How Metroidvania is it? Medium Fit. No one expects a Pinball Game to make a good Metroidvania… But it just works. Obviously the core mechanic is going to make this a very different animal from your standard Metroidvania, but the exploration aspect is very well done.
Primary Challenge: Tricky Platforming
Time to beat: ~7 hours
Review Info: Yoku's Island Express was played on Steam
Buy Yoku's Island Express if you like…
- Pinball Games
- Relaxing Island Music and Atmosphere
- Treasure Hunting
- Cute Critters
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When I first heard about Yoku’s Island Express, I had to do a double take. Never could I have imagined when I began this project to play every Metroidvania Game on steam that I would end up playing a pinball Game. Obviously if you just hate pinball games then this isn’t the Metroidvania for you. But if you like genre fusion, then I think it’s safe to say that Yoku’s Island Express is the absolute best for what it is – and this is primarily because it does its Metroidvania elements so well.
Unfortunately for me the pinball aspect turns out to not be my favorite thing – and not because it’s bad. I just don’t think I’m the right audience for it. My experience with pinball consists of Sonic Spinball, and of course a few hours with that Space Cadet pinball game that came with Windows for a while. For me, pinball was never the type of game that I’d spend more than five or ten minutes at a time on – probably because I’ve never been amazing at it. Because of that I can’t really comment on whether Yoku’s Island Express lives up to any pinball standards. I suspect some hardcore pinball fans are going to be annoyed by the physics fudging Yoku uses to get the pinball around its world, but that kind of thing is just necessary to make this weird combination work. What I can do is contrast the normal Action Platforming combat of a Metroidvania game to Yoku’s Island Express. Action Platformers are about timing your attacks and moving your character into position. Pinball is about timing your paddle swings and waiting for your character to fall into position. I feel like there’s a little more creativity involved with player expression in action platforming, which caters to my individual personality a little more. With that said, Yoku’s Island Express definitely takes a lot of skill to play well, so there’s certainly value in its mechanics. I’m just providing an excuse for any readers out there who saw the pinball premise and weren’t sold on it.
With that said, at any given point in the game I was able to go to at least three different areas to explore, and even when you achieve the game’s normal ending you’re potentially only halfway done with its content. Like any good Metroidvania (some say it’s a requirement for the genre), there are power-ups to find that open up new areas and chipping away at the world map is just as fun as it always is. Essential power-ups are found in the main story path which are marked on the map for you, but as I said you usually have a choice on which one you want to go first – or you can go a completely different direction and find a new objective. Most of the optional exploration rewards center around making it easier to find other rewards, unlocking the game’s other ending, and getting more currency.
The currency is an important part of what keeps the game engaging. Your typical pinball game is entirely a score chasing affair – the object is to keep the ball aloft as long as possible while aiming for specific objectives until you’ve got the highest score on that particular cabinet. Yoku’s Island Express plays into that by requiring you to spend your “points” (represented by fruit) in order to unlock shortcuts or new pathways forward, meaning that you can’t simply treat each pinball section like a mere obstacle in your path. It also makes the endless loop of failure more palatable, because inevitably the longer you’re in a pinball room, the more fruit you make. They do have a cap on the amount of fruit you can carry, which can be increased, but it prevents you from making the fruit irrelevant too easily. It’s an ingenious reward system, though it didn’t keep me from getting a little annoyed from time to time when I failed to make a shot five times in a row.
What I really find ingenious though is how the game adds
tension to what is otherwise a casual punishment for falling into a pit.
Normally when you fail to launch the ball again, you fall into some
thorns and lose one or two fruit, which is nothing compared to losing a
real-life quarter or token like you would normally in the origin genre.
But the game teases with some cut scenes that there’s something more for
players who don’t fall too often, which put me on my toes for a pretty
long time. I mean, I didn’t get anywhere close to accomplishing
something with that, but it does give players something to strive for on
a second play through if they feel so inclined.
Other than that the general story of the game is pretty generic. I like how it starts, and I like the general flow, but the normal ending just kind of fell flat for me. Besides being gorgeously hand painted, the characters are mostly forgettable and some of the game’s events have little to no buildup. However, the story really doesn’t matter that much. Where Yoku’s Island Express wins points with its theming is in the atmosphere.
If you’re looking for a mostly relaxing experience that also offers something completely different, Yoku’s Island Express is pretty much the game of the year. By no means is it the best Metroidvania game, but it’s certainly the best Pinball Metroidvania game you’re going to find currently, and probably ever will find, at least until Yoku’s Island Express 2 comes out.
Not really ''combat'' per se, though there are a few instances where you deal with things with healthbars
Not really Platforming in the traditional sense, but the Pinball is fun if not a little off-base when it comes to physics
Metroidvania fans will love the loads of secrets to be found accross the island, some being very challenging to reach
Occasionally you need to piece together how to reach treasures
Generic story. Doesn't ruin the game or anything (because it's totally unecessary), just slightly eye-rolling at times.
Very pretty graphics with a relaxing island palette. Characters are detailed and fun to look at
Sometimes the music feels like it needs a little more ''oomph'' for the occasion, but in general it's a great and relaxing soundtrack
Hints at there being more to it in an excellent way that would require you to avoid ''taking damage'' - so that may require a replay
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