Yoku’s Island Express is immediately intriguing. An unlikely merger between two highly polar genres – Metroidvania and pinball – is executed quite well, and beautiful hand-drawn art along with a mesmerizing soundtrack makes for a refreshing and engaging game.
The game has quite an interesting premise. You play as Yoku, a dung beetle who is slated to take over as the lone postal worker on Mokumana Island. However, Yoku arrives to find the island in disarray as its governing deity has been trapped in an uneasy sleep. With keen exploration and pinball paddles scattered throughout the island, Yoku must travel throughout the island to reunite its three village leaders in order to save the deity.
The ensuing narrative is not anything worth mentioning. Yoku’s Island Express instead exudes charm in just about every other way possible. The hand-drawn environments are varied and are an absolute treat to behold. The sound design is top-notch, with music that stayed in my head for days after completion. NPCs are funny and bursting with bubbly personality. The developers being Yoku’s Island Express have lovingly crafted a living and breathing world in Mokumana Island.
Once Yoku’s adventure begins, a combination of pinball mechanics and open-world exploration await. This is not an action-packed pinball table full of whirring sounds, blinking lights, and high scores. Rather, paddles are naturally interwoven into the environment and enable simple platforming. Yoku’s gameplay is arranged so that it essentially plays itself – hitting most bumpers will bounce Yoku along a predetermined path. Aside from exploring the correct areas, the most that the player ever has to do is navigate the occasionally tricky mini pinball table. Another fairly frequent job for the player is to ensure that they have collected enough fruit (fruits are found all over the game world) to activate bumpers in order to advance through the game and unlock secret areas. Some interactive mechanics are introduced through the game – such as the ability to latch onto and fling yourself from flowers suspended in midair – but largely, the gameplay comes down to exploring the right areas, collecting fruits, and flipping through some very simple pinball.
Within a few hours of exploration, the game is completed. The short length – about four to six hours, depending on how your exploration works out – is the game’s most notable flaw. There are some collectibles and quests to visit after the main game is complete, and the experience does feel complete, but the length still left a lot to be desired, especially considering the $20 price tag.
The rest of the adventure is not without other more minor shortcomings From a technical standpoint, there is occasional glitching and performance drops, though a release day patch promises to resolve several issues. In terms of gameplay shortcomings, a few times, the pinball got stuck on a small ledge and I had a very hard time freeing myself since the only movement controls are walking left and right and bumping left and right paddles. Aside from these small issues, however, Yoku’s Island Express is a joyous experience.
Yoku’s Island Express is a great game. Combining Metroidvania exploration with pinball gameplay was an interesting decision that paid off big time. Despite its short length, Yoku’s Island Express is still a complete adventure, one that is relaxing and an absolute pleasure to take in.
Anyone seeking a more laid back Metroidvania title with beautiful sights and sounds should play Yoku’s Island Express.
- Beautiful hand-drawn art and lovely music paired with charming characters
- Relaxing gameplay that still keeps the player engaged
- Plenty of sidequests and hidden objectives scattered throughout the island
- The fusion of Metroidvania and pinball works much better than one would anticipate
- The main story can be completed in just a few hours