Oh yes, wait a minute Mr Postbug, wai- hey, hey, hey Mr Postbug. Mister Postbug look and see (Oh yeah!) oh what you do, you doing to me (Oh yeah!) Oh I’m in love with you cant you see~! Ahem. I assure you I have not gone crazy, except maybe crazy in love! That’s right, Yoku’s Island Express releases today and has left an irremovable stamp on my heart, as it will yours too. This little gem is one game everyone must have in their collection, but why do I recommend it so highly? Read on to find out!
Game: Yokus Island Express
Developer: Villa Gorilla
Publisher: Team 17
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4 (Review code provided), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Yoku’s Island Express is the debut game from Villa Gorilla, a team of only three people who have successfully created a charming and magical masterpiece.
Our adventure follows Yoku, a small dung beetle who has set out for Mokumana Island to take over the role of Postmaster from the retiring Posteradactyl. This tropical paradise offers an easy life, boundless sunshine and sweet delights, or so it was thought. Yoku’s life in paradise quickly turns stormy as the ancient island deity suddenly falls victim to a cursed mark and a deep slumber. It falls on Yoku, the most unlikely of heroes, as the new postmaster to help the islands quirky inhabitants, bring the post-office back to its former glory and unite the three chieftains to wake the old god from its nightmare.
Not only do I have this little gem on my mind all the time, but the Hawaiian beat too! As you may expect, the soundtrack features a plethora of Polynesian tracks that had me swaying on my sofa like a hula dancer from the instant the game started. (In fact, I’m still doing it right now!) The main theme is heart-lifting and incredibly infectious; I just can’t stop humming the tune and having a little sway randomly throughout my day. The music beautifully reflects the tropical nature of the island and incorporates traditional Hawaiian folk music with mele chanting and traditional instruments such as the ukelele and the ‘ohe hano ihu. The soundtrack also features more modern pop and electronic tracks and changes as you go from one location to the other, often turning more slow, beaty and ominous as you traverse the depths of the underbelly. It is incredibly tranquil and makes for a very chilled gaming session that can easily see you through the long hours you will spend addicted to it!
I could swear that Yoku’s Island Express was made especially for me. Seriously, it just ticks all of my boxes and then some! It is cute, kawaii, maikaʻi! The character designs are as quirky as their personalities and whether it is intentional or not, some seem to have been inspired by Studio Ghibli, with Totoro like bunnies, sootballs and kodama. I am a huge fan of Studio Ghibli and anything as adorable as these so my heart is just falling for this game on visuals alone! As for Yoku himself, he is utterly adorable; I just want to keep him with me all the time. Characters aside, the graphics are absolutely stunning! Everything has been lovingly crafted and hand-painted with watercolours, reminding me very much of Rayman Legends. A lot of time, love and attention has gone into every nook and cranny; it is incredibly detailed and is a true masterpiece of art. The world stretches far off into the distance on multiple planes yet remains as defined in the background as it does the foreground; you can even see birds flying around in the distance, a subtle yet elegant touch. Colours are vivid and really bring the island to life, whilst more subtle and cooler hues represent some of the islands much harsher weather conditions and deepest secrets. You really do just have to pause and take a moment to admire the beauty of the surroundings. Upon releasing an eclipse of moths, the slow and blurred motions of their translucent wings made me stop in awe… it was a truly serene and paradisical moment.
Yoku’s Island Express presents a unique metroidvania action-adventure, featuring pinball mechanics that I have never before experienced. Summing this up personally, I would say this is the glorious result of combining all the best elements from Rayman Legends, Tearaway, Pikmin and Sonic Pinball, all of which I adore. For such a small bug, the island of Mokumana is monumental! Whilst you can roll around on your ball (for which looks like a ping pong ball not a ball of dung), controls are simple, utilising flippers to ricochet you around the land by pressing the L2 and R2 shoulder buttons, with other buttons only being used to bring up the world map and satchel inventory. As with any pinball machine, your skill will need to be refined at times, applying timing, precision and technique in order to reach new heights and specific locations. Flippers can be located all over the map to help you reach higher platforms, whilst the true action of pinball is scattered across many hollowed out sections. Within these sections, you must utilise flippers to traverse through tunnels and ramps or activate saucers, bumpers, kickers and slingshots to collect items progress to the next area. It is an immensely fun experience, yet at times it can be extremely frustrating when things don’t go the way you want. It is this challenge in the mechanics however that give you a great sense of accomplishment once you have reached your target successfully!
The map at first is shrouded in clouds and will gradually be revealed as you traverse the island, from lush forests to icy peaks. You can make use of telescopes to reveal more and to get a broader view of your current location. You can also view the map at any time and zoom in on specific location which can help in navigation and locating areas/items of interest. You are free to explore the interconnected island in any way you wish, however, some areas may be blocked by doorways or seals and other obstacles, such as pools of water that will require you to revisit later on once you have the required tools. Doors and seals can often be broken by hitting switches or collecting gems which light up runes to reveal new passages. On your journey you will come across a variety of fruit which acts as the worlds currency and can be collected freely around the map or by breaking items and hitting targets or lights in pinball hollows. You may even receive some by helping out the locals. The amount of fruit you can carry can be expanded by finding wallet upgrades and can be used to unlock chained up flippers that will help you reach new areas on the map. You can even use fruit to purchase special items that will help you locate treasure chests and wickerlings, so it is a good idea to stock up on as much fruit as you can! If you tun out, locations can often be revisited, where bumpers and targets will be reset so that you can collect more.
Exploration is key and is highly encouraged! Take your time to check every corner, bump into every wall; you may just find a secret cave of treasures or a hidden path to that location you just couldn’t quite figure out how to reach before! When all seems impossible and you cant figure a way out, you may just be missing the right tool for the job or need some friendly local advice. As the postmaster, part of your duty is to get to know the local citizens and help them out with their quests. Doing so will often reward you with some good advice, fruit and even new tools! The Noisemaker, aka, Party Blower is super fun (yet super annoying to others in the room) and is your first basic tool that can get you past most crystallized fruit boulders. Other boulders may require a more explosive approach, which is where the handy Slug Vacuum comes in. Just suck those slimy fellows up and attached them to your ball, then time and line up your explosion precisely and presto, your away! It may sound weird, but this is actually one of the handiest tools in the game if you work out how to use it effectively… Perhaps the most bizarre of them all is the Dive Fish. This little guy startlingly attaches himself to your rear end, and well, hey, you can now swim underwater…! I must admit, I found this utterly amusing and whilst slightly inappropriate, it is just too funny! I’ve lost count of the amount of people I rushed to share this with. (Sorry, not sorry!)
These are not only quirky things that the island of Mokumana has to offer, there really is so much fun to be had. Another form of transportation and the quickest once unlocked is the Beeline, which can zip you from one side of the map to the other in a matter of seconds, accompanied by some rather great but cheesy elevator style music. Gotta keep those bees calm! For the fashion conscious, your ball can be customised using coloured sprinkles. Once found, these can change the colour and pattern in an instant. This also has a more practical purpose and was a completely surprising yet ingenuous discovery, but its down to you to get creative and experiment to see why.
It is the use of these tools and puzzle solving that will get you through. It can be a hard and laborious task but the adventure, exploration and sense of accomplishment is very much worth it. Whilst the game is fairly casual, there are a few bosses to defeat. It is at these times you realise you are not alone, and some friends you make along the way will always be there to lend a hand. Whilst the bosses themselves are not hard, the difficulty lies in figuring out tactics and utilising your skill and precision to fire away at them, at times flipping not only yourself but up to 4 others as well!
It is a crazy yet delightful journey, with my completion taking around 30 to 35 hours to complete. Whilst the main story could be wrapped up sooner, taking your time to explore and overcome obstacles will take a considerable amount of time and effort, rewarding you with more to do even after you believed the story to be finished.
Yoku’s Island Express is one of the most charming and delightful games this year! One small bug, one big heart and one monumental adventure. It has been an amazing experience from beginning to end and one I have been unable to wait to share with everyone. It is unique, quirky and ingenious and I advise everyone to add this to their collection right now! Whilst I did encounter one crash during my entire play-through, this is not enough to make me say one bad word about it.