An atypical and original platformer that rewrites the rules of the genre and that amazes and amazes on every screen.
Although a certain mustachioed plumber continues to dominate, attracting millions and millions of players without disdaining some very important changes in the formula and in the game mechanics, the platform genre is certainly not one of the most popular in recent years, especially among the large companies. Sure, there are exceptions like EA-backed Unravel (an indie project anyway) but when a masterpiece like Rayman Legends disappoints Ubisoft’s sales expectations by relegating the aubergine man to oblivion there is inevitably something wrong.
While on the one hand the big productions are hiding, on the other the indie ones proliferate. Although less inflated than roguelikes / roguelites, independent platforms are certainly not lacking and in some cases they are based on truly excellent ideas. Putting aside the “atmospheric” puzzle / platform drift of Inside and Little Nightmares, there is room for extraordinary and winning ideas such as those of Snake Pass, a small pearl that abandons a pivotal mechanic of the genre such as the leap in favor of physics linked to the movements of the snake protagonist.
The power of ideas has always been one of the greatest pride of the indie scene and the Swedes of Villa Gorilla really have a lot of ideas. Yoku’s Island Express has been for years the dream to be realized at all costs for the small team based in Stockholm. A bizarre dream, to say the least, which however found in a historical name like Team 17 the necessary bank to land on PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One. Thanks to this cross-platform release, everyone can experience Yoku’s little adventures firsthand and everyone should absolutely do it.
Mokumana Island is a wonderful world full of characters and secrets to be discovered.
But why do we call Yoku’s Island Express “a bizarre dream”? Because exactly like Snake Pass it is a platformer that renounces a pillar of the genre, the jump, which does not choose the physical peculiarities of the protagonist as a basic mechanic but the way of hybridization between multiple souls apparently not so easily reconcilable. Yes, because frankly creating an open-world pinball machine seems like a rather strange and unlikely goal. However, the level design work is amazing, just like the whole adventure of the very nice Yoku.
A little Yoku who is traveling with his trusty ball, floating on the placid ocean that on the horizon seems to merge with a clear, calm and well-wishing sky. Yoku is a little beetle who can’t wait to embark on his new adventure: becoming the postmaster of Mokumana Island. He already has his nice postman hat and a bag full of enthusiasm. The light breeze gently pushes it towards the beach until a sudden and supernatural roar unleashes a wave that engulfs our tiny hero and makes him realize that the island is probably not as heavenly as it seemed. The threat of the Slayer looms over the deities and the entire island, and willy-nilly the new postmaster will find himself involved in a mission to restore peace and tranquility.
Thus begins a journey far and wide for the entire island, a journey that shows us an intricate open-world full of secrets, inaccessible areas and colorful and inspired characters. Exploring the lovingly packed island of Villa Gorilla is a pleasure for various reasons. First of all it is a pleasure for the eyes and ears, thanks to an impeccable work on an artistic level and music and so inspired as to remember sacred monsters such as the UbiArt Framework that moves the last chapters of Rayman or the efforts of the Rare of the past. . The music perfectly accompanies the gait of Yoku and his ball as they move between NPCs and hand-made settings through a proprietary engine that amazes for fluidity, style and detail.
It only takes a few minutes to find yourself in front of an open-world that encourages exploration and fuels curiosity.
But the pleasure certainly does not derive only from the artistic care, from the funny characters with whom we can easily dialogue also thanks to a complete localization of the texts in Italian, nor from a narration that, although it is a simple tinsel, does not disdain even some small twist. . What really shines is the pure and raw gameplay, that gameplay that starts from an idea, as mentioned, apparently weird but which in the end turns out to be surprisingly convincing. From this point of view, the work done on the control system should not be underestimated, with the various fins and trampolines differentiated in two colors corresponding to the two triggers of the controller. A choice that, together with the use of the left analogue for movement and a couple of front keys for the interactions, creates an intuitive and immediate scheme.
Imagining the entire explorable island as the little protagonist as a giant pinball machine may seem impossible but that’s exactly what the Swedish team has created. A series of paths to explore with our ball that more or less evidently recall the classic electric table football and which for this reason are characterized by platforms, flaps, buffers and bonuses of various kinds to be discovered. By hitting specific targets, for example, you get fruit, what can be considered a sort of coin of the game world that allows us to unlock trampolines and new fins or why not even maps to find the collectibles scattered in this intricate open-world pinball machine.
The open structure allows us to reach the various objectives indicated on the map through initially unknown routes, all while also taking advantage of alternative routes. At the same time we cannot immediately reach every single area as in the course of our adventure we have progressively obtained new skills that have allowed us to swim under the surface of the water but also to suck in strange explosive snails to transform our ball into a real one. and own bomb ready to explode on impact. A great gigantic interconnected level that closely resembles the metroidvania and that also encourages backtracking once you have unlocked skills that can open up areas already glimpsed but only touched at a first pass.
A pinch of metroidvania never hurt anyone, did it?
But backtracking, as all metroidvania developers know well, risks becoming boring if not studied carefully. However, the exploration of areas already seen is always fun and fresh thanks to the pinball mechanics and in case you want to shorten the travel times from one area to another, Yoku’s Island Express relies on a very fast travel system. functional and well implemented.
Also not to be underestimated is the amount of content hidden under the surface of the main story. If to complete this “central mission” it took about 6 hours seasoned with a fair amount of exploration, finding every single secret, completing every mission and filling every mailbox could easily bring the counter to 8, if not 10 hours. However, it must be said that the exploration is so pleasant that even during the sections related to the plot we were inevitably attracted by the desire to explore, intrigued by an apparently secret area or by a trampoline to be unlocked.
The quantity, however, is certainly not enough to decree a great game. Fortunately, variety is the other great ace in the hole of a software house that thanks to unlockable skills, excellent level design and different environments, has managed to give life to a great proposal of different situations, even coming to pack a handful of boss fights organized over several phases.
In addition to the main story, the secondary contents are certainly not lacking. What will this kind of egg hide?
How cool it is to get your hands on a game that has ideas to sell! But above all how nice it is to discover that those ideas, however strange, work perfectly, marrying with extreme refinement in a work of the highest quality. The only small fault of Yoku’s Island Express could be that it does not focus on a very high level of challenge typical of some platoforms, or at least some platform challenges, but it cannot be denied how this “defect” pales in the face of winning ideas fielded with remarkable effectiveness.
Villa Gorilla has undoubtedly won its challenge by pushing the arcade soul of pinball and pinball machines beyond the intrinsic limits. The fins, the trampolines and every single element of the pinball machines are grafted seamlessly into mysterious caves, expanses of water, snow-capped mountains and lush forests, binding to typical metroidvania mechanics and rewriting, in many ways, the same rules of platformers . Yoku’s adventure is therefore an almost perfect center, a game that everyone can appreciate and that places the almost unknown Swedish team in that group of indie studios with crystal clear talent and undeniable potential. For its part, Yoku’s Island Express reveals what we always want to see in an indie opera: the power of ideas, even better if original.