The other day, I received a message out of the blue from a friend whose taste in games I trust. He was extolling the virtues of an unconventional new 2D adventure that’s a “fusion of pinball and Metroidvania games”. Instantly, that mind-blowing and heretofore unprecedented combo had my attention, and I knew I had to at least see how that even works. Plus, when else would I get a chance to play as a dung beetle postal worker in a video game?
What I found was far more awesome than I could have imagined, as the two genres proved to be a perfect fit whose sheer splendor was magnified thanks to taking a page out of Little Big Planet. In the end, I found myself engrossed in a perfect weekend adventure (~5 hours without going for 100%, which I will most definitely be doing next) that proved 2D platformers still have a lot of novel ideas to offer in a way I hadn’t experienced since last year’s phenomenal Steamworld Dig 2.
If not for being severely sleep deprived from a work-related all-nighter, I likely would have finished this gem all in one sitting, as I constantly found myself saying “just one more room” only to get distracted by yet another charming side-quest or hidden path. I found myself constantly in awe of the level design that somehow managed to make traversing a fairly sizable island via pinball flippers both intuitive and delightful.
In classic Metroidvania style, previously visited regions open up even further thanks to new skills you unlock along the way like diving, climbing, and even the highly useful and explosive slug sucking. The gameplay shines when combining multiple skills along with the zippy classic pinball and reaches dizzying heights when your colorful friends join you inside a pinball world leading to frantically trying to control multiple “balls” at once.
While I played the majority of my adventure in docked mode with my pro-controller, this game is perfect for wasting away a day in bed, as the Switch’s handheld mode makes you feel like you have a private pinball machine to yourself. Really, though, there’s no wrong way to experience this game so long as you get to sit back and just be throughly relaxed by the beautiful visuals, fun soundtrack, and carefree (and death-free) gameplay that was a welcome respite from my most recent punishing 2D platformer experience – Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.
Yoku’s Island Express likely flew under a lot of radars in the current crowded gaming market, but it’s worth every second of your time to be reminded of what it’s like when a game truly surprises and delights you.