Tag Archives: Metroidvania

Yoku’s Island Express review

Yoku’s Island Express combines pinball mechanics, platforming and adventure in a remarkably compelling and enjoyable package. Think Sonic Spinball meets Dizzy. Pinball flippers help you guide the dung beetle protagonist and his attached ball of dung around a diverse island environment. Meanwhile, the tale of a new postman unravels as you roll and crawl around the island dropping off mail in post boxes and otherwise helping the denizens of this remote land, a land steeped in mystery and lore. It’s fantastically entertaining and intriguing.

Indeed, it’s a clever melding of mechanics that works so well because of excellent level design. Starting on the beach you make your way through a forest, up in to the tree canape, a snow-covered mountain, a dusty desert and the dark, damp depths, all the while aiding the creatures you encounter and fulfilling your new role as the postman for the island. Crawling gets you across the flat areas but pinball flippers, and later an ingeniously appropriate fast travel system, handle the rest.

The right and left bumpers activate the blue and orange flippers you find to launch you up to new levels of elevation or propel you through tunnels and caves. It’s broken down into short walking sections, quick flipper propelled transitions to new areas, and full-blown pinball setups. Moreover, by progressing with the main story, as well as the personal stories of the denizens, you unlock more areas of the well-sized island play-area. Through new items, relationships with NPCs, and the currency of fruit you collect, new paths open up, allowing you to explore further.

As such, there’s also some Metroidvania backtracking to this style of exploration and unlocking of new abilities. Early on there are plenty of teases of collectables blocked by barriers that you can return to and collect later, and thanks to opportunities to spend your fruit to buy maps that mark the location of these collectables, you’ll seldom lose them entirely, although the map does fail to show you accurately what has and hasn’t been collected until you pass a save point and sometimes not until you approach that area.

Navigating to them, however, can be tricky. Despite a fast travel system being introduced in the later stages of the adventure it’s limited to where it can take you. The depths of the island are particularly difficult to get to and can lead to some frustration as you search far and wide for the right path. However, the island is also full of secret areas, ones that tend to reveal themselves during this practise of searching for the right path. It’s level of frustrating on you will largely depend on your sense of reward from these little secrets.

The main story and your other interactions with the flora and fauna cast is charming and very reminiscent of Dizzy titles. Largely you’ll be sent on fetch quests, but this feels perfectly appropriate considering your postman duties. Some more unique requests also crop up that take some extra thought, but they’re intuitive enough to fuel your intrigue and need to explore rather than truly task your grey matter. And indeed, there are plenty of things to keep you busy. The island is truly packed with content. This does mean that it’s a busy environment, but for the most part you’re kept to the critical path as the main story unfold, only afterwards does the island truly become open to you.

Indeed, if you enjoyed the 2D adventure games of yore then Yoku’s Island Express is ideal to scratch that itch, the addition of pinball mechanics for the majority of the movement is a lovely bonus. Moreover, it works splendidly, with the physics doing a bang-up job of making the pinball sections feel just right. They require some pinball wizardry too, with marks to hit and a timer to be wary of, largely in the form of exploding snails attached to your ball of dung, it’s terrific fun, a fairly unique melding of mechanics, and full of charm and smart design.

Thanks to Xbox and Team 17 for supporting TiX

Ori and the Blind Forest review

Ori and the Blind Forest is a truly beautiful game. The layered, watercolour backdrops, flora that subtlety sway as you pass by them, and superb use of lighting, all combine to form a visual treat on par with the recent Rayman titles.  Furthermore a captivating score, intrinsically woven into the game and acting as a companion on this lonely journey, strikes all the right chords for evoking adrenaline, fear, and sorrow. It’s a stunning audio and visual experience.

Fortunately the level design and mechanics are constructed with the same quality, providing an intriguing, dangerous, and rewarding forest to explore, with precisely the right abilities and pacing you’d expect from a high calibre, 2D Metroidvania platformer.

Ori 1

After a heart wrenching opening, which wonderfully sets the scene and introduces the world, you take control of Ori, a fox type creature encapsulated by light, who must return the three elements of water, wind and warmth to the Spirit Tree in order to restore balance to the forest and prevent everything withering away. Meanwhile, Kuro, a sinister looking owl, means to stop you, and Sein, an orb of light from the Spirit Tree, means to guide and protect you.

To find the three elements you must move through the forest, defeating enemies, exploring different areas, and acquiring new abilities that help you access paths that were previously closed to you. Sein fights for you, homing in on nearby enemies and striking them at the press of a button. Meanwhile, you collect green orbs for health, blue to power some of your abilities, and gold orbs to purchase skills. It’s a very traditional 2D platformer at heart, right down to its stiff challenge.

Ori 2

Enemies can very quickly drain you of your health and in order for Sein to lock-on to them, you have to position yourself fairly close to danger. You’re highly acrobatic though and thanks to the lock-on you can concentrate on dodging rather than attacking. It’s unfortunate that the enemies show such a lack of variety. You’ll fight the odd frog type creature and charging beast, but the majority are pulsating blobs.

Additionally, saving is down to you. For the cost of blue orbs you can create save points; an extremely useful ability if you’re about to face a dangerous section. However, it’s not always easy to foresee dangers, and with the aforementioned strong hitting enemies, a slight lapse in concentration can leave you vulnerable. It’s very frustrating to lose significant progress because you haven’t saved often enough and getting into the habit of creating save points takes some getting used to. Fortunately it’s not long before you’re inundated with blue orb energy and can save frequently without compromising the use of other energy dependent abilities.

Ori 3

There’s also a sprinkling of collectables to find on your journey for the three elements and mastering the mechanics to fetch them all is hugely satisfying. The Dash ability in particular is very interesting to use. Dash freezes time and gives you the chance to leap significant distances, reflect a projectile back at an enemy and maintain multiple jumps in such a way that it’s as if you’re flying. As you acquire a new ability you’re very quickly presented with obstacles that require you to use that ability to overcome them, the collectables ask you to fully master them, and doing so treats you to some spectacular acrobatics from Ori, all presented with fantastic animation.

Certainly Ori and the Blind Forest is a beautiful looking and sounding game, and thanks to strong level design and superb mechanics, the platforming and combat provides a fun and impressive experience. It can get very frustrating during the particularly difficult sections, and remembering to create save points is an important lesson to learn, but you shouldn’t hesitate to experience Ori’s well-told and charming story in this spectacular setting.

Thanks to Microsoft for supplying TiX with a download code

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