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