Yoku's Island Express Review
Microsoft Xbox OneAlso available on Nintendo Switch, PC and Sony PlayStation 4
Welcome to Mokumana - an idyllic island getaway that just happens to be the setting for Yoku's Island Express, a novel twist on the platform game. You play the titular Yoku, a little beetle who happens to pick up a pinball when he arrives on the island to take on his new job running the postal service. Instead, you find yourself thrust into an adventure to save the island and restore peace.
It quickly becomes apparent that this isn't your standard platform fare - you can't jump for starters so all platforming is done with the help of the pinball paddles dotted all over the island, blue are attached to L1 while yellow are attached to R1. The game is as much about your skills as a pinball wizard as it is about the adventure and it's great to see this mashup of genres used to create something completely unique.
As you play the game you'll be given a variety of quests that feel something akin to the old Dizzy games as you talk to the wide range of characters around the island and do simple tasks that usually involve tracking down a specific item in order to help the so they in turn then they help you progress. It's a simple structure and works well with nothing being more taxing than finding the way to the place marked out on the island map. You can use the fruit you collect to unlock new areas of the map by freeing up pinball flippers and there are chests hidden all over the map that enhance your current inventory or bring new skills.
The game gently introduces you to the pinball play with nothing too complicated at first, but once you start getting deeper into the game you find part of your time is spent working out which steps you need to take to get through each puzzle, whilst keeping the ball and Yoku in play. Gentle challenges make way for more complexity slowly at first but frustration can hit rapidly later on with some of the more complex pinball layouts that might span a couple of screens worth of real estate.
Some quests result in you having additional powers at your command - like being able to capture slugs to use as explosives to get through blockages, or to dive under the water - each of these new abilities brings with it access to areas that you previously couldn't access suddenly becoming available to you inviting exploration and revisits to areas you've already been just to dig that little deeper. Even when you complete the main story there is still a multitude of things to do and explore.
The island is home to a variety of environments - the lush green start, the underbelly of the world and snow all have their own look but have little impact on the actual gameplay. Despite this, it's hard not to fall in love with a game that is as lovely to look at and play as this - it might be graphically simple, but the layers and atmosphere in the background art and the variety of biomes within the game mean that you can never tire of looking at it. Similarly, the backing music is fantastically atmospheric ebbing and flowing naturally with the events of the game.
Yoku's Island Express is available digitally now with a physical release to follow on 15h June.