Yoku’s Island Express (Switch eShop) Review
Combining 2D platforming and a bit of pinball action seems like a bizarre pairing, but after playing the picturesque Yoku’s Island Express, I can say without hesitation the odd coupling makes perfect sense. This utterly adorable adventure gives Ori and the Blind Forest a run for its money in the stunningly beautiful, challenging and fun platforming stakes.
Playing as the titular dung beetle moonlighting as a postman, Yoku, you are quickly tasked with rescuing the ancient tree god of Mokumana Island by delivering call-to-action letters to the island’s chiefs. So much for the quiet, humble life of a postal worker. The catch is that Yoku is tethered to a boulder, affecting the little beetle’s mobility. Luckily for you, the island is filled with suspiciously pinball-like flippers and bumpers colour-coded to the triggers of your controller, capable of launching the boulder and its passenger into the air! How Yoku doesn’t get fatally squished by the boulder or at least contract crippling whiplash while being flung across the map is beyond me.
Well before the pinball or platforming elements become a factor, I was struck by how beautiful Yoku’s Island Express is. Featuring a vibrant colour pallette of hand-drawn environments and a cutesy cast of animal characters, this game is an absolute visual treat. Beyond this, the island of Mokumana is a seamlessly connected space to explore, instilling a great sense of wonder and scale from the outset. Zooming out the map reveals the entire island covered in fog, which lifts as Yoku explores each nook and cranny. Seeing the entire playing field creates many “how do I get there?” moments, and plenty of satisfying discoveries when you uncover a secret after making a mental note about a mysterious location on the map.
Mokumana Island is intricately designed to cleverly mesh the platforming and pinballing sections in a natural flow. One section may see Yoku jumping across precarious chasms, to smoothly jump into an area that looks like a beautiful, foliage-infested pinball machine. The constant switching between the platformer and pinball mechanics always feels incredible and flows effortlessly, generating a constantly satisfying feedback loop of pace and progression. Challenging in just the right ways, Yoku’s pinball antics are varied enough to keep feeling fresh and never appear purely for the sake of doing something different. This is particularly evident during the handful of boss encounters that require an equal amount of reflex, timing and mastery of Yoku’s abilities. Speaking of beetle-boy’s abilities, my favourite is the delightful party horn that functions as a makeshift melee attack. I love it so very much, with its cute tootling and streamers exploding everywhere – so wholesome, *sigh*.
Regardless of one’s pinball competencies, the visual design of every area in Yoku’s Island Express is utterly superb – it’s difficult to get too frustrated at a difficult section when you’re continuously marvelling at the many wonderful vistas on offer. Heck, it’s difficult to get mad in the first place, considering there are no lives to lose, no forced restarts, and plenty of generous checkpoints to respawn from if you want to come back to an area later. My girlfriend regularly giggled at me while I muttered to myself how much I enjoyed this brilliant game.
Akin to many platformers before it, Yoku’s Island Express is chock full of various collectables, the most common of which are the fruits Yoku collects and uses as currency. Annoyingly, some early-game areas are gated off by locked pinball flippers or jump pads that can only be unlocked by paying an arbitrary amount of fruit. Halting progression in this method is frustrating due to the infinite supply of fruit, but only being able to carry a limited amount at any given time. Yoku’s fruit-carrying capacity can be increased by purchasing storage upgrades, but this spends fruit that could be used to unlock more areas to explore. It’s a bizarre economy and only serves to needlessly pad out a game that needs no extension. I would much prefer nothing to be gated in this way, instead encouraging players to discover new abilities and explore the world organically. Aside from this, and some inconsequential map interface gripes that will be fixed in the day-one patch, Yoku’s Island Express is a wonderful game in all other aspects. Thankfully, this hindrance is relatively minor across the whole experience, and I loved the rest of my time on the fantastical island of Mokumana Island and its inhabitants.
Beyond completing the story, Yoku’s Island Express offers a good amount of post-game content, foreshadowed via brief, mysterious cutscenes throughout Yoku’s quest hinting at greater forces at play within Mokumana Island. Attempting to collect the island’s various artefacts conjures plenty of well-designed challenge and moments of discovery. Meanwhile, game composer veteran Jesse Harlin’s jaunty little score will keep you bopping away, grinning like an idiot, making Yoku’s Island Express a lovely retreat to forget the outside world for a while.
Yoku’s Island Express is a delightful adventure filled with charming characters, an innovative blend of platforming and pinballing action, and a wonderful treat for the eyes and ears. It’s the sort of wholesome game that makes me feel like a proud parent of all of the people who worked so hard on this beautiful piece of escapism.
+ Platformer-plus-pinball hybrid works seamlessly with the beautiful world
+ Clever sense of scale and discovery
+ Music and visuals create such a warm, wholesome and fun game to inhabit
+ Yoku’s party horn
- Bizarre fruit economy slows down early-game progression