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Yoku’s Island Express

Posted by GG Goblin On June - 1 - 2018

Pinball platforming, with a dung beetle? Why not?

Yoku’s Island Express, the latest title from Team17 and developers Villa Gorilla, is nothing if not strange. It’s tricky to get your head around – an open world platforming adventure with a strong emphasis on pinball mechanics, and a main character who happens to be a dung beetle working as a postman. You can imagine the idea brewing from a long session at the local pub.

yoku1 (Copy)

Still, quite amazingly, it really works. Play begins with the titular Yoku, a dung beetle who is ever attached to a small, white ball (which hopefully isn’t dung), unceremoniously crashing onto the beach of Mokumana Island. The player can simply move Yoku left or right, and eventually comes across the Pterodactyl postmaster who is quick to pass his duties on to Yoku. It seems that something is going wrong on the island and the Pterodactyl is in a hurry to leave.

From there, the player is given a massive island to explore as they wish, all the while fulfilling their duties as a postman, and rolling their little white ball along with them. Well, I say rolling, but as the ball is attached, it is more like dragging most of the time. The ball has a purpose though, and more on that in a moment.

yoku2 (Copy)

Yoku can move left or right, and will come across all manner of little mini quests as he goes about his job and tries to work out what is happening to the island, and save it. These quests tend to involve going somewhere and getting something, and doing so will often open up a new route or area that was previously blocked. The locations that the player has to visit are marked on a map, but it is not a very helpful map. Anywhere the player has yet to visit will be clouded over, and as the routes around the island can be very winding and convoluted, the map realistically will only give the player a rough idea of which direction to head in.

Only being able to move left or right, with no option to jump, could be a problem. However, spread all across the island are little pinball style flippers in two different colours, that can be activated using the corresponding triggers. This is where the little ball comes in, as a pinball. Attached to Yoku, launching the pinball with one of these flippers will give him the ability to travel vertically and access all of the different areas. It is a mechanic that works incredible well.

However, there will be certain areas that are laid out more like a traditional pinball table, and getting past them will generally involve flipping little Yoku into the right places, which means using the pinball mechanic with some precision. For pinball fans, this will be second nature, but for those new to the finer points of pinball will find themselves struggling to hit the right spots. It can be very difficult, some of the tables require many different actions to open up routes, but it never feels too overwhelming.

yoku3 (Copy)

While heading around the island, players will gather fruit that can be used to unlock new flippers to access yet more areas. The number of fruit that the player can carry can be upgraded as they progress, and the flippers in new areas will go up in fruit cost to unlock. Players will find themselves trekking back and forward around the island, often revisiting past areas, which can be a little frustrating when having to deal with past pinball table areas. There is a fast travel method unlocked later in the game, but it is quite limited.

As is often the way, Yoku will unlock new abilities as he explores the island, which can again be used to unlock new areas or reward the player in other ways. From blowing his little party tooter, to sucking up slug creatures or diving into deep water, there is always something new to discover and learn how to use. It is very rewarding to play, as the progression feels natural and although the map may make it difficult to fix a specific destination, heading in the general direction will always lead to something new.

Visually, the game is very pretty. The backdrops feel almost painted, and the bizarre cast of characters found throughout the island are nicely detailed and have an other-worldly feel. The sound is equally impressive, with some catchy, relaxing tunes running in the background, while suitable sound effects bring the action to life. Yoku’s Island Express is a very highly polished game.

yoku4 (Copy)

It may sound strange, combining open world platforming with pinball. But Yoku’s Island Express really works. Any frustrations from the more precise pinballing sections are calmed by the overall cuteness and sense of fun in the game. The map could be better, given the winding nature of the island, but simple exploration will usually lead the player to where they need to be. Yoku’s Island Express is a charming game that manages to combine two genres into a fun packed adventure that is well worth playing. Highly recommended.




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