Yoku's Island Express already has a bunch of genres attached to it - it's been called a pinball game, a platformer, an adventure. After an hour with the game's final version, I'd like to helpfully add a few more - it's a bit of a Metroidvania, a bit of a puzzler. It's consistently charming and often wonderfully surprising. I can't really think of a lot else like it.
There are times when it is just one of the above, when the action slows to a single screen and you stay a while, your controller's trigger buttons acting as pinball flippers as you send Yoku, your little dungbeetle postman, flying around the screen. You control him while he pushes his suspiciously white ball, and off he goes, careering around cave tunnels and spilling colourful fruit all over the area. You're often looking to trigger certain things around the environment by collecting a certain number of items in one place, or shooting into a wall enough times to smash through.
And then the action is flowing again, through the game's open world which is there to explore with a surprising amount of freedom. Within the first hour of the game you're introduced to several areas in Mokumana Island, and three objectives to pursue. The path I took led me into an area where I acquired a Slug Vaccum, an item which let me suck up explosive gastropods to use as fuel. It's a way of adding another layer of skill to those pinball sections - where you need to pass by a slug, accurately suck up the poor invertebrate, then precisely aim yourself at something you need to blow up in order to detonate it and progress on.
Yoku is a beautiful game, and its Mokumana Island setting is a sunny, hazy paradise to explore - although later on you'll be visiting the requisite snowy and underwater areas you might expect. It's a densely packed strata of pathways and levels, one leading to another leading to a boost up into the tree canopy and down somewhere else. But it's easy to keep track of, with regular save and respawn points and a map to zoom out to so you can see your position and where you need to head next.
There are traps to avoid, and while Yoku can (unlike in earlier demos) never completely fail, an ominous counter marks the number of times you let the poor chap land in thorns and pass out. There are collectibles to collect, to unlock faster travel between areas. Often you'll roll by something teasing you to return when you have another ability, a path you can't yet progress. There are boss battles, one of which at least plays out over a single pinball screen, with added objectives to complete.
After an hour of play I've seen a small chunk of the map and still have most of the power-ups to unlock. It's not going to be an overly lengthy experience, I can tell, but that's not what Yoku is about. It's sweet and colourful and full of creatures which look like they were drawn for Adventure Time, all asking me to zoom around this island a little more. As games go, it feels like pure sunshine.
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