I have beaten this drum a lot, but one of the best things that the indie game development scene has brought us is weird and innovative genres, takes on genres, or mash-ups of genres. Yoku’s Island Express is one of the weirder mash-ups I didn’t know I needed in my life, but boy am I delighted it is.
Imagine a metroidvania game that is based around platforming, without an actual jumping mechanic. Instead the game uses flippers that you control which can flick your character up in the air, and through paths or onto platformers. That’s right, Yoku’s Island Express is the world’s first pinroidvania, or metroivaniball, well it’s a metroidvania game fused with pinball, get excited.
Yoku is a dung beetle who has arrived on the island of Mokumana. As he arrives he gets his new job as a mailman from his predecessor who seemed awfully happy to relinquish his role. Yoku then proceeds to make his way across the island discovering that the relaxing job he expected isn’t so, and this little post-beetle must save the day.
The paddle feature of the game comes in a couple of major ways. The first is used to propel you onto higher platforms, where it is a glorified platforming jump mechanic. There are times this is used to excellent effect, when you bounce yourself up from paddle to paddle to traverse a decent height, but even then, it is clever platforming.
The more interesting times is when you find yourself in a section where you need to shoot yourself around paths, to hit targets, or to collect objects required to open a door. With the loops coming back to central paddles, and the ability to fall between them and must get your momentum going again, these sections work like mini pinball tables, and it’s frustratingly excellent.
Mokumana isn’t that big, but still presents a varied set of environments, from caverns to lush forestry, to snow caps. These are all gorgeously designed, and gorgeously rendered with a delightful hand drawn style. There’s no major distinguishing flare, it is pretty to look at, as well as the great looking characters. Its limited size means you will spend plenty of time back tracking, going into areas you passed that weren’t available to you until you gained an ability, which isn’t surprising with its metroidvania style.
One of the most annoying ways the game is presented, is small steps, can be barriers you can’t traverse, which at times breaks your flow or distracts your problem solving. This is a symptom of a metroidvania that isn’t housed in something like a building, but this does mean the powerups that let you advance are quirky and unique. Abilities come in all shapes and sizes, such as a horn that, at its most entertaining, surprises people out of hiding, to the creatures that attach to you, so you can slam your way through obstructions.
My personal favourite and an early one, is the slug vacuum. Some of the pinball puzzles will have you need to hit a ball to release a slug, get close enough to the slug to vacuum it up, and use those to get past the section. All this complicated by trying to manoeuvre like you’re on a pinball table. They can be time consuming and a touch frustrating, but it’s so much fun.
Recommending Yoku’s Island Express is a tough one because even now it feels like it will hit the tastes if such a niche audience. Despite that, it’s so unique and quirky, that if metroidvanias interest you, even the slightest bit, you owe it to yourself to sit back and enjoy the weirdness that this mashup has to offer.
Blair received a code for Yoku’s Island Express for review