I have to say that, when it comes to choosing a hero for a game, the lowly dung beetle would not be my first choice. I mean, come on, a creepy-crawly that eats feces is a bit grim. The team at Villa Gorilla don’t seem to have gotten this memo though, as they have created a totally adorable platforming hero out of one of these creatures. This is Yoku’s Island Express.
In Yoku’s Island Express, you take control of the eponymous beetle, who has just become the new postmaster of Mokumana Island and has to save everyone from a dangerous creature that has attacked the island’s deity. If all this sounds a bit far-fetched, can I remind you that you play as a dung beetle who is the postmaster for an island? While the setup may be unfamiliar territory, gameplay is full of traditional 2D platforming, puzzling, and pinball, but blended together in a new and interesting way.
The developers describe the game as “pinballvania,” and this is a very good way of looking at it. There is a lot of pinball in the game. The map is littered with flippers and bumpers, as well as specific enclosed sections that feel like you are playing a pinball machine. It’s also similar to Metroidvania games in the way that you keep backtracking and opening up new areas as you acquire new abilities.
The map has nice variations, but it can be a little confusing. I spent around an hour and a half trying to find the way to get to the next area I needed and was getting extremely frustrated with it. I was looking directly above the area marked on the map, but I needed to go to the extreme right of the map and work my way along. This was my only issue with the map though, as for the rest of the game it opened up through natural exploration. It doesn’t really hold your hand for the duration of the game; it simply opens new areas in just the right way and at the appropriate time.
The distinct areas to the map offer some nice changes to the visuals. All of these are done with great style while maintaining the “cute” look of the game. The design of the additional characters is fun and unique. In fact, if anything needed a little more personality in the design, it would be Yoku himself. He’s often very small on screen, and for a lot of it you just see him hanging behind the giant ball he’s holding on to. He never even talks, so you don’t know his personality or much of his story prior to the start of play.
Yoku’s Island Express does a brilliant job of combining the pinball and puzzle-platformer genre to create something unexpected and quite delightful. The way the game progresses, adding new mechanics that unlock new areas of the map, is pitched to near perfection. The story itself is pretty straightforward but does have a couple of nice moves, and the additional characters you find through the world are quirky and fun in just the right way. Villa Gorilla has made a fun, cute, great, little game that is nothing like anything else out there, and more importantly, it’s one that is worthy of your time and your money.