Yoku's Island Express Review

Non-pinball games in the past have tried to integrate pinball mechanics to break things up, but usually it doesn't work super well. The best examples definitely come from the Sonic games, where there's always at least one level that introduces flippers and bumpers, changing it from a speedy platformer to a kind of not that great pinball emulator. Even the spinoff, Sonic Spinball, which gave more focus to pinball mechanics, was pretty bad. It seemed that pinball was best reserved for games where those mechanics came first, and even as we enter the golden age of mashing genres together, it seemed like the one genre best locked off. 

So, Yoku's Island Express combines pinball and platforming, only this time, it actually works! Any time you need to traverse from one place to another, instead of jumping around like you'd normally do, there's bumpers and flippers there to take you around. Just like I described with Sonic, but the difference here is that Yoku actually committed to the bit and made things feel right. Goals, traversal, and boss fights are all taken care of via pinball mechanics, and it feels fantastic the whole time.

You might hear that and get a little worried that this game isn't for you because you don't like/aren't good at pinball. The best part of Yoku is that it's not as horribly demanding as most pinball games are. Hitting loops and orbits can still be a little difficult at times, but because you can control Yoku a little, and the punishment for missing the flippers isn't super high, and you also don't lose any progress when you fall through, it's actually rather welcoming and friendly to all levels of players. If you're still worried, maybe wait a bit to see if you can catch it on sale since $20 might be a bit steep. Even as it starts to introduce weirder things like multiball and more directed objectives, it's still not demanding on you time - or execution-wise. 

But even an old pinball hound like me can find a lot to love here. The "tables" are well-designed and generally very bite-sized, with a clear goal, exit, and bonus extras scattered around. Oftentimes, even as you're kind of shooting the ball around to explore a bit, you're still being rewarded with something, which just feels great. 

Beyond that, every other part of the game is just oozing charm and character, and a surprising sense of history and place to the island you're on. Yoku is a stranger here, a little beetle carrying around a marble ball, who has arrived to take over the position of postmaster on the island. Yoku arrives at a bad time, though, as something called the God Slayer has been coming around and attacked the gods of the island. You're quickly tasked with bringing the leaders together to try and do something about it. The art style is charming, and so is the writing. As you go around you find out more about the culture and people who live in the island. For such a bite-size looking game, there's a lot going on here, and by the time credits rolled and I had only at 50% done, I was only too glad to jump back in.

On top of the main goal are a bunch of side quests, including a couple revolving around the job of delivering mail and packages. They're fun to piece together and get through, and you can actually take care of a lot of them just as you're going along with your main mission, earning yourself bigger wallets and other useful goodies. It gives you a lot to do, and as you unlock new abilities you can always return to find more. There are little mysteries and hints of other objectives scattered throughout as well, some of which I still haven't solved myself, though I'm excited to get in and do so. It's all aided by an excellent map, showing collectibles you haven't picked up yet, so you can see what you have and haven't done. 

This is my favorite kind of thing, where a game I've never heard of comes out, and just knocks me on my ass, making me wonder why I hadn't heard of it before. As I'm writing this, It's right in the middle of E3, and amid all the flash and jazz going on in the conferences and on stages, I keep going back to the little sidescroller with the beetle flying through the air and being bounced around by bumpers. This is Villa Gorilla's first game (formed by industry vets who worked on things like The Darkness and Chronicles of Riddick), and what a way to come out of the gate!

Yoku's Island Express is out on basically everything, and wherever you can grab it, I heavily recommend it. The game is just an absolute treat from top to bottom, perfect even for people who aren't particularly interested in pinball. It puts these two genres together extremely well, making them both feel fresh and fun in a way I haven't seen in a good bit. The kind of imagination and design on display is always great to see, and you'll find yourself wishing for more as soon as the credits roll.