Fans of the channel will know we’re big, big fans of the metroidvania genre and there’s no doubting we’ve been spoiled for choice of late within the independent gaming world via the likes Owlboy, Steamworld Dig 2 and Hollow night to name but a few. While great fun to play with each of these offering their own visual flair and artistic direction, in Yoku’s Island Express here on the Nintendo Switch we have the delivery of a gaming mechanic that’s utterly fresh and unique that once again helps move the genre into an entirely new direction
Villa Gorilla’s trick with Yoku comes from the implementation of a pinball inspired gaming experience where exploration and boss battles, as they can loosely be called, come via the yellow and blue coloured flippers, bumpers, railings and tunnels that move you and your ball about the playing surface.
From a story front you play as Yoku, a dung beetle recently appointed to serve as the post master on the idyllic island of Mokumanu, an island you soon discover has a few problems that need taking care of. The controls are simple enough with the Nintendo Switch version using the left and right shoulder buttons to activate the flippers and the analogue stick to control your player character. As you play you’re constantly collecting fruit which acts as the in-game currency to be spent on unlocking hidden flippers to enable you to gain access to new areas of the map.
Luckily such fruit is generally in plentiful supply and as you play your wallet expands to hold more and more. On the odd occasions where such supplies are lacking, taking a few moments within the games more traditional static pinballing table sections is usually all that’s required to stock up enough to move things forward.
Like every quality metriodvania, there are puzzle sections and areas of platforming via the pin ball that are tricky and challenging, particularly towards the latter part of the game. That said, we’re not talking a Celeste level of difficulty and in general, the effort to challenge ratio feels spot on 90 percent of the time.
One particular section involving a number of ropes you chain together was one particular moment where the blood pressure rose above what’s comfortable. In this area, missing just one part of the sequence has you falling back down the screen having to start the section again from the beginning which after a few attempts became a little tiresome.
While for some the game might lack a strong sense of overriding narrative, for us, that’s not an problem. Our time spent with Yoku while playing alone or with others watching on is perhaps best described as one long session of wide eyed smiles, particularly with younger players who seem to gel and find an honest affinity with the NPCs and easy to follow dialogues.
One other thing, did we mention so far how cute this all looks and sounds with the music ranging from a perfect fit for any Disney feature film to the more exotic jazz based sections we enjoyed perhaps a little too much by way throwing some shapes across the Livingroom with the on screen action at a standstill.
Aside from certain aspects of on the overall difficulty, another slight criticism comes from having to go back over the main routes to and from the islands central hub which can feel a tad samey and repetitive – unlike a usual platformer, you cant simply make your way through a completed section – here you need to replay the same table multiple times and with some of the more tricky ones, can mean the games flow being disrupted as you fail to get the right angle off the flipper yet again and again. This slight issue’s all fully resolved once you unlock the super wonderful beeline fast travel system – this being yet another particular highlight.
Putting such small matters aside, for us, Yoku’s Island Express has made its way into our top 3 games of the year thus far. While 6 or so hours long, there’s room for more playtime if you fancy going through the various sub quests, delivering letter and opening all the treasure chests found about the island.
As should be fairly clear, we are more than happy to recommend Yoku’s Island Express to anyone with an interest with the genre and to those coming across these types of games for the first time.
At its core we have a wonderfully charming title that deftly executes against its premise with a wholly original gameplay loop that remains fresh, exciting and different right up until you battle the almost final boss.
Couple this with an aesthetic that’s as cute as a button, in Yoku’s Island Express, Villa Gorilla have delivered a triumph that plays as well on the Switch in portable as it does while docked to your and for our money, it’s almost certainly going to be one of the most delightful and enjoyable games of the year.
We received an advance copy gifted to us by the publisher. This review is based on the our play through on the Nintendo Switch.
Steam Homepage: https://store.steampowered.com/app/334940/Yokus_Island_Express/