In Yono and the Celestial Elephants, you play as a young elephant, sent to this world from above in order to better the lives of the people. That basically means adventuring from town to town fulfilling fetch quests, headbutting goblins, preventing civil war, and pushing a lot of boxes. Like, a whole lots of boxes. I mean, that’s really all it takes to make the world a better place, right?
From the outset, I don’t think I’ve ever played a game more inviting than Yono and the Celestial Elephants. It’s colorful, simple, and full of bouncy music that easily put a smile on my face. With the press of a button, Yono can both suck up and spit out certain things, or headbutt enemies. Pushing blocks is no difficult challenge either. Navigating the world is easy enough, with the only downside being that the isometric, top-down view occasionally made it hard to see certain paths throughout the game. This never really hindered me, though. In fact, it’s so simple to pick up and play that I could easily see Yono being a great “My First Video Game” for very young audiences. A five year old probably won’t understand many of the ideologies and philosophical themes Yono brings up, but that’s okay.
Yes, I said philosophical. Because despite just how cute and adorable Yono looks, many of the inhabitants in the world are incredibly wordy, spouting off not only directions for you to move forward with the game, but surprisingly deep and interesting views on life and the essence of being. And honestly? I love it. None of the characters sound preachy or try to push their agendas onto you or Yono; for the most part, people just think out loud, and it’s refreshing to hear such deep thought coming from a video game without me feeling like I’m being told what to think.
Yono and the Celestial Elephants also handles its dialogue and views well because each of the three races have their own distinct ideas and beliefs. With one group being human, another undead, and a third mechanical, it would be pretty strange if they all had the same outlook on life. Playing through the game, you’ll come across these races organically, learning more about them as you progress. It made the game even more fun for me. I couldn’t wait to get to the next area just to hear what the characters had to say.
With this all being said, I do find it strange that the gameplay isn’t the least bit challenging. Sure, there are some block puzzles that get a bit more involved than simply pushing Block A into Location B to lift a gate, but only one puzzle had me scratching my head throughout the whole game. However, I definitely felt satisfied after solving the myriad of puzzles in Yono. They may be simple, but they’re never dull or boring. The combat, on the other hand, is nowhere near as satisfying, with most encounters relying solely on mashing the headbutt button. Boss battles shine a bit more because they rely on puzzle solving mechanics, but the second boss in particular gave me trouble when the boss would literally walk out of bounds, completely off screen, leaving me to kill myself and start the fight over.
In between the philosophy, blocks, and buttheads—er, headbutts—I found quite a bit of enjoyment in saving up money and buying new outfits and skins for Yono. I mean, come on, what’s more adorable than a little fat blue elephant? How about a little fat blue elephant in a green tunic? Or maybe a stitched-up, plush, zombie-looking elephant? There’s a wide assortment of skins in the game, and unlocking them was yet another thing that put a cheesy smile on my face. Beyond that, you can also find letters throughout the game that unlock stories about the past Celestial Elephants. They almost all read like fables and myths you’re probably already familiar with, but they are written well, and serve as both a nice break to the adventure as well as a good look into the history of Yono’s world.
I’m not exactly sure who Yono and the Celestial Elephants was made for, but despite its flaws, it just works on so many levels that I don’t think it matters. It is simply a video game that exists, meant to be experienced by any and all who wish to give this cute little elephant a chance. And I, for one, am glad I did.
Did that sound philosophical enough?