Video game characters should really learn not to hold parties, festivals, or celebrations of any type. Long before the DJ has started incomprehensibly shouting down his microphone whilst playing Livin’ on a Prayer, you can be certain the party will have been ruined by the invasion of an evil army of some sort. This is the exact situation that kicks off YesterMorrow – thankfully, there’s no sign of a mumbling DJ – when the Celebration of Light festival is brought an an unceremonious halt due to some naughty shadow monsters. It’s up to Yui to set off on an adventure to save her family and her village before it’s too late.
YesterMorrow is a retro inspired 2D platformer, one that has some basic Metroidvania tendencies. There’s very little re-treading of levels however, this is mostly about just getting from A to B to C, solving some puzzles and besting a few bosses on the way. The game’s storyline is as generic as they come; an ancient order, forgotten prophecies, and shadow enemies. You’ve heard it many times before.
Fortunately, YesterMorrow is not a narrative adventure and developers Bitmap Galaxy seem happy enough for the player to skip through every cutscene. That’s because this is a precision platformer, the story playing second fiddle to the player needing to get their tiny bundle of cute pixels safely past the spiders, pit traps and quick sand that litters their path. With this remit in mind, YesterMorrow proves itself fairly adept.
Controls are mostly tight and responsive, Yui rolling and leaping with grace and ease. There are some exceptions though, as wall climbing and rope clambering are both unnecessarily fussy and needlessly finicky, both in terms of control and timing. Yui would often frustratingly falls to the beginning of a lengthy platforming section despite my best efforts. I never threw my controller in disgust and rage quit, but it was a close run thing on occasion.
Yui unlocks very few offensive abilities for fighting against ‘shadows’. Whilst you can kill them, the animals that they are controlling remain present and dangerous, so you can never be entirely rid of enemies. Instead, the focus is very much on evasion. It’s a compelling gameplay loop, each section offering a host of obstacles for the player to overcome.
The game does an excellent job of sign posting, deftly cuing you in on where you need to get to, then it’s just up to you to successfully pull off the necessary thumb gymnastics to beat the inspired level design. There’s real satisfaction to be had in stringing together Yui’s moves, the designers challenging the player to utilise all the abilities they’ve unlocked up until that point. Many of these platforming sections have demanding timing, even early on in the game. Fortunately, there are usually plentiful quick save spots to prevent painful back tracking – throwing you right back into the bit you were stuck on with minimal fuss.
If only I could say that were the case consistently throughout the game. Unfortunately there’s some hair pulling, teeth gnashing and deeply irritating sections further into proceedings. These inexplicably forego the generous quick save structure and throw you back to the very beginning of a section upon death or failure to reach a platform. Add to this some of the aforementioned control quirks and it’s safe to say, at those points in time, I did not like YesterMorrow very much.
Speaking of time, you’ll be travelling through a lot of it, both as teenage Yui and kid Yui. Through plot reasons too forgettable to go into here, Yui ends up in two separate timelines. One precedes the attack of the shadow monsters, the other occurs in the apocalyptic world that follows. Time travelling is a device successfully used in numerous video games but here, curiously, it feels a little of an afterthought.
This isn’t Guacamelee! 2, where you can switch between the worlds of life and death at will, instead travelling through time requires you to reach specific portals. As such, the mechanic is underexplored and fails to provide engaging puzzles. Instead it’s just a case of meet obstacle, find time portal, travel through time, discover obstacle has disappeared. Then do it all again. The game so clearly points when and where you should travel through time, that it rids itself of any sense of exploration or discovery that a good time travelling mechanic can bring to proceedings.
Elsewhere this really is platforming by numbers, entirely serviceable but never standout. Visuals are soft, whimsical and well animated. The only issues their painterly quality creates is that environmental hazards don’t stand out and and are too difficult to spot. This only serves to heighten issues of irritation as Yui falls to her demise… again. Boss Battles are well structured, but often overstay their welcome. You’ll figure out how to beat the boss, only to be hampered by having to carry out the same process a few too many times.
The areas of the world you explore are predominantly themed around the most cliched environments in all of video games – a forest, a lake, a desert and ice realm – and the abilities and skills you unlock are as standard as they come as well. Double jumps, dashes and stomps all work as expected, but again this samey quality serves to reinforce the striking sense of ‘I’ve played this all many, many times before. There’s nothing particularly wrong with competent unoriginality, other than, for me, it engenders little to no excitement in playing the game.