Sometimes it’s nice to take a chance on a game that you know very little about. I first heard of Yono and the Celestial Elephants during Nintendo’s Nindies Showcase a few months ago. There, all they really showed was an elephant running around and solving some puzzles. I thought it looked cute, and since it ended up only being $15, I figured why not give it a shot?
The game takes place in a world that’s populated by three races, the humans, zombies that are called “Bonewights”, and robots called Mekani. Throughout history, the world has been visited by god-like beings called Elephants, who are, well, elephants. During their time on the planet, these elephants perform miracles, such as saving a village from a massive tsunami as well as creating the Bonewights in the aftermath of a great battle that cost the lives of countless humans.
You play as Yono, the newest Elephant. He doesn’t really know what he’s capable of or even what he’s supposed to do, but he just wants to help people. This leads him into trouble as he learns more about what is happening in the world. There’s a surprising amount of depth to the lore.
The game plays like a simplified old-school Legend of Zelda title. It takes place from an isometric perspective and sees you traveling between cities and dungeons solving puzzles and fighting monsters along the way. Unlike Zelda, however, there’s no element of exploring. You’re always just following a single path. There’s also no permanent items to collect, other than health containers.
Despite never being able to fall of the main path, there are side quests in each of the three towns. Most of them boil down to simply finding an item that another character has and trading it to get a different one that another character needs. Usually, these end with you receiving some additional health. While not particularly exciting, some of the writing in these quests are quite funny and it helps convey that Yono really just wants to help people out.
Outside of the towns, you’ll be spending most of your time solving puzzles. These are typically block pushing puzzles, which I know doesn’t sound very exciting. However, the game ramps up the complexity of these by adding in all sorts of different elements. Some blocks are made of ice, and these slide as far as they can instead of only moving one space. You might have to find a way to melt the ice, maybe to reveal an item that’s frozen inside. You also find water that you can shoot out of your trunk to fill in empty blocks, or peanuts that you can shoot out of your trunk to hit targets. By the end of the game, the puzzles became very complex, but never completely overwhelming.
Unfortunately, the other thing you do is fight monsters. Yono and the Celestial Elephants has some of the worst combat I’ve seen an any game in a long time. You only have one basic attack and defeating enemies means just hitting that over and over. The enemies also have a long wind up before they hit you, giving you plenty of time to get your hit in without having to worry about taking damage. It only ever gets even remotely difficult when dealing with more than one at a time.
There’s also a few boss fights in the game, and these are definitely better than the rest of the fighting. These fights actual include elements of puzzle solving to get you through. The only one I didn’t like was at the end of the second dungeon. It’s not very clear that you’re doing anything to the boss, as he doesn’t seem to be getting hurt or anything. This is really frustrating, but not the end of the world. I made it through the fight, after all.
As you progress, you’ll find two kinds of currency, money and letters. The money isn’t very interesting as it can only be used to purchase additional skins for Yono. I bought one that had a non-copyright infringing Legend of Zelda theme and one that was clearly a reference to Darth Maul. Letters, on the other hand, are used to fill in blank pages of books that tell the stories of Elephants that came before you. For such a small game, a lot of thought went into telling unique tales about the world, and that goes a long way for me.
One of the most surprising things about the game for me was the end credits. There are exactly six names in the credits. There’s the creator, the composer, the publisher, and three special thanks. Like other games where the bulk of the development was on a single person, like Dust: An Elysian Tail or Undertale, there’s an obvious amount of passion and vision that you rarely see in games with large staffs.
Yono and the Celestial Elephants is not perfect. The combat is weak, it’s linear to a fault, and there’s not much to do with the money you collect. But the story, characters, and puzzles all help it rise up. It might not blow your mind, but it is absolutely worth your attention.