Yoku’s Island Express is Great & Terrible at the Same Time
I just got done playing Yoku’s Island Express by @Team17Ltd. Overall it was a fun game. One of the best pinball games I’ve ever played. Also one of the poorest Metroidvanias I’ve played. Here are my thoughts on @YokuGame. I was going to post this all on Twitter but Twitter said “tl;dr” so I’m posting it here. Hello Medium!
First off, just like Ori and the Blind Forest, this game features amazing art, visuals, music, and sound effects. The sound effects are so good that I didn’t get annoyed at all after beeping Yoku’s little horn over and over again. And I beeped it over 1000 times!
Yoku is literally the best pinball game I’ve ever played. Granted, I’ve only ever played Space Pinball that came with Windows, and Adventure Pinball, but still, out of the three, Yoku is the best.
Pinball is a very challenging game that requires a lot of skill and a lot of luck, and it’s usually very unforgiving of mistakes. Normally 2D Platformers have lives and death where you restart over from a checkpoint. Not in Yoku.
Yoku very wisely has no lives system, and very rarely any penalty for dropping the ball (literally) at all. Most times you lose like a few fruit and that’s it, which is ok since fruit is so easy to get. Its low-risk nature removes one of the most frustrating things about pinball.
Additionally, it removes the tilting system for something much better: manual control of the ball. Yoku can move the ball left or right at will when on solid ground, even in the pinball sections. This tips the balance in your favor whenever you’re really close to making it.
I also really enjoyed all the creative ways they used the pinball paddles, flappers, tubes, and bumpers. It was really fun trying to figure out how to progress out of a certain pinball zone.
The story was meh, with pretty standard fetch quest stuff. There was a surprise twist at the end, which I completely didn’t expect. There was only ever one clue to the twist tho. The only reason I’ll remember it is because it was a rare kind of twist.
Now about it being a Metroidvania, half the time I wasn’t sure that it was. There’s only like 6 abilities in the game, and half of them don’t even feel like abilities.
The horn and the mail pouch are really only useful to get more fruit, and there’s tons of other ways to get that.
It seems Kickback was meant to be an ability, but they’re more of a power up and one that isn’t very impactful at all.
Then there’s Slug Vacuum, Dive Fish, and Sootling on a Leash (SOAL). These are the game’s abilities that feel closest to Metroidvania abilities. They change the way you interact with the game and unlock new areas to explore.
However, they’re only good when you’re around the certain game mechanic that they interact with. This reduces the abilities down to being a key to interact with the environment. Slug Vacuum lets you suck up slugs, Dive Fish lets you dive in water, and SOAL lets you swing on flowers. You could have been able to interact with slugs, water, and flowers like this all along, but they locked that interaction behind a key and called it an “ability”.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think these interactions feel right at home in this game, but calling any permanent upgrade in Yoku an ability is an insult to Metroidvania game design.
Take Ori for example. Ori can walk up to any enemy and bash, stomp, or charge blast them, regardless of their type. If Ori did what Yoku does, Ori would only bash spiders, only stomp frogs, and only charge blast monkeys. Feels more like a standard interaction with these enemies than an ability now, huh?
It would have been way cooler if Yoku could use the slug vacuum to do other stuff besides just pick up slugs. Like, I don’t know, stick to walls or something. Maybe use the SOAL as a second pinball? Yoku even could have been able to suck up flowers and swing around off slugs.
I’m not sure how to improve the horn or the dive fish because one you can only use on land and the other only in the water. Like I said, the dive fish isn’t a real ability, it’s just a key that lets you use water.
So all in all, yep, Yoku is a pretty lackluster Metroidvania. So much so that I’m not even sure if you could even call it one.
On to bugs and usability issues:
Yoku has a hard time with hitboxes. You could be standing right on a Wickerling, blow your horn, and not even hit it. You have to stand in the exact right spot to uncover things and talk to NPCs. It’s annoying and unnecessary.
The other thing is that the Slug Vacuum & SOAL don’t work if you’re still holding the flipper button from when you launched Yoku in the air. You have to flip, let go of the button, and then hold the flipper button again. It took me way too long to figure it out and it’s annoying. It’d be better if you could just hold the flipper button and have the ability automatically trigger when Yoku was close enough.
Sometimes you have to juggle multiple balls all at once and that’s annoying because it’s hard to focus on just one, but it’s also pretty cool to see something other than Yoku react to the flippers. I’d say the coolness factor outweighs the annoyingness of juggling multiple things. I’d even say I wish there were more sections where you used the flippers to move something other than Yoku (despite the fact that I got stuck on one such section because I forgot that other things reacted to flippers too).
Yoku is not emotional at all. Ori had a really good story (in the moment at least) that wretched my heart at the end. I really cared for Ori. Yoku is just a fun little ride through the country side and has no emotional impact whatsoever. Not even the big villain reveal had emotional impact because they had no development whatsoever. I didn’t care about Yoku, his island’s troubles, or the villain either. I just wanted to see the big boss fight and beat it.
Yoku wasn’t even that funny either. There was hardly any moment that just had me busting out laughing. Literally the only enjoyable thing about Yoku is the pinball mechanics, the creative boss fights, solving everyone’s problems with pinball flippers.
Speaking of boss fights, Yoku’s final boss was lackluster. Metroidvanias require you to use and master all your abilities to beat the final boss, but Yoku only ever asked you to use one, and only in a cutscene-quicktime-event way. Don’t get me wrong, the way you beat the boss is rather clever, but the fact that you don’t need any of Yoku’s permanent upgrades is rather disappointing.
Would I recommend Yoku? Yes and no. To the pinball enthusiasts, I’d give a wholehearted YES. To Metroidvania connoisseurs and story divers, I’d say don’t expect much. Yoku is a pinball game first, and everything else second. The best Metroidvania I’ve ever played is Ori and the Blind Forest. And the best pinball game I’ve ever played is Yoku’s Island Express.