An Interview With the Developer of Yono and the Celestial Elephants
When Nintendo showed off the upcoming indie games for the Nintendo Switch, we were captivated by the adorable elephant game called Yono and the Celestial Elephants.
We got in touch with Niklas Hallin from Neckbolt to learn more about this game.
What inspired you to create Yono and the Celestial Elephants?
I have a very specific genre of games that I like, and that I have been analyzing since I was a kid. Over the years I have developed a method for thinking about puzzle design, and it was never really a question what kind of games I would be making. The issue was whether or not I had the skills to do it. After several game projects, some of which have been released, I finally felt that I had the capacity to tackle the genre that comes naturally to me.
Where the idea of the elephant itself comes from is both very complex and very simple: who doesn’t like baby elephants! The more I thought about it the more I saw that it was a very suitable animal for the kind of game I was making, both for its unique bodily abilities and for its symbolic value.
So far, Yono has been announced for the Switch and PC. Did anything in particular draw you to the Switch as a platform for Yono?
Like everyone else, I had no idea what Nintendo’s new NX console would be like. I also didn’t even dare to dream of launching on any Nintendo console. But I was always keenly aware of my Nintendo heritage. Almost every single game that inspired Yono has been a Nintendo title, and I am working within a framework established over decades of Zelda games. So Yono looked lika a Nintendo game long before it was one, which is why the transition was so easy and natural.
And the Switch itself is a godsend for me! From it’s very conception Yono has been a hybrid of modern HD video games and older handheld games, like those for the Gameboy. And out of nowhere Nintendo announces a console which is both for your TV and for playing in handheld mode. Not only does it seem like my game was created specifically for the Switch, it also seems like the Switch was created specifically for my game!
When you are playing in handheld mode, the in-game camera angle matches the angle between your eyes and the screen, giving you the illusion of looking through the screen into a miniature toy world!
Yono seems to have a lot of puzzles, but also enemies, towns, and side quests. After seeing the trailer, many fans described it as “Zelda where you play as an elephant.” How would you describe the genre? What games would you compare it to?
Long before the project had a name, I secretly called it “Zelda with an elephant.” I don’t say that anymore, but I also don’t need to. There are enough signposting and visual clues in the trailer and in the game itself that Zelda fans will start using those exact words all by themselves!
The most direct forebear to Yono is The Minish Cap on the GBA. For Yono, I have rearranged the structure of the world and how to access new areas, and I have shifted the focus even further away from combat and towards puzzles, so it strikes me a bit weird to call it an “action adventure,” but perhaps some sort of “puzzle adventure” then?
How strong are the story elements in Yono?
The story is the very backbone of Yono, the heart and soul around which the whole game is built. It has dawned on me towards the end of the project that the whole game is written more like an RPG than a puzzle game, but without any RPG mechanics. There are no experience points, quest logs or dialog options, but there are side quests and factions and a detailed history of the world that can be gleaned from in-game books.
We’re excited we got this chance to learn more about Yono and the Celestial Elephants, and we’re looking forward to it when it launches on the Switch on October 12. What do you think of Yono? Share your thoughts in the comments below.