If someone were to come to you with a game that was essentially The Legend of Zelda but with an elephant, how would you respond? For me, I was cautiously optimistic and fairly excited to try out the resulting Yono and the Celestial Elephants.
From the opening moments, it's clear where this game takes its inspiration from, but how does it hold up altogether? Does it have its own identity and structure? Read the rest of our review to find out for sure.
Unlike most lower-priced indie games, Yono and the Celestial Elephants not only promises some unique design choices, but also a full story. You take control of an elephant named Yono who has come down from the Elephant Realm to the Earth. The trick here is that elephants are extremely similar to the Avatar from The Last Airbender series. One comes every thousand years or so to try and maintain peace and balance in the world. They are heavily revered, respected, and worshiped.
While this is an exciting premise, it's not used to full effect within the game. A lot of the characters are very one-note (save a couple of examples) and no proper build-up is ever given to the conflict that brews. There are a few plot twists along the way, but because of how the story moves along, I never felt the impact that the game wanted me to. Even the resolution after the last boss seemed very quick and contrived.
However, there is one aspect of the story in this game that deserves a lot of praise: the lore. Neckbolt Games surprisingly crafted a heavy set of backstory to describe how the world of Yono and the Celestial Elephants. Each town you go too has a separate civilization and their own history that can be discovered if you talk to enough NPCs. Learning more about the history of this game kept me invested enough to go out of my way to learn more. It's surprisingly in-depth for a game this small.
After baby Yono is thrust into the unique world, you're told the types of things he can do and then sent along your merry way in an isometric world, similar to Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas.
In terms of gameplay, Yono and the Celestial Elephants can be described like, "go to town, solve a big problem, traverse the road to the next town, and do that until you beat the game." While structurally it's all very samey, it's the little touches sprinkled along the way that kept the experience from becoming too repetitive. Every path bridging the towns is varied and different from each other, boasting new puzzles to solve and new mechanics to learn.
Speaking of puzzles, that's the main philosophy of Yono and the Celestial Elephants. When you go through paths or dungeons, they're segmented into rooms. Each room provides a different puzzle that you must use your knowledge to solve. One room might have you pushing blocks, while another will have you getting platforms to move. I never got stuck for too long, and once I learned how the game worked, I was breezing through the puzzles like it was nobody's business.
Some of the puzzles aren't very fun, but most of them actually have some clever design involved. You'll be combining Yono's headbutt with the water, peppers, and peanuts that he can all absorb in his trunk to get the job done.
Unfortunately, with such a heavy focus on the puzzle aspects of the game, the combat system took a heavy backseat. The only attack move Yono knows is a headbutt where he charges forward. All of the enemies you fight (save for the bosses) can all be beaten by getting in the right spot and headbutting them over and over again. There are tougher enemies later in the game, but the big difference is how many hits they could take. They were just as easy to defeat as the basic enemies otherwise. The exception to this lackluster combat is how the bosses are setup. Instead of just having Yono charge into them, the bosses themselves are high-intensity puzzles that you must solve. They were the highlights of the game, and I wish that there were more of them.
Next, comes the adventuring. This may disappoint some, but Yono and the Celestial Elephants is a very linear adventure, with clear paths and objectives to do and find. While mastering some of those puzzles will require you to go in a non-linear path, for the most part, everything is set in stone. Some extra exploration will reward you with items that expand your hearts, money, and letters which can be used to restore ancient texts to read the game's lore. While the variation is appreciated, there isn't much incentive to keep exploring when you don't take a lot of damage, don't want to read the lore, or don't want to buy anything.
The main currency system in Yono and the Celestial Elephants is also a bit mixed. The coins are all used to buy one thing: skins for Yono. While the lack of options is a little sad, the choices in skins themselves are glorious. Neckbolt Games took this opportunity to flex their creative muscles and reference other titles like The Phantom Menace, A Link To the Past, and even the aforementioned The Las Airbender with how they put together the skins. It was a treat to see what new designs I could use for Yono with each passing town I went through.
In terms of the game itself, there is no post-game content to do once you beat the main story. Considering that it took me around three hours (that includes completing all of the lore, buying skins, and expanding my hearts), this game won't keep you invested very long. The experience itself was fun and enjoyable, but it's not long, and with nothing else to do after the story is done, it's a painful realization.
graphics & audio
The graphics in Yono and the Celestial Elephants are downright adorable. Yono himself is the highlight, having a cutesy aesthetic with adorable expressions (and skins that make him even cuter). Each area further accents this style, having a different theme for the world. You'll be running through an isometric autumn-inspired forest one minute, and the next, you'll be in a Tim Burton-style cemetery town.
It all blends together quite nicely, and apart from moments where I was underground, everything was pleasing to look at.
If there's one thing that outdoes the cute graphics, though, it's the music. As you explore the world, you'll realize that Yono and the Celestial Elephants has a great soundtrack. It's not perfect, as there are a few tunes that were forgettable. For the most part, the tracks were on point. If Neckbolt Games decided to release a soundtrack vinyl, I wouldn't be opposed to getting myself a copy.
In the sound design itself, it's important to note that Yono himself makes cute little horn noises every time he picks something up, throws it, or gets hit. Little touches like that made me love the little guy all the more. However, a lot of the enemies and NPCs didn't get the same love when it came to sound effects, and I would've appreciated a little more time taken to round those out.
Yono and the Celestial Elephants is an adorable love letter to classic adventure RPGs. Featuring a diverse roster, brilliant lore, adorable visuals, and a great soundtrack there's plenty of reason to pick this up and sink a few hours in. However, some wonky combat, an uninspired story, and nothing to do after you beat the game hold it back from being excellent. Fans of RPGs or elephants would easily get their money's worth by getting this title, but everyone else might want to hold off for something else.
|+ Adorable visuals||– Wonky Combat|
|+ Great Soundtrack||– Poor Story|
|+ Clever Puzzles||– Short|
|+ Fun Boss Battles||– No Post-Game Content|