Yono and the Celestial Elephants had my utmost attention from the moment the menu screen appeared. Colorful, eye-pleasing graphics and a catchy menu theme set the stage for the world I was about to explore. With inspiration pulled from classic Nintendo 64 games and a world full of quirky characters, Yono is great for kids. It’s also great for really big kids, like me.
You begin the game as Yono, an adorably-chubby blue elephant with a floppy little trunk. In this Zelda-like puzzle adventure, Yono has been sent into the world to do good things, and by-gosh does he. He finds that there are disagreements between three races of people, and on top of that, the princess has gone missing. Yono uses his heart as well as his trunk to put the world right. He’s kind, selfless, and super precious. I mean, look at his little face. He’s so cute.
But don’t let the cute face fool you. He can hold his own in a battle. I thought for sure a game this sweet would omit combat, but you’ll encounter bad guys that Yono has no choice but to headbutt to death. It takes a little time for him to recover between blows, so combat never gets intense. As the game progresses, enemies take more headbutts to defeat. There are a couple bosses that require a bit more strategy but nothing too complicated or challenging.
In addition to his big head, Yono has another useful tool: his trunk! He can blow air from his trunk to activate pinwheels. When the pinwheels are activated, it usually results in moving a platform of some kind. When combined with water, Yono can use his trunk to extinguish fires that may be blocking a path. He can even shoot peanuts from his snout to attack enemies or pop balloons.
Yono and the Celesial Elephants‘ developer, Neckbolt, doesn’t hide the Zelda influence. You’ll slide plenty of crates and activate door switches, reminiscent of those N64 dungeons with Link. One of the first things you can do in the game is pick up and throw a jar. Or headbutt into them to smash a bunch at once. The sound of breaking jars brings back the best memories. Don’t forget the chickens. Yono can pick up and throw chickens, too. There are bomb flowers, too, but Neckbolt’s design more closely resembles a bundle of dynamite.
As he travels the world, Yono picks up coins from defeated enemies and broken jars. I expected to use these coins to buy upgrades, health, or other little bonuses. Instead, the only use for the coins, as far as I could tell, was to change Yono’s skin. That’s okay though because the skins offer a fun way to customize the game. Each customization station had it’s own mix of styles, from sweet little polka dots to that green-clothed hero we’ve been talking about.
While traveling across the world, there are quite a few mini-quests for Yono to complete. These are optional, of course, and rarely even offer a great reward. In fact, after returning someone’s lost marbles, Yono is offered 300 gold. However, he politely declines and says he doesn’t help people for money. How precious! Even though the rewards aren’t substantial, it’s worth it to take the time to complete as many as possible. The extra dialogue and character interactions add a lot to the experience. Neckbolt sneaks in some powerful social commentary, but it’s done in a way that is kind and playful.
My biggest disappointment in Yono and the Celestial Elephants was the ending. The game builds up some pretty major conflict towards the end, but the resolution is abrupt and unsatisfying. Even though the game is fantasy and make-believe, the happy ending comes too easily.
When it comes to hardware, the PC version of the game lets you choose between keyboard or controller. Because much of the game involves moving a chunky little elephant across the tiniest of ledges, it’s tricky to use arrow keys to maneuver. It’s much more intuitive to play with joysticks on a controller. Knowing this, I’m sure the Switch controls are just fine.
Overall, Yono and the Celestial Elephants is an adorable game. It’s fit for kiddos, but it’s a lot of fun for adults, too. The Nintendo 64-inspired graphics don’t feel dated, and the not-so-subtle social commentary is a unique touch. The game does everything it set out to do, and it does it in the most adorable, wholesome way possible.
A PC review copy of Yono and the Celestial Elephants was provided by Plug In Digital for the purpose of this review