YUKI — Still a kid inside

YUKI introduces a unique premise, a bullet-hell roguelike that has you directing your character by holding it in the air like an action figure. It’s as absurd as it sounds, and I wouldn’t change it in any way.

I am a huge fan of shmups. Bullet hell, vertical, horizontal-scrolling, I love it all. What YUKI does so well is that it takes the joy of skirting bullets with your ship and has you dodging them with a virtual figure instead, one that you hold in your hand. It really feels like you have the right weight and everything and like you’re a kid playing with your favorite toy, visualising evil forces attacking it and dodging and shooting back at them with no shortage of spaceship sounds escaping your mouth with every blast.

The best part of YUKI is that you don’t have to imagine this magical world where you have a powerful action hero at your side, you get to live it. You sail the Yuki action figure through waves of incoming bullets and fire back at them with equal precision. With the rail shooter aspect of it all, depth is often one of your biggest challenges, which works so much better when you can see the distance of the bullets as they sail towards your face. Physical obstacles are another thing to watch out for, as any object that runs into Yuki will cause damage. Enough damage and you’re given an opportunity to try again, but you start over from the first level. Yes, there’s permadeath. 

Roguelike systems use this approach often like when you can unlock permanent upgrades to your character, but Yuki adds the ability to see certain power-ups more often, giving you a chance to provide you with an edge over your adversaries earlier. Each enemy you drop is going to drop one of two types of orbs: green health or blue ‘Creative Drive’ orbs. Collecting the blue orbs will let you buy options from the ‘toy box’ at the end of your run which will contribute to your future runs. It’s a great circular system that keeps the gameplay loop fresh and entertaining.

Yuki can be outfitted with different weapon types after you reach certain goals, but the best options you have to down enemies or ease the movement through levels are your rechargeable powers, and you’ll rely on them time and time again. There’s a freezing bomb that you can throw which freezes all the enemies on the screen, making for easy shooting, and there’s also a shield that prevents all bullets from hitting Yuki. There’s a cooldown on both, which you’re going to want to watch in your peripheral vision while you’re dodging hundreds of colorful bullets around you.

Enemies come in a couple of different varieties and range from small creatures to larger ones, but without a health bar over them, it makes it a bit harder to know how many hits it’ll take to down them. What does change is their bullet pattern variation, and that can change at any time. Direct shots at you require you to weave around, but rings of bullets that pause and then fly towards Yuki really give you a workout. The more space you have, the better, so try to keep objects and obstacles away before you don your headset.

You’ll be spending most of your time focusing on defeating the three bosses, as the enemies and their bullets will become second nature in dodging them after a while. Even though the enemies and obstacles are procedurally generated, the environments will remain the same, so it can feel a bit repetitive. However, since you’ll be focusing on getting to the next area and the next boss until you reach the end, with the help of your upgrades and power-ups, there’s plenty to experience and appreciate. The challenge never feels overwhelming and every time I lost in a run, I knew it was my fault.

YUKI’s visuals are gorgeous and intense and really breathe life into Yuki’s multi-universe journey. While some enemies just stay there and fire barrage after barrage of eye-catching projectiles your way, the environments pop with color and variety. Yuki’s animations and intricate details are really neat to experience in action or hold up to your face and take in. Every bit of the experience within this game adds to the immersion of flying through another world and blasting baddies with your toy suddenly comes to life.

The first time you fire up YUKI, you can’t help but start grinning. The presentation, the clever and fulfilling gameplay, it all keeps you coming back for more. It may not offer the engaging story of the Pixel Ripped titles, but every run feels like a new experience and while you’ll know what to expect after a while, it won’t matter, because every moment is blissful fun. AVORE certainly knows what they are doing in VR, with thrilling titles that spark the imagination and create new ways of enjoying the medium, and YUKI is no exception.

If you’re a fan of shooters, you’ll absolutely dig YUKI. The transition to VR where you are dodging bullets with your movements is something that just needs to be experienced to make you a believer. If you’re a casual fan, you’ll get something from the experience, but the difficulty might put you off quicker, and with only six levels, you’ll likely give up before the finale. Ultimately, if you’re looking for something new and exciting to try in VR, you can’t get much better than YUKI. It’s a wonderful game that leans on its strengths and keeps you thirsty for one more go.

YUKI is available now on Oculus Quest and Steam.

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