New Game Review

Review – Yoku’s Island Express (Xbox One)

Pinball and Metroidvania: A match made in heaven!

Think about this concept: a game that mixes pinball with metroidvania-esque exploration, without combat, starring a postmaster dung beetle who needs to save an island from impending doom. Your first reaction must have been the same as mine: “give me some of whatever substance you’re using because it must be great”. I would have never thought a concept like this would ever turn into a game, let alone a great game, but here we are. That’s the premise of Yoku’s Island Express and it’s one great little game from Swedish studio Villa Gorilla and published by Team17, the same guys behind MugstersYooka-Laylee and Overcooked.

yoku1
Keep rollin’ rollin’ rollin’.

Yoku’s Island Express tells the story of Yoku, the most adorable dung beetle to ever grace this planet. Yoku can’t attack or jump by itself: everything must be done by using tons of bumpers scattered throughout an open-world island in order to reach higher platforms or destroy a few obstacles. You might think that this concept wouldn’t work at all, but it actually does pretty well. One of the triggers controls any orange bumper onscreen, while the other trigger controls all blue bumpers. It might look confusing at first, and the physics can sometimes be a bit too annoying (especially when you’re trying to reach a very narrow corridor or tunnel), but you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly. The pinball designs are never too complicated nor extremely easy: it’s a fair balance.

While the game nails the pinball aspect, it does have a small but noticeable flaw when it comes to its metroidvania elements: backtracking.

yoku2
That dung beetle sure plays a mean pinball.

I’ve talked before about how Yoku can’t properly jump and is completely dependent of its big white dung ball in order to reach higher platforms and such, and that makes backtracking a bigger chore than it should. Not to mention that you’ll constantly go from A to B to C back to B back to C and back to A. While the game does have a minimap, I felt like the developers should have included a marker system of sorts or a small fast traveling system, especially for areas you’ve previously visited.

Finally, let’s talk about the graphics and sound. While some of the characters can look a bit too small onscreen, especially Yoku (pretty convenient for a dung beetle, though), the graphics are worthy of praise, with gorgeous hand-drawn backgrounds and good animations. Every single character is so adorable I just want to either hug them, eat them, or both. Finally, there’s the sound department, comprised of good – albeit forgettable – tunes and half a dozen sound effects Yoku does every now and then. They are as adorable as Yoku itself.

yoku4
Everyone is so adorable, I wanna eat them.

One of the most pleasant surprises of the year, Yoku’s Island Express is an adorable little game with tons of heart and originality. It needed an extra tinkering here and there but overall this is a fantastic start to a promising series of games in the future. Who would have imagined that pinballs and metroidvania would be such a match made in heaven?

Graphics: 8.0

The hand-drawn graphics are beautiful and the characters are adorable. Yoku can often look way too small onscreen, though.

Gameplay: 8.0

The physics can be a bit frustrating at times, but the overall pinball controls are pretty good.

Sound: 7.0

While the soundtrack is good, there isn’t a single tune that stands out from the rest. Yoku’s sound effects are beyond adorable.

Fun Factor: 8.5

Despite a few frustrating sections and some annoying backtracking, I had a blast playing Yoku’s Island Express. Who would have thought pinball and metroidvania would mix so well?

Final Verdict: 8.0

Also available on: PS4, PC, Switch

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About Leo Faria

Founder and mastermind behind Way Too Many Games, hailing from the southern swag that is São Paulo, a Sega widower who considers the Dreamcast to be the greatest console ever released, the greatest Guitar Hero and Tetris player you’ll ever meet. My favorite games include Perfect Dark, Banjo-Tooie, the Guitar Hero series, Bioshock Infinite and Star Wars Rogue Squadron II. I also own an Ouya. Never turned it on.

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