One look at Yono and the Celestial Elephants and it’ll become clear why it’s a Nintendo console exclusive.
The doey eyed elephant with delicate little tusks, a hop and a skip to his walk. Neat little minecart rides to get from place to place. Smashable jars litter the floor while hedgehogs and chickens crawl around on the ground.
Yono draws influence from games like Zelda, Chrono Trigger, Oceanhorn, and even long-forgotten Mega Drive platformer, Rolo to the Rescue, all blending together so beautifully.
Yes, Yono has to dart between moving platforms, avoid piercing spikes and headbutt enemies to move from one area to the next, but he also hunts for hidden treasure chests, takes on side quests and even blows things back through his trunk. The game is infectious and charming and immediately carries you along with it.
But rather than some spiked-haired, teenage kid with an oversized sword, you’re controlling a happy, go-lucky elephant, who just wants to spread joy and do right by people. Yono is a wonder to the people he meets, rarely have they seen a pachyderm in their midst as they are protectors of the world, born from the stars once a millennium. Yono has a lot to learn, but follows his natural instinct to help through a crazy and corrupted world of zombies and robots who cannot live together.
Yono looks, acts, and feels like your standard RPG, but it switches up the formula to great effect. Yono’s trunk is key to solving many puzzles, whether you’re loading it up with water to give a sleeping villager a rude awakening, or blowing air out of it to push back an attacker. It’s smart design that outweighs some of the game’s simplistic elements and just makes Yono so enjoyable and accessible to play through.
That said, Yono does mostly offer block and switch puzzles, which does become a bit of a drag. And the combat is definitely the weakest portion of the game, with Yono’s meagre headbutt taking several attempts to take an enemy down and requiring you to get enough distance for a run-up. However, the game is able to offset some of that with clever, quirky boss battles. And, due to the games’ relatively short length, it never outstays its welcome for too long.
The big surprise, though, is that the game has a pretty intricate story that remains well-paced throughout, weaving poignant and strong philosophical themes into it. To get the full picture, you need to collect words and unlock stories of other elephants, learning more about their history and ways that Yono can learn from their successes and mistakes. It adds another dimension to a game that, at first glance, might just seem like a carbon copy of every other game in the genre.
Perhaps most impressively of all is that Yono is the result of a one-man development team. Not everything hits the mark, but combined together it’s a finely crafted little gem and makes for an attractive eShop prospect. I mean, how many games can you run around with a turtle sat on your head for kicks?
Yono is just so effortlessly charming and fun, but surprisingly deep for a shorter, easier RPG. Yono and the Celestial Elephants is a genuine breath of fresh air.
+ Accessible adventuring
+ Charming art style
+ Quirky writing
+ Pays homage to the great RPGs of old in a creative new way
– Combat and controls a tad frustrating
– Puzzles often basic and repetitive
Yono and the Celestial Elephants
8 out of 10
Tested on Nintendo Switch