If there are two genres I love in gaming it has to be Pinball and Platformers. While the classic Sonic games introduced me to a scenario where these genres meet hand in hand, I have to say that Villa Gorilla have taken the concept and run wild with it in their latest title Yoku’s Island Express. The casino stages where good but it was only the tip of the iceberg. The team here have taken their own ideas and produced an image of what it would be like as these two very different genres become one.
In Yoku’s Island Express you take charge of Yoku a charming dung beetle assigned as the new postmaster for the island. You think you will have it easy delivering mail on a tropical sunny getaway on Mokumana island. If only that was the case, as when you get there all hell as broke loose as an ancient deity is trapped in a slumber and its down to you to gather the chiefs to wake him up. It would be easy but the chiefs will need some persuasion before they will come and help. This will involve doing tasks for them and each ends in a unique boss battle which is where the pinball sections really shine.
Thanks to the Mertroidvania gameplay the island opens up as you explore each new area and complete tasks. Well placed bumpers and flippers will help you on your expedition of this new island you call home. You will have specific jobs for the locals in order to obtain new abilities allowing you to get to unreachable areas. It is a simple affair and there will be about six abilities for you to learn. The first ability I obtained was from the islands slug gardener and it was a slug sucking machine. This would help by allowing you to suck up a slug that you could use to blast away a specific obstacle. Later on in the game I encountered the Fungoid who wants you to plant fungi at specific parts of the island. What I like about this is you only have clue to decipher for each one you need to plant. Its things like this that will have you rattling your brain now and then. Even after I completed the story there was still a few things I had to go back and do. The ball customization plays a part as well. I really like how the team made you customize the ball to speak to the the queen bee for example. There are also other inhabitants that will require your ball to look a certain way, experimentation is the key. You have six different colours to find which once you spray the ball they will change its colour. I had mine looking like a ladybug at one point as well as a skull.
I have to say the pinball gameplay part of Yoku’s Island Express has been pulled off extremely well. All over the island is what you could describe as mini pinball tables almost. These are scattered throughout the island and will serve as means to unlocking new areas and for boss battles. You will be making great use of the slug machine here as it will allow you to have a ball that acts like a bomb. There is also times when you will need to hit a certain loop to reveal parts of a key to unlock small doors. One memorable boss battle was up in the icy mountain where there was a blockage in the boosters of the space monkey ship. To defeat this you needed to knock away the boss’s feet at both ends and then hit it a few times. There are other bosses that will invoke a multi-ball type mode. The final boss battle was quite memorable having multiple stages but that’s all I will say so it doesn’t spoil things. All in all the pinball segments really do give the classic sonic games a run for their money when comparing it to the casino stages.
The island itself is pretty large with many different locations. You have a nice beach front view at the start as you then make your way into the looming forest ahead of you. Other locations include a desert area, the icy snow mountains high above the island. You will then find yourself in the deep dark caves underneath the Island where you will find yourself swimming in small mazes. While you will have these kind of locations in many platform games, they feel special in how immersive each location is as well as blending together seamlessly. It’s a real joy travelling between locations even without the use of the games fast travel.
When it comes to the graphics I really cant praise Villa Gorilla enough as this is just a right out hand drawing masterpiece. I mean each of the locations on offer are just so immersive and utilizes the background and foreground to great effect. There were plenty of times that I was just going about the island not doing anything except admire the games artwork and locations. The games soundtrack is spot on and really catchy, so much so I was whistling it while I was playing. It features a very reggae style sound and fits in perfectly, the only thing missing was a killer cocktail on my desk.
The Good Things
- Platformers and Pinball shouldn’t work but it does and it is great.
- Charming story.
- The pinball segments are a blast and even had me remembering back to some old pinball tables.
- Top platforming mechanics without any cheap deaths.
And The Bad
- The mature gamer will only need a couple of days to complete it, but challenging enough to keep younger gamers happy.
- The story may not be unique but it will still be a pleasure for the little gamer.
- Villa Gorilla have created a hand drawing masterpiece with some solid platforming pinball action. You can’t help but smile with glee as you traverse the large Island. You can see how everything was created to allow the merging of these two genres. The metroidvania style platforming lends itself well and is helped by some great level design. I am glad to say there is no cheap deaths. A dung beetle is the perfect hero rolling his little ball of Dung which you can change as you progress. All the characters you come across are a joy to meet. From talking mushrooms to a talking tree it provides just sheer unadulterated fun. This game will be a joy to play for the little ones, there is no doubt about that.
Hand drawing graphical masterpiece with solid platforming pinball action