yoku’s island express
a bug’s life
Sometimes it’s the small things that make the biggest difference. In this charming open-world adventure game you play a dung beetle called Yoku, who’s just arrived on the tropical island of Mokumana to replace an aging pterodactyl as its postmaster. You’re all ready to take on the Island Express and start delivering post, except you soon discover the island and its inhabitants are in grave danger. An ancient evil called the God Slayer has woken from its slumber, and Yoku must bring together the Old Ones hidden across the island to defeat it.
This is a beautifully quirky game full of fun surprises. Instead of rolling dung, Yoku is attached to a white pinball, which you roll across the island to get from place to place. Because this isn’t just an adventure game, it’s a pinball game too, with endless rooms and tunnels for you to explore. Using your controller’s triggers, you can switch on the pinball flippers dotted across the island, left for blue and yellow for right. It can be tricky at first: Jump on the wrong part of a flipper and it’ll send you sprawling through the wrong tunnel, but you can easily fall back and start again. You can also hit bouncy nodules to release shiny slabs of fruit, which you’ll need to collect, and crack open purple crystals and collect their shards to open doorways into new areas.
So far, so simple, especially if you’ve played pinball arcade games before. But what you won’t realize until you play it is just how addictively tactile Yoku is. You could easily whittle away hours sliding into new rooms, pinging against crystals and nodules, collecting pieces of fruit like they’re beautiful bounties, and sliding down shafts. Near the start of the game you can turn your pinball into a slug buster, which lets you suck up annoying slugs and use them as fuel to burst through obstacles. (Although this needs to be perfectly timed before the slug explodes and sends you flying in the wrong direction.) Later on, you can also turn your pinball into a grappling hook, which allows you to jump on a flipper, grapple onto hanging flowers, and swing like Tarzan to get to hard-to-reach places.
Despite how cute it looks, the game is challenging at times. Puzzles get harder as you progress, requiring more attention to detail and finesse. Sometimes it’s hard to see what’s happening on-screen, especially when it’s crowded with slugs, fruit, and crystals. Additional challenges come in the form of thorny drains: If you fall between two pinball flippers you’ll land on a dangerously thorny patch, hurting Yoku, and losing the fruit you’ve collected. This can be aggravating, especially when falling into a drain is the result of an exploding slug, and not your own clumsiness. What’s worse is getting stuck on a puzzle, where you try your hardest to jump into a particular tunnel just to fall into the wrong one. At times this can be button-mashingly annoying.
The joy of playing Yoku, however, is that there are so many different parts of the island to look at. If you want, you can leave a hard puzzle and head somewhere else for a bit before tackling it again. And that’s great, because exploring Mokumana is one of the most delightful things about the game. Beautifully crafted and divided into different geographical areas, you’ll travel from the jungle of Gorilla Woods, with its flaming torches, luscious flowers, and shrines of wise monkeys, to the snow-capped mountains of Ivory Peaks, to the steamy and putrid Mellow Hill. There’s also a creepy netherworld called the Underdark, a dungeon of shrines and cave paintings, where you can uncover the secrets of the Old Ones.
Another highlight is the creatures you meet along the way. Inspired by the films of Studio Ghibli, there are a number of unique inhabitants for you to interact with. There are Tweepers, white bunny-shaped spirits in a war against the dusty Sootlings, which look like they’ve been plucked from
SpiritedAway; the grumpy Skull Gang, who look like squat gnomes wearing death masks; and a menagerie of strangely adorable animals. This evokes the feeling of falling into a treasure chest of strange toys.
While searching for the four Old Ones takes up most of your time, there are errands and side quests for you to complete too. At first, you’ll sigh at the idea of backtracking to deliver a package in the area you first completed. That is, until you repair the Beeline, a transport system that whisks you across the island at speed in a number of tiny rockets. It’s a small addition to the game, but a fantastic one. While you’re delivering post, you can fix bridges and remove boulders, carry around Fungoids to spread their spores, and even learn to swim with the aid of a fish that you wear as a dress. It’s bizarre, and endearingly so.
There’s also the mysterious God Egg protected in the Underdark and on the verge of cracking. We’ll let you discover what this means, but it’s an element that tips the game from frivolous pinball fun into the realm of a complex fantasy narrative.
“You can whittle away hours just pinging against crystals and collecting fruit”
Far Left One of your tasks is to convince a giant eel to let you across his pond.
right These grumpy juice makers don’t like beetles. No mail for you then!
Left Jump across rooms by using the flippers at the bottom of your screen.