The most violent thing in Yoku's Island Express, a game that dares to use the words "platforming" and "pinball" in the same sentence, is a party horn—one of those dinky things that lets out the sound of a dying kazoo when you blow in it and unfurl the paper. As the new postmaster of a beautiful tropical island, this is your only weapon. A burst of confetti pops out every time you use it to open a treasure chest or click on almost anything.
Not confetti. Dare I say it: it's funfetti, because everything in Yoku's Island Express is goddamn delightful and relaxing, right down to the most basic button press.
Yoku is a cute little dung beetle, who moves to a new island full of hopes and dreams about living the fulfilling life of a reliable postman. I'm projecting here, because Yoku doesn't talk, but he puts on a postman's hat before he even gets to the island, so I think I'm on steady ground.
Things quickly go awry on the island, and it's up to you to fix it because you're apparently the only civil servant around who's willing to put in the work. The island might explode or something if you don't save the day, but it's all endlessly lighthearted and there's never a moment in Yoku's where you're worried about dying or failing. Mostly it's just really chill pinball.
Yoku has no jump button (just the party horn), but there are pinball flippers and plunger placed all across the world, which you use to get around. Since Yoku compulsively rolls around a ball, he's easy to send careening around the screen, and traversal has a fun puzzle-y feel to it. Hills and small inclines that wouldn't be so much as a speed bump for Mario are real obstacles here, which sometimes require a clever solution but often just give you reason to smack Yoku and his ball with a plunger.
It's a refreshing change from the platformer basics, but the real magic of Yoku's world design is how it weaves together full pinball "tables" with exploration. You're always sort of playing pinball, but then you'll enter an area and play full-on pinball, aiming for ramps and mechanisms in an arena to rack up points (in this case, fruit that you use as a currency to unlock new paths and fast travel stations) or advance to the next screen. Yoku's Island Express is Sonic Spinball, if Sonic Spinball wasn't a total abomination and was instead a beautiful balm for the soul.
Crucially, Yoku's pinball physics feel right on, with a nice weighted bounce to them and a nice thwap from the flippers. The tables are just as fun to play as the map is to crisscross, Metroid-style, in the six hours or so the game lasts. You can spend longer looking for secrets and going for that 100 percent, or just chilling out and playing a pinball room for awhile.
No one's in a rush on Mokumana island, so you shouldn't be, either.
Filling in the map is a satisfying hunt for a few basic collectibles and sidequests, but it's mostly just fun to find new small platforming puzzles and the island's cute animal inhabitants. Yoku's is just unfailingly charming, down to the smallest details. My favorite animation in the game is how Yoku delivers mail, a sidequest chain you can complete while you're pinballing around to save the island. Press a button on a mailbox and Yoku just stuff it full of letters. Dozens of them. So many, half of them fly out of the mailbox and fall on the ground. He just so badly wants to be a good mailman.
Yoku's Island Express is simply a game that makes me happy, and I hope more people play it and feel the same way.