Metroidvania pinball is definitely an unorthodox concept for a video game. However, Yoku's Island Express presents one of the most original and addictive indie game formulas ever so get your flipper fingers ready and prepare for a memorable adventure.
Yoku's Island Express is one of the most unique games that I've ever played. Upon first starting it up, I was delighted by its adorable and undeniably strange world. You play as a dung beetle named Yoku who travels to Mokumana in the hopes of having a fun time. When he arrives, he takes it upon himself to deliver mail to the island's residents but far more nefarious situations are brewing that involve a sleeping god and folks who want to use its power. It's silly stuff and establishes a solid premise for a crazy adventure.
Mokumana is full of delightful characters and gorgeous environments. You'll find yourself on frozen mountainsides, deep underground in fiery caves, traversing a desert, and swinging through overgrown jungles. Along the way, you'll meet a charming cast of characters that consists of various animals and plant life. Some of them are so cute that it made me mad. Meanwhile, one of the best soundtracks that I've ever heard in a video game complements every second of gameplay. As someone who has an eclectic taste in music, I was blown away how they mixed African instrumentation, trippy beats, and plenty of distinct vocals to craft the unique soundscape.
Yoku's Island Express is played by controlling Yoku who constantly rolls a ball and is permanently attached to it via a handy rope. Early on in the adventure, you uncover a party horn (or noisemaker) that you can use to interact with the environment which is super-cute. Anyway, you traverse the island by rolling your ball left and right and using pinball flippers to launch Yoku around. That's right; there's no jump button. This dynamic is handled perfectly and it makes traversing the Metroidvania world a joy. As you progress, you'll unlock shortcuts and the handy Beeline which allows you to travel around with ease. You'll also gain the ability to swing around certain nodes and dive underwater. It all comes together to make an addictive exploration-focused world.
Thankfully, Yoku's Island Express features loads of secrets and rewarding unlockables. For starters, you collect fruit which acts as currency. You can use it to unlock new paths and exchange it for certain items via some of the NPCs. It's quite easy to amass a lot of fruit but you have a limited albeit upgradable amount that you can carry at once. There are a ton of collectibles to uncover with the main ones being Wickerlings. These fellows are found in hard-to-reach places and are awarded for sidequests, too. Speaking of which, some NPCs have quest lines that are very satisfying to master. Overall, finding all the treasures and upgrades is a great deal of fun.
Although I absolutely love Yoku's Island Express, I should mention that there is almost no sense of challenge. In fact, I'm not even sure if you can fail. Getting hurt just takes a couple of fruit pieces away but considering you usually have hundreds and can recharge them easily, I never ran out once. Obviously, this lack of difficulty might put off hardcore gamers looking for their next challenge but those just looking for a casual adventure will appreciate the laidback and pressure-free vibe.
Finally, backtracking in Yoku's Island Express can be fairly tedious. I found the shortcuts and Beeline to take a lot of tedium away but there's still an element of not knowing just what to do or where to go next. I don't know if it's a glitch but one character on my map shows that I can buy something from them but I'm pretty sure I already did and they don't sell anything anymore. Therefore, trying to collect everything can be quite monotonous. If the map displayed everything accurately then this wouldn't be a problem.
Yoku's Island Express is the best indie game that I've played this year so far. Who would've guessed that Metroidvania pinball would be such an addictive and enjoyable formula? Factor in the delightful visuals and sound and you're left with a must-have adventure.
- + Addictive gameplay and exploration
- + Strange and adorable world with an absolutely incredible eclectic soundtrack
- + Tons of rewarding secrets
- - Lacks a sense of challenge
- - Backtracking can be tedious