Yoku’s Island Express is an interesting combination of pinball and Metroidvania, and it’s one of those weird ideas that works way better than I ever would have expected. You play as a dung beetle named Yoku, who was just recently hired as the new postmaster of Mokumana Island. The game features a very pleasant art style and some pretty chill music that won’t distract you from the pinball segments. I will just go ahead and admit that the story isn’t great and features a twist that’s…kind of stupid. But this isn’t exactly a game anyone’s playing for the story, but rather, that strange pinball-Metroidvania hybrid style of gameplay that makes Yoku’s Island so unique.
Yoku can move left and right, and though jumping is beyond his abilities, the environment is strewn with pinball flippers that will help you to reach new heights. Although Yoku’s main goal is to locate three chiefs in order to help the injured god Mokuma, the main objective was probably the furthest thing from my mind during the majority of my playtime. On the most part, this game was quite fun and relaxing, and I spent most of my time just exploring my environment as I worked on various side quests.
Mokumana Island has plenty of things to do and collect. Your currency consists of fruit, which can be spent on unlocking more flippers to reach new locations or open up different routes on the Beeline, a fun method of traveling quickly to previously visited locations where Yoku is shot between cannons! There’s also a bunch of treasure chests to open, wickerlings to collect (for a secret ending, though it’s not terribly interesting…), and various side quests, like delivering packages or locating the pieces of a statue for a guy named Willo.
Like any true Metroidvania, you also obtain new abilities along the way that open up new paths. At the very start, you get the noisemaker, a funny little item that can break things, a slug vacuum for sucking up explosive slugs, and the ability to swim underwater, among other things. While I got a little lost early on, I mostly just enjoyed my time exploring, and it helps that the game has a pretty detailed map to aid in your adventure.
Considering this is a game largely devoid of any combat or enemies, Yoku’s Island is generally pretty easy, with the biggest difficulty coming from the sheer frustration of trying to control a rolling object and navigating your way through the pinball sections. You can’t actually die in this game, and while missing the flippers often causes you to pass through some thorns, the only consequence is losing a few pieces of fruit. The game even has a few boss fights, but without any stakes, they aren’t terribly exciting affairs. On one hand, I’m grateful that you can’t die and lose progress because of how annoying certain segments of the game can be, but on the other hand, I have to question the point of boss fights in a game with no health.
Before I give my finishing thoughts, I’d like to provide a few tips that might help anyone wishing to play this game for themselves…
Slugs: These explosive slugs can be used to propel you to some otherwise impossible ledges. Although they can be a bit tricky to master, just keep in mind that you’ll be launched in the opposite direction from where the slug is. For example, if the slug is on the bottom of the ball, you’ll be launched upwards. You can also blow your noisemaker to make them blow up faster.
Scarabs: In most of the major pinball sections are these little scarabs. Activating them gets you fruit and eventually a trophy/achievement, so they’re not terribly important. Nevertheless, if you want to get all of them, I recommend taking care of them as you play the game, as hunting them down later is a pain. Scarabs can be activated by meeting certain criteria and will start to light up with yellow when you’ve made some progress.
In the end, Yoku’s Island Express is a generally fun game with plenty to do and a very unique concept that I’ve never seen before. Of course, that doesn’t mean the game isn’t without its annoyances, most of which stem from how frustrating the pinball sections can sometimes be to navigate. (Though effectively utilizing the slug vacuum and sootling leash can be rather difficult, as well.)
So if you don’t enjoy pinball or if you get frustrated easily, this game may not be for you. Nevertheless, I still generally really enjoyed the game and would recommend it to fans of pinball or Metroidvania fans looking for something a bit different. The game is available on all major consoles and PC. At 5 hours for the main story and roughly 11 to get 100%, you may want to wait for that $19.99 price tag to go on sale. I got the game for a mere $3.99 and was not disappointed.
The link to my demo review for Yoku’s Island Express.
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