Yoku’s Island Express Preview
Do you admire insects and pinball? Sure, they’re an odd combination, but if you do, you’ve come to the right place. At PAX West 2017 I paid a visit to publisher Team17’s booth to get my hands on one of the most original platformers I’ve played in my twenty years of gaming. Ready your flippers and train your reflexes, because Yoku’s Island Express will have you launching pinballs from snow capped mountains to the depths of the sea.
There’s an island in turmoil and it’s up to a messenger named Yoku to save it. It just so happens that Yoku’s a Dung Beetle attached to a pinball, and he inhabits a Metroidvania style world built for what developer Villa Gorilla describes as “pinball platforming.” Yoku uses his ball to traverse slopes, roll through tunnels, and bounce off of bumpers, all while collecting delicious fruit. Fruit serves as the game’s currency and is used to acquire power-ups needed to progress further into the island and access specific areas.
From the character designs to the structure of the world, Yoku’s Island Express is one of the most interesting platformers I’ve ever experienced. Each section of the island is designed to simulate a miniature game of pinball, and they absolutely nail the execution. Pinball flippers reside at the bottom of each section and are used to launch Yoku into the twisting lanes containing the sacred fruit. The flippers are mapped to the triggers of the controller, and the left stick enables you to manipulate Yoku’s trajectory as he blazes through crevices and ricochets off of bumpers. The controls feel marvelous, and although I suck at pinball, the game doesn’t require you to be a pinball wizard in order to save the island.
Lining up your shots is all about timing and patience. There are multiple portions in each section of the island that require pinpoint accuracy to access. Thankfully, you never have to watch Yoku die, so, when you inevitably fail to hit his ball with the flippers, he simply falls through a hole and is launched back into the tracks. Over the course of the game, Yoku will explore all sorts of varying environments including the forest, a desert, the depths of the sea, and snowy mountains; all of which feature tricky pinball puzzles.
“Each section of the island is designed to simulate a miniature game of pinball, and they absolutely nail the execution.”
Following an action packed session of collecting fruit, I traded it all in exchange for what I believe was a birthday party horn. The horn upgrade enabled me to awaken a sleepy creature who was in possession of a certain tasty treat. Said treat was then used to feed a massive dragon who was blocking my path to the next area. Each area has you exchange your nutritious currency for the next power-up. Being a Metroidvania inspired world, you’re able to revisit areas to collect hidden treasures that can only be accessed with upgrades acquired later in the game.
Yoku’s Island Express is a brilliant, original platformer complemented by adorable characters and a marvelous soundtrack. You can pick it up in 2018 for PC and consoles.