Yoku's Island Express Review

A side scrolling, pinball platform adventure game is definitely not a genre that explodes with excitement, sure didn’t tickle my fancy anyway. While there are indeed pinball aspects to this game, it is not what it seems. This is a really fun platformer game and makes incredibly good use of pinball mechanics to create a highly unique adventure game.

 

The concept of the game is very unique. You play as a beetle called Yoku who has been hired as a new postman for an island. I can only assume you are a dung beetle and this is why you are pushing a big ball around the place. For a side scroller it is quite unusual that your character is unable to jump. In order to traverse through the world, you use flippers and bumpers to launch your ball around the level. You are tethered to the ball so you can fire the ball across the map and poor old Yoku has no option but to feel the Gs!

 

The platforming elements are remarkably well designed considering you lack the ability to jump, which is often a core mechanic to any platforming game. For people who play lots of platformers, this will make you think a bit. The way forward isn't always so obvious because chances are, you won’t have seen something like this before. For long time platformer fans, this game will definitely be something new for you.

 

The island the game is set on is completely open to explore. You can go back to the start and are free to roam. It is never easy to make a 2d side scroller feel open world, but they did a good job giving you the feeling like you were free to explore. The key part of what makes this game so great is how it handles the adventure aspects of it. Much like Zelda games, you spot something that you know can be interacted with, but lack the means to do so you. As you explore, you find dead ends and road blocks that you will remember later on in the game when you gain the ability to use it. Swimming for example is something you can’t do as the ball floats. You will spot several areas with items below the water's surface. Clues like these often let you know that you can’t go here now, but come back later.

 

Before I go blowing too much smoke about how great this game is, the traditional pinball aspects are by far the weakest part of the game. Even if you are someone who loves pinball, you may not like this. I wouldn’t suggest anyone purchase this game purely because it has pinball mechanics.

 

While a large amount of the game is platforming and exploration, there are parts where you can not progress until you complete a sort of pinball table. These are nothing like regular pinball games but do bear a resemblance to a table. You have a hole in the middle of two flippers and the goal is to not let it fall down. There will be things in the area that you need to hit with the ball to trigger events elsewhere, just like any pinball game really. It is fun most of the time, but some of the tables are very frustrating for unexpected reasons.

 

The biggest flaw is the fact that you can't softly use the flippers. A gentle touch on the controller is a full power flip. This makes it hard for you to move the ball from the left side to the right and ends up wasting lots of time. It is possible to do it by using the analog sticks to move your character, but it is awkward.

There are often multiple ramps and exits bunched together which makes it difficult to actually get the ball to where you need it to go. Sometimes the table will be finished and the exit is open, but you keep going up the ramp next to the exit. It gets very annoying when this happens and can leave you “stuck” in a table.

 

Tables are built into the platforming paths. So to get from A-B you have to go through a pinball table and complete it. Once it is completed, it stays completed but you can go back and play around on it if you wish. You often have to pass through a table to go back to a place you were at before. When you want to quickly get there, these tables are a huge pain in the ass, especially when you get stuck in the table, unable to get the ball to the correct flipper. When you do get to the correct flipper, you are unable to launch it at the exit which is placed too close to a ramp. This was the only thing that was frustrating about this game and unfortunately was frustrating enough to hurt the overall enjoyment.

 

The game does not have any fast travel. After a while you unlock something called a beeline which is a bit like a bus route. It helps you get places faster, but you need to find a bus stop to use it. The lack of a quick and convenient  way to navigate the map really gets annoying near the end. You can easily fall from a high part of the island when attempting to perform tricky platforming maneuvers. There is no fall damage, so you can fall back to the starting area of the island. It can take 5-10 mins to get back to where you were to attempt the maneuver again. Really annoying when there is a collectable in a tricky place that isn’t obvious how you get to it. The trial and error can be incredibly time consuming and becomes really annoying.

 

The story is fairly short, you can probably beat the game in 5 or 6 hours. Once complete, you are free to explore the island with there being lots of collectables and additional side quests to kill time with. The motivation to go back and get those collectibles is a tough one. The unforgiving checkpoint system and lack of fall damage means you will spend lots of time making your way back to a higher location to try a jump again.

 
 
Pros
  • Visuals are really nice
  • Platforming mechanics are a big change from the norm
Cons
  • Some pinball tables are badly designed
  • Falling from a high area requires you to make a long walk to get back
7.5/10
Yoku’s Island Express is a very unique mash up of pinball and platforming which works incredibly well. The quirky visual style makes it a really nice visual experience to explore the island. The platforming and pinball elements work quite well for the most part but some minor issues really get in the way. Limited control over pinball paddles gets frustrating when trying to make precise shots. A lack of fast travel or teleport makes trekking through the island a massive chore. It might give you more hours of play time, but they sure aren't fun hours when you are climbing the same path again and again because you fail to make a tricky jump.
OpenCritic