by Matt Porter
previewed on PC
A Strange Adventure
Winning the award for the strangest mixture of gameplay styles at Gamescom this year is Yoku’s Island Express, a platformer with some Metroidvania elements. Oh, and it’s a pinball game. You play as Yoku, the island of Mokumana’s new postman, but you’ll be doing a lot more than delivering mail along the way.
Yoku is a dung beetle pushing around what could be dung, but looks more like a small, round rock. The start of the game sees Mokumana Island’s previous postman, a pterodactyl, or a posterodactyl if you will, getting the hell out of Dodge. This is clearly not going to be the easiest job in the world, and indeed, Yoku discovers that an ancient god is trapped in a sleep, and his nightmares are causing no end of troubles and disasters for the local residents.
This is a platforming game, although Yoku doesn’t jump. Instead, handily placed flippers propel Yoku’s rock through the air, and he trails behind, attached by a small rope. Progressing often means succeeding in pinball style areas, where you need to perform precise shots to get to where you need to go. Often there will be branching paths, allowing you to find hidden secrets and pick up more fruit, which will grant you new items when inserted into altars found scattered around the world. You’ll also unlock new abilities, which is where the Metroidvania backtracking style comes in. After a couple of short opening areas, the game branches out into a sort of open world. If you can’t progress down one route just yet, maybe you’ll unlock an ability later which will allow you to come back and get past.
The pinball mechanics are the main crux of the game though, and even in the early goings you have to be precise. A locked door to the next location might need you to collect a number of key fragments which can only be achieved by hitting specific “ramps” or being accurate with your shots. Sometimes a ramp might be the only route to escape, but mess up your shot and you might be regressing back to an earlier point rather than moving forward.
Years in the making
Yoku’s adventure will have him helping out the colorful cast of island locals, and uncovering the various mysteries of the island, the sleepy deity, and the fruit altars. Maybe you’ll even get to deliver some post too. It has taken four years from the original idea for Yoku’s Island Express to get to this point, and it’ll finally be ready for release next year.