger purpose than directing you to the next location, they are all charming and likable. These island dwellers really make the world feel alive.
Which leads me to the music. By far one of the best aspects of Yoku’s island express. Just listen to those tunes! The music in this game feels soothing yet catchy, with a very “Polynesian island” style, it only helps engross you more and more into the world the developers created.
On top of that, all the added sound effects during the pinball segments really make you feel like your playing on a classic cabinet. Plus, I will never tire of hearing Yoku’s squeals of excitement whenever he gets launched far distances.
Yoku’s island express is not necessarily a game that everyone will enjoy the entire way through, but it’s definitely a game that everybody should try. It is such a unique and creative concept of mixing the exploration of a Metroid-Vania with the movement and play-style of pinball! And that concept alone should be enough to grab your attention. And hopefully, the charming visuals, music and overall atmosphere will keep you in for the long haul.
Yes, at times going through certain segments can feel frustrating, especially when returning to previously explored sections. As a matter of fact, most people say this game is about a 6-hour adventure. However, it took me personally much longer because I wanted to return and explore every nook and cranny for any secrets I might have missed. Let that be a testament to how engaging the game is as a Metroid-Vania. But I guess I’m just not too good at pinball because I did find myself stuck in a few sections for far longer than I would have liked.
Regardless of that, I don’t blame the developers for that. And although I found some parts frustrating, I still loved almost every moment of Yoku’s island express. And I highly recommend that you try it out for yourself.
Yoku’s island express earns a solid 4/5.
This review was written and produced by “What They Should Do”