Yono and the Celestial Elephants

Switch, PC
Plug In Digital
October 12, 2017

You are Yono, an adorable baby elephant from The Stars who has come to the world in fulfillment of a prophecy. Yay! Your primary tools for fulfilling this prophecy (which is REALLY vague) are putting small animals and objects on your head, making adorable trumpeting sounds, squirting water out of your trunk, and bonking things with your noggin. It’s like Zelda, but Incredibly Cute.

And then you meet this guy.The first guy. Yono and the Celestial Elephants, Neckbolt, Plug In Digital, Oct. 12, 2017

And this guy.The second guy. Yono and the Celestial Elephants, Neckbolt, Plug In Digital, Oct. 12, 2017

And then you’re asked to decide between protecting an enlightened democratic system or subverting that system to foment revolution against an oppressive dictator. And to participate in smuggling to oppose repressive trade restrictions that are harming a colonized people. And there’s all kinds of deep philosophy, and just tons of themes and elements that would normally be considered Not For Children.

So is Yono a Not For Children game about politics and revolution that happens to have a veneer of cutesy applied to it? I would say no. All of these “mature” types of themes are spelled out using very simple language, and the more complex concepts are broken down into easy-to-digest pieces. None of the political or philosophical concepts have to be understood to complete or enjoy the game, either; a five-year-old might not fully Get It, but they’ll pick up on some of the ideas. And since no game is value-neutral, if my choices are this or the same old claptrap about rescuing princesses, I’ll gladly give the kid this game.

The gameplay is a pretty basic puzzle platformer/adventure game, with switches and keys and pushing blocks around. Additional elements are introduced as the game progresses, adding complexity without raising the difficulty much. The combat is very simple, and there’s not much of it. The boss fights are intended to be problem-solving challenges in which you’re asked to use game elements in unique ways, but the controls, which are not geared toward combat, make them more of a pain than they need to be. The movement controls specifically feel a little unpolished, and there are few points in the game where I wound up going places I wasn’t meant to go. I got stuck once, but the controls never killed my enjoyment.

Yono is about 4-6 hours of simple, entertaining fun. You can play with your kid (or go borrow one), or let your kids play it by themselves. If you’re curious what it feels like to be a hero AND oppose the status quo, it’s got that, too. There’s a lot more to Yono than I expected.