What would you think if I told you to mix a pinball game with a Metroidvania-style game? Crazy, right? Now imagine if that type of game existed and worked really well. That’s the case with Yoku’s Island Express. When I first heard about a pinball/Metroidvania game, I was skeptical. However, after spending some time with Yoku’s Island Express, I can honestly say that I never realized how much platforming and pinball had in common.
In Yoku’s Island Express you play as Yoku, a happy dung beetle who is the newest postmaster of Mokumanu Island. Your job is to travel around the island delivering mail to the inhabitants and doing small odd jobs for them. Yoku carries around a circular ball with him at all times; this acts as your way to activate pinball flippers across the world. Like in pinball, your position on the flipper can greatly change the direction you go. Timing is everything, and with a press of a button, you’ll go shooting like a pinball across the world.
As I mentioned above, this game is a unique take on the Metroidvania genre. For those not familiar with that genre, a Metroidvania is a game in which players explore one single, cohesive world. The world opens up more and more when you collect new equipment and items scattered throughout the world. Metroidvania games are known for backtracking, meaning you’ll return to previously explored areas later in the game with new abilities that unlock new parts of the world. Yoku manages to take this wonderful genre and mix it well with pinball. One of the first upgrades I found in the game was a Slug Hoover, a grenade launcher that uses slugs you suck up as ammo. Use these slugs on purple rocks and a new path is unlocked for you. Yoku excels in this area. Each upgrade you receive is something fun and, like any good Metroidvania game, it makes you feel extremely happy to be able to solve an early in-game puzzle with this new upgrade.
It should also be mentioned how well this game looks and feels. Yoku’s Island Express is charming throughout the whole experience. From its wonderful art design, great music, and charming characters, Yoku is a game that wants to charm you. Even the dialogue among the island’s inhabitants is extremely well written, and there are a number of instances that easily made me laugh. It’s the design choices in Yoku that make this such a great game just to look at. Whether you’re playing this game on your large TV at home or on the go with your Switch, Yoku is a unique, stylish game throughout.
Here’s the thing with Metroidvania games. The exploration aspect of such games CAN be really satisfying when you figure out a puzzle or finally figure out how to progress forward through a level. Getting to that point can feel like a chore though, and Yoku is no exception. The idea is to grab a certain number of fruit to unlock a door to a mushroom, and that’s how you progress. The problem is that it’s not always fun getting the fruit. In a number of instances, I started to become annoyed because of the precise aiming needed to get through a certain path. At times it felt like I had Yoku lined up just right on the flipper, only to miss where I needed to go by fractions of an inch. While this didn’t ruin my experience with the game, it definitely made the fun, charming experience I was having grind to a halt at times. The thing with Yoku’s Island Express is that this doesn’t ruin the game. Sure, at times this slows things down greatly; however, Yoku is filled with so much charm, great design, and wonderful overall pinball mechanics that those parts are overlooked by the great game it is. With such a unique spin on the Metroidvania genre, Yoku is a game you absolutely must play. Who knew that all we needed was a game where pinball meets Metroidvania?
Developer: Villa Gorilla
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4, PC
Release Date: 29th May 2018