Review: Yono and the Celestial Elephants (Switch)

Developed by: Neckbolt
Published by: Plug In Digital

During the most recent Nindies Showcase, a certain indie game really caught my attention. If you know me well, you should know that I love 2D Zelda games, such as A Link to the Past. I also love creativity and cute things. Since only once in a blue moon does a 2D Zelda get released, I’m always on the lookout for games inspired by it. When I first saw Yono and the Celestial Elephants, I immediately knew it was right up my alley. A 2D Zelda-like adventure with a cute elephant as the main character? Sign me up. Yono and the Celestial Elephants overflows with creativity and charm, no doubt, but is a full and worthwhile experience?

The story of Yono and the Celestial Elephants is simple, yet surprisingly deep with its world-building. In the world of Yono, elephants are seen as the almighty protectors of the world. Once every millennium, an elephant will come down from the stars to guide the world’s inhabitants in the right direction. Yono is the latest in this line of elephants to visit the world. He is a very young elephant, but still determined to do his job. Travelling the land, Yono will find himself in the middle of a kingdom facing the threat of war. It’s up to him to settle the conflict and find peace in the kingdom.

Yono and the Celestial Elephants features three different races of inhabitants, all faced with various issues. There are the feudal Humans, the undead Bonewights, and the robotic Mekani. What makes the story so surprising is that it explores themes that are certainly not common in a cute game like Yono. Racial tension between the three groups, taxation, and corruption from rulers are all explored. None of these themes are explored in heavy detail, though. The themes are present in the game without them becoming distracting. The story is a strange, but welcomed addition to the world of Yono. It adds a nice layer to the world-building of Yono’s universe.

The majority of your time playing Yono will be spent solving puzzles. Yono can use his trunk to move blocks, break boulders, and operate small platforms by blowing on windmills. Yono can also use his trunk to inhale water, fire, and peanuts. You can use these to solve more complex puzzles that require you to extinguish fires, melt ice, or hit targets at a distance. The puzzles in Yono and the Celestial Elephants are simple, but also rewarding. It requires you to think, but there are very few puzzles in the game that require your attention for a long time. The easygoing, puzzle-focused nature of Yono makes it a great introduction to younger or inexperienced player looking for a way into the puzzle-adventure genre.

Solving puzzles, like this one, will be your main focus while playing.

Unfortunately, the focus on puzzle solving really affects the combat in Yono. Standard combat encounters are clunky, and honestly, too easy. Yono uses his head to charge at enemies and he can also use fire/water or peanuts to attack. Weak and powerful enemies are equally easy to defeat, the only difference between them being a few more headbutts from Yono. An armored soldier takes just a few more seconds to defeat than a field snake. The only interesting combat encounters are found in each of the three dungeon’s boss battles, which are cleverly designed. But even then, sometimes the combat feels clunky. I wish the combat was more polished or completely removed, because it would’ve resulted in a more well-rounded experience.

Yono and the Celestial Elephants is a linear and short adventure, but there is still plenty to do outside of the main objectives. Each of the four towns has a series of side quests to complete, which will yield Yono health expansions and money. Most of the side quests involve delivering particular items to the right people. This may get boring to some, but I see it as a big puzzle to solve. How do I fit all of these pieces together, in order to make everyone in the town happy? It also encouraged me to explore every inch of each town to find all of the secrets. While there is plenty to do during the main quest, there is no post-game content to be found. This is disappointing, but also understandable.

After exploring secret areas, helping the people, and conquering dungeons, Yono will build up quite a respectable amount of loot. The money that you earn can be used towards the purchase of new skins for Yono, and there are quite a few of them. Some of the skins are just standard re-colors and patterns, but there are also a number of skins inspired by popular series like Star Wars, The Legend of Zelda, and more. I do wish there was more to spend your money on, such as more health upgrades or other collectibles, but the outfits are cute enough to encourage players to collect all of them. There are plenty of them to buy, too. If you decide to go for collecting all of the outfits, there is a mini-game later in the game that is perfect for grinding money. Old school gaming fans will get a kick out of this particular mini-game.

So many cute costumes!

On a visual standpoint, Yono and the Celestial Elephants is extremely colorful and pretty. The landscapes, towns, and elements of nature all look outstanding. A standout example is the town of the Bonewights, which is clearly inspired by Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s a really appealing art style that’s full of life. Character models are a bit mixed, with the human characters especially lacking polish. Yono himself, however, is well designed and fitting to the art style. For audio, Yono features a catchy soundtrack that’s fitting for a young elephant’s adventure. However, the actual sound effects are not the best. If anything is not polished enough, it’s the sound design. There’s something cheap about the way everything sounds. It’s distracting and takes away from the value of the game’s good soundtrack. Eventually, I just turned the sound off, and it’s sad because I actually like the music in Yono.

Yono and the Celestial Elephants is a charming and cute adventure game that will steal your heart. It features puzzles will make you think, but it’s also perfect for players new to the puzzle-adventure genre. It also features world-building and themes that you normally wouldn’t expect from a game of this style. However, despite all of the positives, Yono suffers from lackluster combat and bad sound design. It’s also finished before you know it, with no post-game content to enjoy after the credits roll. For a seasoned player looking for their next big, challenging game, Yono and the Celestial Elephants might not be for you. But for those looking for a cute, short, and relaxing puzzle game, Yono might be worth looking into. I sincerely hope this isn’t Yono’s last adventure, though, because the little elephant has a ton of potential to grow.

Final Verdict:
 Yono and the Celestial Elephants is full of charm and creativity. While this is the perfect game for beginners, seasoned players may want a bit more out of Yono’s adventure.

[Note: This product was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.]

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