Coming out of nowhere during late August’s Nindie Nintendo Direct, Yono and the Celestial Elephants immediately caught the eyes of many gamers due to its cartoony graphics and cute elephant. I also thought it looked really cute and fun, with a ¾ angled view and puzzle solving out of games like Zelda or the classic NES game Solstice. Digging deeper into the game’s development I soon discovered that the game was created by a single person (Niklas Hallin), making the game even more impressive of a feat. After playing the game some cracks in the gameplay and the somewhat short adventure slightly mar the experience, but overall it’s a valiant effort and one that many Switch owners are sure to enjoy, especially the younger crowd.
One day a shooting star falls to earth and your character, Yono, appears from the ashes. You are a baby blue colored elephant that is able to converse with the different races throughout the game. You soon go on a quest of discovery to find out why you were sent down from the heavens and to learn what happened to your ancestors. Along the way you will encounter many people who are in need of your help, and in order to unlock your full potential it’s in your best interest to finish these side-quests. They usually don’t take very long, and often involve fetching an item and bringing it back to the right person. Most of the time you will be rewarded with a piece of heart (well that’s what it basically is). Collect four of them and you’ll permanently increase your health gauge by one unit.
As an elephant you have some special abilities at your disposal. Jumping is not one of them, which took me awhile to get used to. Instead, Yono can perform a head bash attack to smash pots and rocks. This is the primary way to attack the various enemies you’ll encounter on your adventure. You can also blow air, which is often used to solve puzzles. Sucking up some water will allow you to spray it back out to put out fires that block your path or to start up water wheels. Of course Yono’s trunk is powerful and can lift things up and then carry objects around on his (her?) head. Yono’s surprisingly versatile for a lumbering animal.
The entire game is presented at a ¾ isometric view. You will be moving blocks one section at a time to activate switches, which in turn will unlock new areas and doors. This type of puzzle solving has been around for decades, but of course it looks better than ever with this new coat of paint. One thing I found frustrating during my time with the game was that there’s no way to rotate the camera. You can move the camera to the left and right, but it doesn’t alter the view in any way, which would have been helpful in certain sections of the game.
While we’re on the subject of graphics, the game is very bright and colorful. It performs well on the Switch in both docked and portable modes. Most of the animations are great, although watching Yono climb staircases looks a bit off, almost as if he’s gliding up and down them. I do enjoy the art style and the various races in the game are pretty cool, especially when you see some of the undead, which reminded me a little bit of Tim Burton’s creations. Technically there’s nothing here that hasn’t been done before and not much will impress those with high visual standards. Still, the game looks fine for what it’s trying to accomplish.
Audio-wise the game is pretty average. There are a few catchy tunes throughout, and I really enjoyed the music inside one of the castles early on in the game. Most of the music is upbeat and fits the scenario. You won’t find any voice acting or other extras here.
Perhaps the biggest detractor of the game is its challenge and length. The game’s areas aren’t that big and the puzzles are extremely easy. If you’ve played Breath of the Wild, nothing here will stump you. The collection of items is pretty superfluous as well. The money will let you change the look of Yono at shops (via various skin changes) and the extra heart containers are almost unnecessary since the game is so easy. As you progress you’ll begin collecting letters from the alphabet that can be pasted back into ancient texts to unravel some of the mystery surrounding Yono’s ancestors, but it’s really not that compelling. The controls are pretty easy to understand, but I was frustrated a few times by getting too close to a door and being sucked through when I didn’t want to be.
Yono and the Celestial Elephants is a good game for beginners to the adventure/puzzle-solving genre. I could see younger gamers really enjoying this one. If you’ve been playing games for a long time, you’ll breeze right through it and unless you’re absolutely enamored by the art style or concept of the game, it probably won’t be worth the $15. I still enjoyed my time here, and I think it’s a fun game – but it definitely won’t be for everyone. The game is charming though!