52 Yoku’s Is­land Ex­press

This charm­ing pin­ball ad­ven­ture sim­ply wants you to roll with it


PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One

De­vel­oper Villa Go­rilla Pub­lisher Team 17 For­mat PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One Ori­gin Swe­den Re­lease 2018

Pin­ball and ex­plo­ration hardly seem the most nat­u­ral bed­fel­lows. Mind you, nei­ther do pin­ball and mil­i­tary strat­egy, and that didn’t stop Yoot Saito mak­ing GameCube cu­rio Odama. But hav­ing set­tled on its un­usual com­bi­na­tion – and an un­likely hero in Yoku, a dung bee­tle teth­ered to a ball – Swedish in­die Villa Go­rilla re­alised its de­but was de­vel­op­ing an iden­tity cri­sis. “We did some fo­cus test­ing and re­alised it was a very stress­ful game,” co-founder Jens An­der­s­son ad­mits. “Which is in­her­ent to pin­ball, re­ally: it’s fo­cused for short bursts of time, and that didn’t mesh well with the ex­plo­ration.” The so­lu­tion wasn’t to lower the dif­fi­culty so much as re­duce the pun­ish­ment for miss­ing a shot – or, as An­der­s­son puts it, “to make it more chill.”

It’s a de­ci­sion that pays off hand­somely. Yoku’s Is­land Ex­press might lack the flash­ing lights and fu­ri­ous noise of your av­er­age pin­ball ta­ble, but the plea­sure in arc­ing the ball smoothly around a loop or across a rail is undi­min­ished by the rel­a­tive lack of spec­ta­cle. Miss­ing the in­tended ramp is never dis­as­trous; yes, you’ll still want to avoid drain­ing the ball,

“We didn’t want to just have pin­ball ta­bles linked to­gether. That doesn’t in­ter­est us”

since clus­ters of thorns lie be­tween each set of flip­pers, and touch­ing them means losing some of Yoku’s supply of fruit. Yet these can be quickly re­plen­ished by hit­ting nearby tar­gets. As such, a game where you’re of­ten mov­ing at speed feels oddly re­lax­ing, which fits with its de­vel­oper’s de­sire to let you tra­verse this sur­pris­ingly ex­pan­sive world at your own pace. Some­times dis­cov­er­ies come about by happy ac­ci­dent, a mist­imed flip tak­ing you some­where you weren’t in­tend­ing to go, but which re­wards you any­way. “Miss­ing a shot should still be fun,” An­der­s­son be­lieves, though the chests and col­lectible crit­ters that lie away from the crit­i­cal path tend to re­quire more skill than luck to reach.

If nei­ther of the playable chunks in our demo comes to a nat­u­ral end­ing, that’s be­cause they’re part of a much larger whole. “We didn’t want to just have pin­ball ta­bles linked to­gether,” An­der­s­son says. “That doesn’t re­ally in­ter­est us as de­vel­op­ers. We like build­ing worlds; we like hav­ing a story.” As such, though the biomes are di­verse, the en­vi­ron­ments will flow seam­lessly into one an­other, with artist Mat­tias Snygg re­spon­si­ble for the lush, hand-painted look. “I worked with him back at Star­breeze when we did

Chron­i­cles Of Rid­dick,” An­der­s­son tells us. “Paint­ing is def­i­nitely his strength so we wanted to lever­age that.”

This rich and char­ac­ter­ful world is gated in a fa­mil­iar fash­ion, al­though Yoku’s abil­i­ties are any­thing but or­tho­dox. They’re un­locked by feed­ing fruit into totems. Our first toy, a noise­maker, stirs a slum­ber­ing crea­ture into start­ing up a fan, which car­ries us up a vent to a snowy peak – once we’ve closed both ex­ter­nal hatches, at any rate. Later, we gain the power of a slug vac­uum, and at­tract ex­plo­sive gas­tropods that det­o­nate when the ball col­lides with ob­struc­tive rocks. Else­where, a gi­ant eel halts our progress un­til we bring him a mush­room that grows on the cliffs above. At the top we col­lect our prize, but also lo­cate a poi­son toad­stool nearby. Both, it turns out, can be used to solve the prob­lem; it merely de­pends on whether you’re feel­ing benev­o­lent or spite­ful.

With such a bright, at­trac­tive set­ting and char­ac­ters, Yoku’s Is­land Ex­press should have wide ap­peal, though An­der­s­son is cu­ri­ous to see whether the speedrun­ning com­mu­nity latches onto it. In­deed, there will be se­quence breaks in the game for ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers to ex­ploit. “Through­out de­vel­op­ment we’ve dis­cussed this specif­i­cally,” he says. “The slug vac­uum is pretty much a rocket jump: it’s one of those ma­noeu­vres that, from a de­sign point of view, we don’t nec­es­sar­ily ex­pect the player to use, but since they can, we need to sup­port it. We had the choice of ei­ther re­mov­ing that fea­ture, or sup­port mas­sive se­quence-break­ing in the game.” Nat­u­rally, it’s been kept in – well, it’s not called Ex­press for noth­ing.

Reach a tele­scope, and the cam­era will zoom out to show the lo­cal area – this, how­ever, is just a tiny frag­ment of the world map

TOP LEFT Not all Yoku’s un­lock­able abil­i­ties are manda­tory, An­der­s­son tells us; some will be en­tirely op­tional, re­ward­ing more thor­ough ex­plor­ers.

ABOVE In­ter­ac­tive ob­jects are colour-coded: blue for the left trig­ger, orange for the right. Some bounce pads can be ac­ti­vated with ei­ther

LEFT With no bumpers or flip­pers at the top of the moun­tain, Villa Go­rilla can pile on the wind and snow ef­fects, though it’s pri­ori­tised read­abil­ity else­where. An­der­s­son says:“It’s more im­por­tant to be clear what’s go­ing on than to be pretty”

Bear left from the start and you’ll float over to an is­land, though we’d be sur­prised if there wasn’t an abil­ity that let Yoku head un­der­wa­ter at some point

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