Justice is not limited, it is a universal quality
Yoku's Island Express (Switch)
Also available on: PC, PS4, XB1
If you thought the title of this game is read as "Yoshi's Island Express": don't worry, you're not alone. In fact, I thought this game's title was read as such at first. Despite the similarity between Yoshi and Yoku's name, there is nothing in common with Yoshi here since Yoku is a dung beetle who carries around a ball attached to it on a string. I suppose Yoshi's egg and Yoku's ball has a remotely similar thing going on, being round objects that can be used as pinballs (ala Mario Pinball Land) but by and large it doesn't operate similarly. One thing to note is that in this game, the ball is actually the "controlled character", with Yoku being the justification of the ball moving around.
In the beginning Yoku was riding in his ball to an island, where he was tasked as a postmaster to deliver mail and goodies to various inhabitants. One of the key tasks is that he need to deliver letters to three important figures around the island for an urgent meeting. The ball that he carries around ended up being instrumental in saving the island from a god figure of the island, as he helped the three important figures solve the crises they're facing along with the god figure. Thankfully Yoku isn't alone, for a number of inhabitants lent their help to the titular dung beetle when they are needed.
The gameplay of Yoku's Island Express can be simplified to "Pinball-vania", because its general gameplay style contains pinball elements like flippers, rails and bumpers. On the "-vania" side, it has quite a number of similarities to Metroid. For one, the game takes place in a single locale, and the location has several smaller areas that are waiting to be uncovered. There are also obstacles that, with the right equipment, allows the player to bypass them and expand the amount of places they could go to. (The -vania side is from the term "Metroidvania", in case you are wondering)
If there is one thing I would describe the game, it would be how ambient it is. For one, the whole island is largely rural and full of nature, with one (large) stone temple. That makes everything in it feel natural in a familiar sort of way, compared to how games like Mario and Kirby has fantasy places that could take some time to acclimate to. Sure it has odd things like pinball staples, but it doesn't feel out of place because the surrounding areas makes up for that. The inhabitants are, while somewhat fantastical, have their roots in real animals so most of them didn't feel out of place, though I do admit how quite a number of them resemble Audino. The collectible in this game is fruit, and it's required for purchasing and unlocking stuff. The game is pretty generous with fruits, and that's not too big of a deal because the island is full of nature. It also helps that the music is top notch, and the game credits musicians for the instruments they play, which is surprising to me just as it surprised me that Paper Mario: Colour Splash credited instrument players. One of my favourites is this one when you first enter the island:
The game has two endings, based on what is completed. The first ending requires that the main quests are completed, which is easy to do because the important places are marked on the map, so it's a matter of reaching the spots. The second ending is based on collecting all the game's collectibles Wickerlings, which look like mandrake dolls. These on the other hand are not as easy to get because they are not immediately marked on the map until you get eyeballs to find the uncollected ones, and even then, they are usually found in tricky places. There are also torches that require 10 each, some tougher to reach than others. From what I gathered in the ending, it brings up an open possibility of a sequel if there ever were one.
I greatly enjoyed this game enough to want to finish it, which is a great sign of a wonderful game, despite some tedium in going from one place to another. This is a very thoroughly enjoyed game by many people back in 2018, and I can see why it's very much enjoyed: it's cute, it's engaging, it's got a great balance in presentation and music, and more important: it felt original. It's little wonder it won the "Best Debut Indie Game".
Thank you for reading.