Yoku’s Island Express is a game that floored me as to how much I enjoyed it. I’m a fan of the Metroidvania genre with Shadow Complex and Axiom Verge being two of my favorites. However, the pinball aspect to this game gave me pause as I’ve never been a particular fan of the classic arcade staple. But it ends up being one of the biggest strengths of the experience.
There have been times in other genre standouts that the gameplay can become tedious especially when backtracking and rooms respawning all of their foes. Here, the pinball tables help to break up the monotony not only through the stark difference in relation to the normal exploration but providing you with rewards as well, oftentimes in the form of currency. And what is crazy to me, is that I never found myself irritated with them due to one key gameplay element: you can still control Yoku when he is on the table.
It’s not like you can control him when he’s zooming around, but if he’s coming down on the side toward a flipper, you can slow him down, stop him or even hold the flipper up and get a running start to get to the opposite one. It’s a small thing, but it goes a long way to make you feel like you’re not getting stuck with the ball on one side.
However, not only are the pinball tables well-designed and fun, but there are flippers all across the island. Some are more of straight platforms that will launch you, oftentimes after paying a small fee of fruit (the game’s currency) resulting in finding secrets and chests. The positions of all of these are so perfectly laid out that it never feels like it takes an eternity to not only get across but also up the island.
What also helps is the fast travel system that was implemented called the Beeline. There are four across the island and you will launch yourself into a hollowed out beehive and then launch yourself to the next one on a predetermined path. Not only that, but the music while you’re doing this is fantastic as well.
Traversal is a huge part of vast open games and some of my favorite aspects of them, see Mirror’s Edge and last year’s Spider-Man as examples. So to have the traversal in this game be so unique and refreshing especially within the framework of a Metroidvania makes this one of the most unique games I have ever played. And that’s not even mentioning the stellar soundtrack, surprisingly deep lore of the island and the characters that make the game feel alive. Seriously, if you have any interest at all, check this one out. It’s the first game from Swedish developer Villa Gorilla and, if this is a sign of what’s to come, I might have another Supergiant Games on my favorite developers list.