Yoku’s Island Express begins with a small beetle, conveniently named Yoku, tethered to a pinball as he washes up on the mysterious island of Mokumana. In a twist of fate, the island is in need of a new postmaster and Yoku is the perfect replacement. Originally tasked with delivering the mail that has taken over the postmaster’s office, it does not take long for Yoku to get roped into something bigger. The island of Mokumana is protected by an ancient deity, but shortly after Yoku’s arrival the deity is viciously attacked, weakened and scarred by a mythical Godslayer. Yoku’s role as the island’s postmaster has already set him on a path to meet the wacky cast of characters that inhabit Mokumana, but the mystery of the Godslayer lays on an extra layer of tension to his existing adventure. Yoku continually finds himself at the behest of the NPCs, carrying out various quests for them in order to acquire necessary items and abilities to solve the mysteries of Mokumana.
While Yoku’s Island Express is predominantly an adventure game, it’s the blending of the pinball and platforming genres that stand out the most. Pinball and platformers are not two genres that, on the surface, feel like they should fit together. Yet somehow Yoku’s Island Express makes them feel as if they’ve been best buddies since the dawn of gaming. Tucked away inside the beautifully illustrated world of Mokumana, players will find blue and orange paddles and bumpers that are more traditionally at home on a pinball table. The blue and orange color scheme, while juxtaposed with the realistic color scheme of the world itself, serves as a visual cue for the player. Blue bumpers are tied to the left trigger, while orange ones are tied to the right. One other paddle variant, striped with both blue and orange, responds to the left and right triggers indiscriminately. Players can control Yoku’s movement to an extent by pushing left and right on the analog stick or the d-pad, but any vertical movement is limited to the use of the bumpers.
While most platformers break down the game world into a variety of stages with the player’s primary goal to go from point A to point B, Yoku’s Island Express opts to present the island of Mokumana as one static world map, with the various areas becoming cleared of fog as the player progresses. Eventually, the entirety of the map is available for the player to traverse at their leisure. The map far more expansive than one would expect a tiny little dung beetle to get across quickly, however, so the developers were kind enough to include a handy dandy Beeline to make crossing the map easier. That said, attempting to cross the map with the Beeline was the one thing that made the game struggle with freezing. Ideally, players would use the bee line by pressing left or right trigger to dictate which direction they would like to go, then press the respective trigger a second time to launch Yoku to the next beeline hive in the row. During most of the time with the beeline, launching more than 2-3 hives would cause the game to stall and freeze. While the freezing was nothing that a little patience could wait out, it was still frustrating and stressful to watch the game hang with half loaded textures between hives and a save icon in the corner. It is also worth mentioning that for this review Yoku’s Island Express was played on an Xbox One S, and this issue may or may not be limited to that console version.
As previously mentioned players have more to do than just delivering mail and overdue packages, as Yoku’s quest will see him delivering summons to the three island chiefs in an effort to save the cursed deity. As a gameplay mechanic, these chiefs serve to break down the plot into three sections, each complete with an epic boss battle set within the confines of a pinball scene. While the majority of Yoku’s Island Express can be deemed kid friendly, these boss battles can be quite difficult for younger audiences. Still, with the help of a willing adult or older sibling and the use of the Xbox’s copilot functionality, even younger players can manage to overcome these bosses without much struggle. The bar for difficulty is quite low as Yoku never takes damage and doesn’t face death, so the biggest effort in completing the game comes from simply figuring out what ramps or rails to hit in order to progress the battles.
Collector-aholics can rejoice as there are plenty of items scattered throughout Mokumana to seek out, and players that are less than thrilled by endless collectible hunting can also breathe a sigh of relief as various NPCs either sell or offer up collectible maps as rewards to make tracking down that completion even easier. Following the unexpected plot twist and final boss battle, players do have the option of sticking with their save file in hopes of picking up all of the abilities and collectibles that they have missed during their initial playthrough. Despite the aforementioned issues with freezing during Beeline usage, Yoku’s Island Express ultimately boils down to an enjoyable mash up of pinball and platforming that is as casual and player friendly as it is beautiful. The story itself is charming and fun, and there’s plenty to keep players coming back to fully explore the world even after the main adventure is done.