Friday, October 13, 2017

Yono and the Celestial Elephants (NS, PC) Review

Before we head into the weekend, SuperPhillip Central has one more review for this final weekday. It's a game for the Nintendo Switch and PC, recently released on the former. In fact, that's the version I've written about with this review of Yono and the Celestial Elephants.

Going on an adventure for the elevit.


It was on one of Nintendo's indie showcases that revealed look after look of games that I stumbled upon an intriguing and magical game starring a cute and plump elephant as the hero. The elephant marched around isometric areas, beat up on baddies, collected keys, unlocked doors, and interacted with characters in the mythical world. It appeared very Zelda-like, so -- being that Zelda is one of the my favorite gaming franchises of all time -- I immediately became engaged. Heck, I quite enjoyed FDG Entertainment's Oceanhorn released earlier in the Nintendo Switch's lifespan, and it had a similarly isometric world to be play in. The game is Yono and the Celestial Elephants, available for both Nintendo Switch and Steam, and while it might have been my fault for being so captivated by the picture book esque visual style, charm, and Zelda-like gameplay, I ended up finishing the game with a bit of disappointment.

As any adorable elephant does, Yono plays well with others.
First off, the word "Zelda" already appears plenty of times in the prior paragraph because Yono and the Celestial Elephants fits the structure and doesn't try to hide it either. Exploring worlds, entering dungeons, collect four health "tokens" to upgrade Yono's health, taking on bosses, and solving puzzles are all familiar elements that this game borrows from the Zelda series. However, speaking on the latter part, unlike Zelda, the puzzles sprinkled throughout Yono are rather easy and won't need much wracking of your brain to come to the proper solution. Most of it is pure block pushing and anything else is also pretty much basic. There were few moments in Yono's short adventure that made me take pause and really have to figure things out.

Underneath the town of Freehaven rests this mechanical maze, dungeon #2 of Yono's adventure.
Yono and the Celestial Elephants is essentially a Zelda game for younger children when puzzle difficulty and complexity is regarded, and there is definitely nothing wrong with that. However, then you get to the combat, which is just lacking depth at best and just awful at worst. There is no effort necessary in combat -- no strategy. You simply use Yono's headbutt ability to charge into enemies again and again, with a cavalier attitude because even if you take damage, hearts are in seemingly unlimited supply from defeated foes and appearing from broken jars. It makes the small number of combat scenarios in Yono and the Celestial Elephant feel like they shouldn't even be in the game. After all, my greatest threat to losing health had more to do with difficulty judging distance from the isometric camera view and accidentally falling "off the map" rather than with dealing with enemies.

Listen to your pals Smokey and Yono: Only YOU can prevent forest fires.
What makes the simplicity in gameplay so strange (seemingly shooting for accessibility for children) is how tonally different it is compared to the actual story and dialog featured in Yono and the Celestial Elephants. Players are greeted with a charming and delightful world that feels like it's plucked directly out of a child's fairy tale or picture book only to have NPCs spout dialog about complex election systems, deep concepts of psychology, and every child's favorite subject, death. Early on I was amazed to see a one-off conversation with an executioner, but by the end of the game, I kept asking myself, "Who the heck is this game even for?" It's too easy of a game to hook older players to play more than once, while the game's occasional dialog is also presumably too over the heads of a younger audience.

Regardless of that massively minor gripe, Yono and the Celestial Elephants isn't an overly lengthy game either. I expected it, though, when I entered a railway system that connects every major area in the game (obviously with those that Yono and I hadn't reached yet being locked off). The railway chamber only had six or so areas to visit, and I already had the first one unlocked. Regardless, that sort of lowered my expectations on the size of the rest of my and Yono's quest, making me realize this would be a breezy adventure.

Thankfully, there some additional avenues to lengthen the Yono's quest. Mentioned before is the ability to collect Heart Tokens, many of which are in plain sight, but others require a bit more reeling and dealing across the game's towns through various trading sequences. Coins earned can be used to purchase new skins for Yono. I particularly loved having Yono rock a "Link to the Pedigree" skin that gave my elephant friend a familiar green hat, tunic, and belt. Finally, you can use letters collected from defeated enemies and the like to restore the game's monastery's library, revealing an awesome and admirable amount of backstory of the world before Yono arrived. It's incredibly unneeded, but that kind of world-building is impressive to see all the same.

I'd love all of these skins, but all those coins..!!!
Visually, Yono and the Celestial Elephants is remarkable, and that's probably the game's highest point of greatness besides its well crafted world that also assists in building a level of appreciable charm. The music is similarly delightful, offering some serene and catchy tunes. I especially loved the theme played while inside houses within the game's numerous towns. Nevertheless, where Yono and the Celestial Elephants really trips up over its trunk with regards to presentation is in its sound effects. Most become rather grating over time, and many sound incredibly tinny, using poor recordings from what it sounds like. The screams of attacked enemies especially become torture to the ears.

While it's true that elephants never forget, beyond its lovely charm, picture book visuals, and occasionally "WTF" moments in dialog, I probably will forget more than I would have liked about my otherwise enjoyable play sessions with Yono and the Celestial Elephants. In a crowded Switch eShop market where just being "good" isn't good enough anymore to grab owners' attention, I can only recommend Yono and the Celestial Elephants to those up for a simplistic take on the Zelda formula that also features some incredibly deep insights on the human world. Everyone else should at least wait for a sale, because while Yono isn't the greatest adventure, it's certainly worth checking out eventually.

[SPC Says: C]

Review code provided by the developer.

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