by Amber Hall
reviewed on PC
MECHANICS WITH A TWIST!
In Yoku's Island Express, you play as a bug who delivers mail across an island inhabited by a variety of different characters. It has visuals I'm a sucker for - everything is bright and colorful and filled to the brim with character. Each new area has different puzzles and mechanics to learn that keep things fresh and never fail to intrigue me. So it's a pretty great looking puzzle-platformer right? Nothing special. But did I mention that it's more like a metroidvania with pinball elements?
You heard right, pinball elements. The beetle character you play as rolls a ball around with him wherever he goes. Throughout the levels are various pinball-style puzzles and platforms. Some function to just propel the player through the environment, but others have the player solving puzzles and collecting key items while flinging your character around using pinball flippers. For me, pinball has never been a genre that I've enjoyed, but Yoku's Island Express implements the pinball gameplay in a way I've never seen before and I enjoyed it immensely. It can make for some exciting, fast-paced gameplay and the player's skill in pinball is more of a deciding factor than platforming when getting though areas. However, if you're bad at pinball or have a need to try and collect everything you can, like myself, this core aspect may slow you down and keep you in some parts for longer than you might expect. However, Yoku's Island Express doesn't toss you in the deep end, and I found that I gradually got better as the game went on.
A SLOW FAST TRAVEL
There are collectible fruits that act as a sort of currency to unlock new areas, but the really important collectibles are the metroidvania-like power ups. Each new item helps you tackle new obstacles and explore new areas that were previously inaccessible. This incentavizes going back and exploring older parts of the map anew to see what you can find. Sadly, the fast travel mechanic isn't terribly fast at all, so if there's a specific area you want to backtrack to, it's a little bit of a chore. I will say, however, that the map makes navigating the world easier than it might otherwise seem initially, since the game is filled with winding paths and pinball puzzles. Overall, getting new powers to explore new areas is super satisfying and the game's stunning visuals really make backtracking that much more enjoyable.
THE PERFECT PACKAGE
Yoku's Island Express gives me a sort of Rayman meets Ori and the Blind Forest vibe as far as visuals are concerned. It's mostly a bright game filled with unique yet friendly looking characters, but it can also get eerie and dark at times. There's not much danger to be found in Yoku's Island Express, but the aesthetic can shift and become quite unsettling when you get to the darker parts of the game. This is helped along by a great soundtrack and sound design as well. The music is always light but fits with whatever area you're going through and, usually, quite relaxing to listen to. There's also a strong sense of impact whenever you send your character flying into walls and obstacles as he makes rather cute and excited sounds. Every collectible and object you can interact with makes satisfying pops and jingles and it goes a long way to take the already great visuals of the game and make a perfect package of a game.
Yoku's Island Express is a game that's full of surprises and charm. It kept me on my toes with its unique mechanics and visuals, and I'm very happy that the pinball aspects never became taxing. If pinball isn't quite your thing but you love casual adventure or metroidvania games, I think you'll enjoy Yoku's Island Express immensely.
Fantastic visuals, expert sound design and music, pinball mechanics used in a surprising new way, amazingly adorable!
Slow "fast" travel