The pinball adventure is a small but enticing category of games. Every time something like Mario Pinball Land or Rollers of the Realm comes out, I want to like it. I give myself over and wait to be impressed. Without fail, the results always disappoint me. In fact, I've been at it so long that I thought the worst. Crafting an expansive journey out of bumpers and flippers was perhaps just an impossible dream. However, if you pay attention to gaming long enough, you learn that nothing is beyond reach. Every idea, no matter how crazy, has its time and place. 2018 is the time and now is the place, because Yoku's Island Express has hit the jackpot.
The titular Yoku is a tiny little beetle who is taking over as the postal worker of a tropical island. Sadly, it's not the easy life for our new friend, as an evil entity has returned to the island just as he arrives. Yoku must traverse the peaks and valleys in search of three tribe elders who can contain this spirit and bring peace back to their world. He also has to blow his noisemaker at every opportunity, or at least he did when I was playing.
As you set off on your adventure, you'll meet a charming cast of characters that really make this beautifully rendered paradise feel alive. Yoku doesn't talk much, but everyone else boasts charming Animal Crossing-style speech. This mixes right in with a smooth soundtrack full of just the type of island tunes you'd expect. A game focusing so much on exploration needs to be inviting, and the developers did a great job of making players feel welcome in their world.
You see, one of the best tricks that Yoku's Island Express pulls is in its genre. Most pinball-adjacent games try to focus too much on table design, but Yoku is a Metroidvania. The entire world seamlessly shifts from town sections to table-based dungeons. It's all interconnected, meaning that there's a real continuing sense of progress throughout your travels. You're not capped at a certain number of balls and you can't drop five tables away from your next goal. Even if you fall through the flippers, the game will cycle you back to where you need to go.
This might sound like an easy mode to pinball wizards, but Yoku also carries a deep respect for the mechanics of the silver ball. Aiming your shots is a big part of getting from place to place, and you'll need to learn that if you want to get anywhere. Thankfully, it's not throwing everyone to the wolves. The flippers across the world subtly light up as you use them, matching to different locations you need to hit. Over time, this helps new players get a handle on what's happening. It even sharpened my skills when I opened up Pinball Arcade to relax after a marathon session. Everyone who plays will be able to complete the campaign, but you do need some expertise to get everything the island has to offer.
You'll also need a good memory. This is a Metroidvania after all, where sections of the map wall off and mechanics lack immediate explanation. Simply put, I've never been a huge fan of this style of gameplay. It goes to show just how good Yoku is at pinball that I barely noticed my usual annoyances. Sure, there's the requisite backtracking and you have to randomly poke around for secrets. Nevertheless, I blasted through this six-hour journey across a single 48 hour period.
Even if it is a Metroidvania, at least the powers you get are unique and well suited to your environment. Besides the aforementioned noisemaker (which awakens lazy island-goers from their naps), you get much-appreciated help from some of the local wildlife. Explosive slugs can be borrowed via a vacuum cleaner, attached to your ball and then blown apart to get through tough rocks. A fuzzy friend will munch on specific flowers and give you an anchor point to swing across large gaps. A fish will try to eat Yoku, letting him dive underwater to grab hidden secrets and find out of the way shortcuts.
Building up your knowledge of the island's quirks will make navigation a breeze, but coming back after any length of time is a tall order. Having said that, those six hours are good enough that it might be worth playing all over again. The pinball action is enjoyable in and of itself, so going through old areas isn't as bad as it could be. There's a fast travel system (complete with the best music in the game), and dungeons generally deposit you in convenient places when you're through with them.
That's really all there is to Yoku's Island Express. It's not a difficult or complicated game, it just knows what it wants to do and executes with amazing precision. If you're a fan of pinball looking for a unique experience, this is the first game I can recommend unconditionally. For someone who enjoys Metroidvanias, the flipper action provides a great set of mechanics to get you around town. Even if you don't fit into these categories, I'd recommend stopping by Yoku's island and having a look around. It's pretty chill.
Our Yoku's Island Express review was conducted on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
Yoku's Island Express is the perfect mixture of pinball and video games. Taking the best of both worlds and dropping it into a charming setting filled with likable characters makes for a relaxing romp that shouldn't be missed.
- Beautiful Island Setting
- Perfect Pinball Mechanics
- Noisemaker Nonsense
- Replayable Campaign
- Metroidvania Annoyances
- Somewhat Short Length