Developed by Villa Gorilla
Published by Team 17
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 (also available on Switch and PC)
Video games are an amazing way to have fun and pass the time. Back in the 80s and 90s, arcades were a huge thing. Everyone went to their arcade or local bar to play video games. So what did people do before video game were a thing? Pinball! Pinball was huge and the start of pinball goes back hundreds of years. Your Dave and Busters of today would have nothing but pinball machines back in the 70s. Even now pinball is still a thing with new tables coming out. Well, then why not combine the two! It has been done, but usually poorly. Games like Pinball Quest and Sonic Spinball would add more elements to pinball but the consoles then were too limited to show the fusion’s potential. Since then more games have tried but none really nailed that feel of video game and pinball… until now! Yoku’s Island Express is just that, combining exploratory platforming and pinball together perfectly and uniquely!
Yoku’s Island Express’s story is very simple and to the point. You are Yoku the Dung Beetle and you arrive on Mokumana, an island where you are the new postmaster. As the postmaster, it is your job to deliver the mail to the folk on the island. There is much more to it than that: while out delivering mail the islanders will ask for your assistance in different ways. It’s your job to help them out and to discover the mysteries of the island. The story isn’t going to blow anyone away. It’s a very lighthearted and simple thing, but the characters in the world you will meet are a different story. From plants to bugs to animals, the island is filled with life and unique characters. You will want to explore every corner of the island to see who you will meet next and what job they will have for you.
What about the pinball aspect of the game? Well game plays like other exploratory platformers like Metroid and Castlevania, but with one major difference… PINBALL! While walking around the island you will encounter flippers that come in three colors. Blue is controlled by the L2 button, Orange is controlled by the R2 button, and a flipper that has both blue and orange can be controlledwith either button. Your dung beetle rolls around a ball of an unknown substance and when the flippers whack the ball, that’s when the fun starts. You will explore the island by bouncing your way through small little tables throughout the island. Some are used just to get from point A to point B while other will make you go through typical pinball puzzles like hitting specific things in the table or collecting items while in the table.
While exploring you will collect fruit that is used to unlock additional flippers throughout the island. These allow you to progress the story, provide shortcuts, or even unlock secret areas. You will also unlock new abilities in this open world that will allow you to go to different areas. Some of these abilities include being able to vacuum up explosive slugs that you can later use to destroy obstacles in your path or even get a little soot creature similar to those from Studio Ghibli movies that you attach to a leech. This lets you go to higher heights by allowing itself to be eaten by carnivores plants. It’s a very wacky world that Yoku is stuck in that’s for sure.
On top of the game being a blast, the art direction is top notch. Yoku’s Island Express brings beautifully hand drawn sprite work to life with an almost pastel look. The huge colorful environments and wonderfully animated characters will make you pause to stare at its beauty. The music is also breathtaking. It takes tropical island style music and giving it a twist, even with voices singing in the background. The music also changes gradually depending on where you are in the game and is done so fluidly. I can definitely see myself listening to this soundtrack when wanting to lay back and relax. The sound FX are great and the flippers sound perfect. Your little beetle has a party horn that you use to break items, but you won’t stop using just to hear it. Yoku’s Island Express is truly a pleasure to see and hear.
Yoku’s Island Express takes the best of both genres and truly combines them in perfect harmony. There are times you will get frustrated trying to hit a specific object in a table or while trying to move to another part of a table, but that is pinball. Although this game is fairly easy and has no true death or game over in it, it’s some of the most fun I’ve had in years when it comes to either pinball or video games.