Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Review: Yono and the Celestial Elephants


Note: This game doesn't currently support the Pro Controller, just so you're not surprised!

When people first saw footage of Yono and the Celestial Elephants there was a certain amount of instant joy to go around. An adorable little pachyderm in an adventure that looked similar to the exploits of a certain silent warrior… Yono picked up an unofficial nickname in some circles as “Cute Elephant Zelda”. Having played through the entirety of the final product there’s a mix of good news and not quite as good news. The nickname is mostly an accurate one as the overall style of Yono’s journey shares roots with everyone’s favorite defender of Hyrule. That said if you’re expecting a meaty challenge in terms of combat and dungeon puzzle solving you’ll need to pull back your expectations quite substantially to avoid being terribly disappointed.


Yono is the latest in a lineage of elephants who have come to help save the world and set the course of things back to the way they’re meant to be ever thousand years. While through the course of the game you’ll learn that his ancestors have faced some significant and dangerous challenges it seems that being just a young and small elephant, the scale of the problems Yono has come to help resolve, at least for the moment, are of an appropriately adjusted scale as well. There is some turmoil among the multiple kingdoms of the lands he has come to and if something isn’t done there will be a war. It’s up to Yono to help intervene and return these kingdoms to peace.

In order to do this he’ll need to indulge in some battles, solve some puzzles, and persevere through a few big boss battles… just perhaps ones appropriate to his relative age and scale. Combat in the game is generally light, not requiring a great deal of strategy, though it is always possible for you to get yourself in trouble if you’re not being cautious. For the most part his charge is all you’ll need to keep enemies at bay and then take them out. For the first half of the game the puzzles, likewise, are generally quite quick and easy to solve. To the game’s credit finding the solutions in the final areas will require some thought to get through, and that’s terrific, just be warned not to expect to challenge your brain too greatly in the early going. The boss fights in the game do have an appropriate level of challenge to them, both to figure out what you’ll need to do and then in being able to execute that plan. There aren’t really any prompts telling you what to do anywhere so you’ll need to use your intuition and perhaps a little trial and error to succeed so these are certainly a high point to the game in terms of making you work to get through them.


To be properly prepared for these boss battles you’ll want to complete a pretty wide variety of mini-quests you’ll encounter in your travels. Whether it involves helping people with a problem, seeing a random doorway somewhere off to the side you’ll need to find the way to, or working to solve a tricky puzzle you’ll randomly encounter Yono does a fairly good job of finding different ways for you to earn heart tokens. For every 4 you find you’ll be able to add a heart to your bar and since the boss battles aren’t crazy difficult but can sap your health in trying to get through them getting all the hearts you can isn’t a bad idea. Besides, it is through many of these mini quests that you’ll see the game’s charm in the interactions with the inhabitants of various towns and in some of the silly things you’ll do to help people out. Many involve moving an object from A to B but even then some of the stories people have to go with these items can be cute. You’ll also be collecting letters that can be used to restore parts of the stories of your ancestors and pieces of currency you’ll want to find in order to indulge in one of the cutest elements of the game, the many different ways you can change Yono’s appearance at the barbershops in each of the towns. With looks that range from artistic to themed to an appropriate nod to a classic Nintendo franchise these are a nice way to customize the look of your game a little and add to the “Awww” factor quite a bit as well.


I think the main thing for experienced gamers who are interested in Yono to reflect on before buying it is whether being challenged is essential or not. The harder you’re hoping to have to work to make your way through the game the more you’re likely to be disappointed. If, however, you manage your expectations and simply enjoy it for what it is Yono is a great and fun adventure while it lasts. A group I would certainly point the game out to would be parents of younger gamers. Since the starting point is very friendly to less-experienced players, the ramping up of challenge is very gradual and smooth, and towards the end it will raise the bar enough to motivate them to figure out a way to win it would be an excellent primer to more ambitious fare like proper Zelda games. Something of this nature, in that regard, is a rarity and helps raise the bar of my respect for it a little higher. What I’m hoping is that we’ll be able to see a sequel with a slightly older Yono who will then continue to face progressively more difficult challenges and perhaps a newer generation of gamers will be able to grow older and more experienced with him.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • Seen through the lens of being a game that is accessible to all gamers, that will slowly raise the bar of challenge throughout, it does an excellent job
  • The art direction and varied looks of the locales you’ll visit are colorful and distinctive
  • I appreciated the at-times sly and odd sense of humor the game has in its dialogue, and the juxtaposition of philosophy and the cute style is amusing


Cons:
  • An unfortunate side effect of anything reminding people of Zelda is the expectations that will come with it. Yono is a good game in that vein but is not as challenging, polished, or refined as a Zelda title
  • Being an elephant navigation in some cases is more complicated or at least visually him going over edges or going up and down steps can look a bit clunky
  • Though I suppose the idea is that Yono’s journey has just begun the ending was a bit underwhelming


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