Game Review: Yoku’s Island Express

Yoku’s Island Express is a pleasant surprise. Its charming visuals and simple yet engaging playstyle outweigh its shortcomings and provide players of all ages with a game worth exploring. I was initially turned off by the title, which seemed to imply that the game would be a ripoff of Yoshi’s Island, one of my old SNES favorites. Many indie games use knockoff titles and artwork to trick foolish consumers into purchasing inferior products. I’d seen Yoku on various game stores for a while, and assumed it was one of those phoned-in pieces of vaporware. Not so! Yoku’s Island Express might as well be called Sonic Spinball but Good, as it shares more in common with that ancient Genesis game than anything Yoshi related. It’s an adventure/exploration game with pinball mechanics starring a lovable dung beetle. If someone had led with those details rather than the lame title, I might have bought it sooner.

Yoku the dung beetle is the new mail carrier for a small island community. Yoku is tied to a stone ball that serves as both a Sisyphus-ian albatross and means of conveyance. Using the triggers on your controller you can flip Yoku’s ball this way and that, like you would with the flippers on a standard pinball machine. These flippers, catapults and trampolines occur naturally all over the island, and you use them constantly to gain altitude, reach collectibles, and complete missions for the island’s inhabitants. The main plot revolves around Yoku needing to gather together the island’s three chiefs in order to save the island god, a big toady-looking beast who has been recently savaged by something called the “god killer.” The god killer aspect of the story feels decidedly inappropriate for a game that looks like a storybook, and in terms of execution, it is probably the game’s biggest misstep. Without spoiling the ending, a third-act twist feels more like a slap-in-the-face than logical storytelling. It’s another example of the modern obsession with surprising the audience rather than aiming for consistency. In general, I will always argue that a twist’s impact is momentary, whereas a good story’s consistency can make it a classic forever.

That being said, no one would dare play this type of game for the story. You’ll be playing to bounce your bug along the map, collecting fruit and unlocking items that help you scale higher and higher. The characters are well-designed and have pleasant dialogue. Everything is piping with personality. The main quest is fairly easy to complete, but there are a bunch of additional tasks to try if you’re the obsessive type. There’s no real incentive to go above and beyond, but if you truly like the gameplay you might be begging for more. I felt that the game’s main story was the perfect length to spend with the title, as things wound down at the exact point when I was getting a bit tired of the pinball-esque looparounds and precision shots.

Yoku’s Island Express is an easy recommendation for children and adults who want something sweet and sunny to distract themselves from the world’s woes. The music is endearing and nothing ever feels frustrating. I had a bit of an issue getting my slug vacuum, yes you read that right, to function properly, but I think it was a problem with my PlayStation controller interacting with my Windows machine and not a fault of the game itself. (For those suffering from the same issue, try releasing the trigger before tapping it again to suck up a slug. Good life advice in general.) As a Game Pass title, this is a must-have. Without Game Pass, I’d wait for a sale and snatch it up for a fun weekend fling. Just don’t go in expecting Yoshi, or you might be begging for a refund.  

Spellbound Sword Passes 100,000 Reads!

This post is a post of appreciation for my fans, friends, family and readers who’ve helped my book get as far as it has already. That’s right, your eyes tell no lies. Spellbound Sword is officially past the 100k reads mark! I’ve had that milestone in my mind for quite some time now, but never did I believe we might actually get here. Every day I thought the popularity might wain. Call it imposter syndrome or anxiety or fear or what have you, but you’ve proven me wrong, and I couldn’t be more delighted. This is a cause to celebrate!

Thank you so much to everyone who’s stuck with this book and read it beginning to end, putting up with my spelling errors, logical fallacies, and other first draft nincompoopery, not to mention my habit of replying to comments I deem ridiculous with further ridiculousness. (Some might call this trolling. I call it ‘interacting with my fanbase.’) You are all very much appreciated, even those of you who leave mind-boggling comments at the bottom of the screen. I could not have achieved this without you, even the people who started the book and said, ‘Nah, not for me.’ Haha, the jokes on you, you impersistent suckers! I’ve used your reads to achieve this monumental goal, so even your hatred fuels the fires of my creativity!

All kidding aside, I feel really great today. My life has not always been wine and roses. Anxiety, frustration, and personal issues have often left me a mess of discombobulation, unsure of which way to push forth. My previous novels have not seen much praise. When I started Spellbound Sword I thought, well, if no one likes this one, I’m going to give up writing forever. I was convinced that I had misled myself all these years, that I just didn’t have it in me to produce anything of actual value. And now here we are! Just a brief year later and you wonderful lot have ballooned my success to untold fortune! (Now if I could somehow get paid at some point, I might be able to abandon my commitment to artistic poverty- but, ya know, baby steps…)

Thank you once more for your help and kind words. I’m going to keep writing and editing, working on this book and its sequels. I hope you enjoy all the twists and turns to come, and I hope we can keep growing this audience until it eclipses the solar system.

Sincerely,

Matt Shore