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Video Game / Yoku's Island Express

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Yoku's Island Express is a 2018 action-adventure game developed by Swedish studio Villa Gorilla and published by Team17 that melds the exploration and discovery-based design of a Metroidvania-style platformer with the play mechanics of pinball.

Players assume the role of Yoku, a dung beetle who's sailed to Mokumana Island to become the island's postmaster. His plans to live an easy, sun-soaked island life are quickly interrupted upon learning that the island's local deity is severely injured and in a deep sleep, and its nightmares are producing storms and earthquakes. So, armed with his trusty ivory ball, Yoku sets out to find and correct the cause of the island's woes.

Yoku's Island Express's claim to uniqueness is that, despite the fact that it's an action-adventure game, its titular character cannot jump. Vertical movement is handled almost exclusively by pinball paddles, and there are frequent segments of the game where Yoku must conquer a traditional pinball table to advance. Outside of this mechanic, Yoku's Island Express is a traditional Metroidvania — the emphasis is on exploration, discovery, puzzle solving, and gaining new abilities that open up new parts of the world.

Yoku's Island Express contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Anti-Frustration Features: The Slug Vacuum and Sootling on a Leash tools, which are often required to be used while flying through the air at high speed, both cause time to slow down when an airborne Yoku passes within range of a target, giving the player a better chance of completing the action successfully.
  • Bag of Holding: Yoku gathers various story-relevant items throughout the game, and your inventory never becomes overfilled. Averted, however, with Yoku's wallet, which you have to upgrade to hold more fruit.
  • Big Bad: The God Slayer, who is responsible for attacking Mokuma and threatening everyone on Mokumana Island by extension, and had killed Mokuma's fellow Ancients, intent on finishing his job in the pursuit of gaining all of their power. He's really Kickback, who accompanies you for most of the game.
  • Big Good: Mokuma, the god and namesake of Mokumana Island who created the island and is responsible for holding up the island with his lifeforce.
  • Brown Note: At one point, Yoku has to blast a bat with his noisemaker to make it poop, and you can repeat until a pretty impressive pile has accumulated. Well, Yoku is a dung beetle after all...
  • Cap Raiser: Your wallet is limited in the amount of fruit currency you can carry, which is used for buying new paths or for certain exchanges. There are several wallet upgrades throughout the world that can increase the capacity by 50 fruit each, from 100 fruit up to 600.
  • Collection Sidequest: A few. For 100% completion, you must deliver mail to all the mailboxes, deliver three overdue packages, and collect all the Wicklerlings in the game.
  • Cosmic Egg: A secretive group of caretakers is protecting the egg of the last island god. According to legend, if it hatches, it will bring prosperity and good luck to all. Strangely, the Wickerlings scattered across the world seem to be the key to hatching it.
  • Death Is a Slap on the Wrist: Unlike traditional pinball games, the only penalty for "losing a ball" is the loss of a few pieces of fruit, which is the in-game currency. And fruit is by no means hard to come by.
  • Digital Pinball Tables: As is befitting of a game where your ability to move is reliant on pinball mechanics, the game features several of these as progression gates.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: At several points in the game, characters will mention that someone must have been responsible for Mokuma's curse and that it may be someone who you least expect. In the end, the perpetrator turns out to be Kickback, the creature who's been serving as your ball saver all game.
  • Do Well, But Not Perfect: One of the sidequests and its reward can only be obtained after you have lost your ball fifty times.
  • Easily Forgiven: After defeating Kickback, you can find him and forgive him after he laments being consumed by his lust for power, thus regaining the ability to use him as an item again.
  • Equipment-Based Progression: Yoku doesn't level up or gain any inherent abilities beyond being a pinball — finding new items and using them in creative ways are the only ways to progress and/or find hidden items in the game.
  • Equippable Ally:
    • At one point, you befriend a Sootling who becomes your grappling hook.
    • While you don't actually equip them at any point, your inventory includes Skvader, who drops tons of fruit, and Kickback, who will block you from losing a ball and occasionally have a short conversation with you. Why they appear in your inventory is anyone's guess, because you can only use them when you grab them as items in a pinball table.
  • Evil All Along: Kickback, your helper who had been assisting you throughout the game, is in fact the evil God Slayer. It's possible after defeating him to find and forgive him, in which case he'll began helping you again.
  • Exposition Fairy: Kickback will occasionally chime in to note your progress through the main story.
  • Expy: The Sootlings are very clearly inspired by the Soot Sprites from My Neighbor Totoro.
  • Extended Gameplay: After completing the main quest and seeing the ending, you're allowed to go exploring and work towards the 100% Completion Ending.
  • False Friend: Turns out your companion/occasional helper Kickback is the Big Bad of the game.
  • Foregone Victory: You cannot die, render the game otherwise Unwinnable, or permanently lose access to any part of the map. Patience and a willingness to experiment are arguably more integral to 100% Completion than raw skill.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus / Rewatch Bonus: At the end of the “prologue”, Yoku gets blasted high into the air, flying past the title screen before falling back to where he started. If you watch carefully, you’ll see that he smashes through the bridge next to Sandro’s house on the way up, setting up the literal Broken Bridge he’ll need to fix later.
  • Frog Men: The Space Monks, humanoid frogs who are passionate about science and as their name suggests, space, to the point of creating a rocket to blast most of them off to space.
  • Genre Mashup: Combines the exploration-based format of a Metroidvania-style platformer with the gameplay mechanics of pinball. It actually works surprisingly well.
  • Heroic Mime: Although NPCs converse with Yoku as though he occasionally speaks to them, Yoku never says anything that the player can read.
  • Improvised Weapon: While Yoku's primary weapon is his trusty ball, he also makes use of a party favor and exploding slugs to solve puzzles, overcome obstacles, and defeat enemies.
  • Insurmountable Waist-Height Fence: There is an Overpowering Constant Wind that blows Yoku back toward shore if you try to swim away from the island.
  • It's Up to You: Yoku has to do almost everything in this game by himself, as the vast majority of NPCs are either unable or unwilling to help with even the most menial of tasks. Seemingly averted at one point on the Ivory Peaks Trail, when each member of the expedition is sent off to complete a separate fetch quest, but the others all prove to be incompetent so once Yoku's fetch quest is complete Yoku has to do theirs as well. Averted in a few boss battles, where some NPCs join Yoku for a multiball battle.
  • Jump Scare: How you are introduced to Fosfor provides a minor example: you'll try to cross over a pond when a big roaring eel suddenly pops out to push you back.
  • Last of Its Kind: Mokuma's three fellow island gods were killed by the God Slayer, leaving him the last one left.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Kickback, your sidekick, has a body like a pufferfish, but flowing fins like a goldfish.
  • Money Multiplier: Completing one of the optional sidequests will grant you the Boon of Plenty, which doubles the value of all fruit picked up.
  • Multiple Endings: One ending is earned by completing the main story, but attaining the 100% Completion sidequest will net you an additional ending.
  • Not Completely Useless: While there are quite a few items in the game, only a small handful are really necessary to complete it. The "best" items and upgrades may make the game a tad easier in specific situations, but depending on your playthrough, you may come across them too late for them to really make a difference.
  • Now, Let Me Carry You: The three Unders who Yoku had freed from Screetch's crystal imprisoning spell work together to help Yoku when he got trapped by the God Slayer.
  • One-Winged Angel: As soon as Kickback reveals himself to be the God Slayer, he takes on a sinister clawed form. Then he takes on an even more monstrous form when his health is low.
  • Painting the Medium: At the end of one sidequest, Yoku is flung high in the air, up past all the playable areas of the game and into the title screen, before falling back down to the part of the island where the sidequest took place.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Some areas require you to disguise yourself to enter, where "disguise" means "change the color of your ball".
  • The Quiet One: The third and largest of the pilgrims on the Ivory Peaks Trail never says anything until they and Yoku reach the summit of the peak, when she has a lengthy speech explaining that she'd taken a vow of silence in order to listen to what the universe had to say.
  • Red Baron: Throughout most of the game, the Big Bad is only known by the name of 'God Slayer'. He's actually Kickback.
  • Rocket Jump: It is possible to jump in this game, but it requires you to attach an exploding slug to your ball and then detonate it to be sent flying by the recoil, with the direction being based on the position of the slug on your ball.
  • Sickly Green Glow: Those attacked by the God Slayer have distinct green slash marks.
  • Sliding Scale of Collectible Tracking: Leans toward the easier end of the scale — you can purchase trackers that show you where almost everything is (provided you've been to that area). However, cosmetic upgrades for your ball — some of which open items, quests, or areas of the map — must be found on your own.
  • Speaking Simlish: The inhabitants of the island speak in squiggly noises that are translated by text captions.
  • Tempting Fate: When investigating what happened to the Unders that were dealing with the Screetch, you run into one of them fleeing while saying that they should be out of range of the Screetch's attacks, only to get crystallized shortly after.
  • Video Game Randomizer: The game has a Randomized mode that causes all its collectibles and major unlocks to be scrambled throughout the map, so one may find different items in treasure chests or from quests. Dialogue doesn't reflect on the changed items though. The game recommends you beat the main game before trying this. Such a mode has three difficulties, Normal, Hard, and Very Hard, with the harder difficulties having more erratic randomizing, and the description of Very Hard downright stating that one must know speedrun strategies and even potential forms of Sequence Breaking to beat this difficulty.
  • Warp Whistle: The Beelines offer fast travel between widely separated points on the island. Each Beeline must be activated by locating one end through normal exploration and paying 100 fruit, but can then be used as often as you want.
  • Wise Tree: Dipperloaf, a paternal, stump-like entity who lives in the central western portion of the island.