Welcome postman, you are in charge of all postal delivery on Mokumana island and well, you need to tell the chieftains that something is going wrong and an evil called the godslayer is afoot. Get ready to deliver some mail, save the island and collect some fruit, you tiny cute postman, you. I mean just look at Yoku.
Yoku isn’t your typical platformer. Where most games involving getting from point A to B in a Metroidvania style setting will give you a jump button and a few locomotion upgrades, Yoku has a massive pinball/pearl thing that he moves around and is attached to. You will push this ball up hills (slowly), into the water and wherever you want to go. Without a jump, you might feel like your options are rather limited but thankfully the island is outfitted with a bunch of pinball paddles. It reminds me a bit of Loco Roco where you control the world more than you control your own character, but Yoku’s Island Express doesn’t give up control completely. Thanks to your little pinball, you can travel to unreachable heights or shatter crystals to progress.
Without a jump, you might feel like your options are rather limited but thankfully the island is outfitted with a bunch of pinball paddles.
Most screens are broken down into pinball “tables” that you need to master to continue. If you know how to play those old arcade pinball machines then you shouldn’t have a problem: find the toggles and ramps, activate them all, light up all those bumper lights and hit the speed-ramp and you will jiggle or break little crystals free that you use to open the door to the next section of the island for more pinball goodness. As you travel around you will collect fruit, which is your currency and your life. Luckily most tables just put you in some spikes, steal a fruit, then spit you back into the action if you miss the flippers, but there are a few sections where your mastery of pinball paddles will be tested. In fact, there are a few pinball tables that I wish had an easy way to escape, or a timer that picked up that the player was stuck there, not just trying to squeeze every fruit out of the various bumpers.
Thankfully this is where being in control of the ball comes in handy. If the slope isn’t too steep, you can move Yoku to slow it down to find the precise point on a pinball flipper to get to the desired obstacle. This comes in handy when you keep hitting the ball too early, sending yourself on a merry trip to another screen through a section of bumpers. The game also helps by cheating the physics of certain interactions. The rails that you hit will always take you to the end of the rail, even if you hit it with hardly any speed. Some bumpers will always to the same thing to you, regardless of how you hit them. It might upset the pinball purists but it works for anyone who didn’t grow up putting Magic Company tokens into a physical pinball table.
Thankfully once you solve a section it will stay open for the return trip and there is a fast travel network that you can unlock as you move around the island, involving cannons that fire you across several screens in quick succession. The cleverness of the design of the world becomes apparent as you go through a pinball table backward or unlock a little section that completely skips a table. There are a few abilities to unlock to help you get around the island as well, but I feel like none of them have that obstacle-skipping wow move that I was hoping for at the end of the game. Still, there was much to do once saving the island, with letters to deliver and secrets to uncover that you will stick around once you complete the main campaign because there is something so enjoyable about playing pinball and delivering letters to some chill music. Not everyone is interested in their mail though (I mean have you checked your inbox lately?) so sometimes you need to go on a few quests first before people will receive or read their mail, even though the fate of the entire island is at stake. Sounds a lot like most RPGs, right?
The cleverness of the design of the world becomes apparent as you go through a pinball table backward or unlock a little section that completely skips a table.
Yoku’s Island Express takes a fun idea and runs with it confidently, adding in heaps of character to cute critters, a soundtrack you will be bopping your head to and some fiendishly clever level design that just dares you to explore, to pick away at finding collectibles and secrets. It is relaxing, with the only danger being the rare boss fight or you getting frustrated by a puzzle that doesn’t seem to have an answer that you can see. Villa Gorilla has created something really fun to play. Come for the cheerful 2D artwork, stay for the pinball fun.