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Much like the ‘Xortex’ mini-game in Valve’s The Lab, ARVORE’s latest roguelike shooter YUKI taps into a veritable reservoir of nostalgia as you guide a pint-size action figure by hand through a seemingly impenetrable miasma of laser particles and moving obstacles. YUKI captures that child-like fun I first rekindled in ‘Xortex’, but ignites it on a much grander scale. It’s difficult, well-polished, sometimes a little repetitive, but in the end it shows off a knack for incentivizing the player to fight through a score of inevitable deaths to beat the final boss.
It’s been forever since I’ve played an old school vertical scrolling shooter. When I think back to the last time I did, really the only mental picture I can drudge up from memory is playing a decrepit arcade version of 1943: The Battle of Midway on a 4:3 aspect ratio CRT… or rather 3:4 since the game is played with verticality in mind.
Stepping inside of YUKI is a lot like revisiting those vertical scrolling games of yore, but instead of just getting a big ‘Game Over’ screen when you eventually run out of health, Yuki gives you slightly less harsh treatment by making the linear crawl through the game’s handful of levels a roguelike experience. That means permadeath will put a stop to your fun, but it also means it changes a bit from run-to-run and you’re invited back to use upgrades you unlocked along the way. You’ll also earn more powerful versions of your little hand-held Yuki to make successive runs easier. Oh yea, it’s entirely in 3D and requires you to physically move around so you can weave little Yuki through oncoming barrages.
The idea is you push as far as you can go through the half-dozen bespoke levels until you meet your inevitable death. On your automatic forward march through each level—they’re always straight and only slightly remixed to change up baddies and obstacles—you’ll shoot down a massive number of enemies, all of which drop either green heath orbs or blue ‘Creative Drive’ orbs. Those blue orbs are the game’s only currency, which you use to unlock upgrade pathways that you’ll be able to access in your next run via the larger upgrade orbs, of which you’ll find a few dispersed throughout each level.
Shooting in the game is mostly a ‘by feel’ experience; there aren’t any sights or reticles to rely on here. I can appreciate the inherent drive for wanting to leave behind the default weapon to get more upgrades, but not having a way to shoot accurately from the get-go was a little bit of a turn off. One of the mid-level Yuki upgrades is homing blade missiles though, which really take some of the cognitive load off shooting and lets you focus more on dodging.
The prospect of new and powerful upgrades like increased firing rate, rocket-firing drones, and magnetic orb scooping—not to mention the four unlockable Yuki weapon types dolled out when you reach specific goals—felt like powerful enough incentives to keep me coming back for more, and that’s even after I died right at the final form of the end boss for the first time. That one hurt.
No matter how much you grind, you’ll always need to move about the room to avoid barrages—the more you can do that, the better. There’s never a moment when I wasn’t on the balls of my toes, biting my lip as I flew little Yuki around, which after my first hour of play became surprisingly instinctual. And with nearly all of the upgrades unlocked, I never got so powerful that I could ‘fail’ my way into winning YUKI. Even with all of the best upgrades unlocked, you’ll still only have limited use of your two rechargeable weapons, a freeze bomb and a shield, which you’ll rely on at a near constant to clear out waves of baddies and protect yourself from a cloud of lasers.
All enemies, outside of the game’s three bosses, are little flying guys. The bigger they look, generally the more health they have, although there’s no visual indicator of how much heath remains on anything but bosses. There’s an okay number of physical enemy models, however the biggest variation is the sort of projectiles they shoot. There’s a wide set of barrage styles that you’ll learn to avoid in YUKI, ranging from straight shots to undulating waves of lasers that you have to really stretch, bob and weave to avoid. Seriously: the more room you have and the more inclined you are to move around it, the easier time you’ll have.
For now, replay value isn’t very high once you’ve beaten the end boss. There is an endless mode planned, but it wasn’t available at the time of review. And I know what you’re thinking: “But it’s a roguelike, shouldn’t it be different every time you play?” The answer is basically no.
Not enough changes from run-to-run to make it feel like a unique experience every time you play simply because the enemy types are thrown at you in such a large number it’s too difficult to keep track of whether you’re encountering more or less of one type. Sure, the contents of upgrade orbs are randomized from your pool of available upgrades, but the experience always feels more or less the same, as you always encounter the same boss with the same attack style. After killing the end boss, I was left wanting more levels, bosses, and upgrade pathways, although that may also speak to how much I liked the game.
Still, you’re in for a solid amount of time working your way into new and better gear. It took me around three hours to even touch the end boss, and that was after racking up multiple deaths. This also means ample opportunity to earn blue orbs, unlock important upgrades, and learn how each boss operates and how many hoops you have to jump through to kill them.
Playing YUKI entirely relies upon a sense called proprioception, or having the innate ability to understand where and how your body is moving in space without directly observing it. Knowing where your hand is as you guide it, or rather Yuki, through the fog of projectiles is important since much of the time those lasers are flying directly at your face and you won’t have time to check where she is in relation to the bad guys who’ll you’ll need to blast. Granted, the only vulnerable part is Yuki, so you won’t be harmed if you take a missile to the forehead, but it may temporarily make things difficult to see too. After about an hour, this becomes second nature though and you can really start to hone your abilities in dodging and shooting back at the seemingly never-ending gang of flying baddies.
YUKI is a really well-polished experience. It feels like a lot of care has gone into its cool Japan-inspired art direction, making enemy barrages interesting and fun, and making sure every little bit feels like you’ve stepped inside of a vertical scrolling shooter. There’s even a cool touch with how Yuki’s wings articulate as you move her forward and backwards, really cementing the feeling that the little action figure has come to life.
Here’s a fun side note: having just popped out of a 45-minute session and gone straight to my text editor to write this section of the review, I’m currently seeing the ghostly outlines of missile barrages projected on top of my vision. The Tetris effect, or when you persistently see falling Tetris blocks because you spent too long concentrating on them, is very real with YUKI.
Using the game’s whole addressable tracking volume is key to taking on two of the hardest bosses, and unless you can give yourself wide berth in a chair, you’re better off standing up if you’re able. Also, make sure to clear out space in front of you and overhead, since so much of the game will have you lifting your hands at a high angle as you shoot up and dodge around.
YUKI is a forward-facing game that only features room-scale locomotion. You have no control over how fast you move forward though. Personally I had no comfort issues since the automatic forward scroll is so slow.
You might think YUKI would be a great single-controller game, however its default button mapping requires you to use a single button on your non-dominant hand to activate the freeze bomb. You can most certainly remap that in the SteamVR version, however the Quest version doesn’t allow this, only left and right dominant hand settings.
YUKI Comfort Settings – July 19th, 2021
|Swappable movement hand||✖|
|Two hands required||✔|
|Real crouch required||not required by suggested|
|Adjustable player height||✖|
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