Team17's upcoming pinball and platformer mash-up Yoku's Island Express is getting ever closer to release and, as luck would have it, we've had the chance to get an early look at exactly what will be on offer. Developed by independent Swedish studio Villa Gorilla, the game takes you on a journey alongside protagonist Yoku, who just so happens to be both a dung beetle, and a super awesome postal worker.
As we just mentioned, Yoku's Island Express is a mix of platforming and pinball action, and while these two genres aren't necessarily the first two you'd think to combine, the entire premise actually works really nicely. Rather than being split into sectioned-off levels, or even set over a handful of worlds, the whole game takes place within one ever-expanding map, with the pinball elements acting as little puzzles to progress. The two styles work effortlessly hand-in-hand, and we instantly forgot all doubts about how they might gel together.
As you bump and flick Yoku around the game's world, you'll find yourself collecting pieces of fruit that are added to a tally at the top of the screen. The fruit acts as a sort of currency, allowing you to unlock extra pinball flippers dotted across the map to aid your travel. This fruit can be found almost anywhere, but you'll find tons of the stuff tucked away inside the pinball sections; if you stay inside one of these pinball areas, sending yourself flying from bumper to bumper, you'll start to see lots of extra juicy fruit pop out ready for you to collect.
It's not just about running around and playing pinball, though. Yoku is on a mission to deliver letters and part of this plot point sees you locating the world's chiefs - which act in a way as checkpoint bosses. We only managed to reach the first of these chiefs during our hour-or-so playtime, but the meeting introduced a special, beefed-up pinball section to play, with all sorts of tasks to complete as we flung ourselves around. You'll be sucking up explosive slugs to destroy rocks, placing other balls into specific areas with the flippers, and collecting gems to unlock doors, all while zooming around the living, breathing table.
Falling through the flippers in these sections, which would usually result in a lost ball in real pinball, doesn't really have any consequence here; Yoku can never 'die' or be sent back to a previous section, and it isn't long before you unlock a sidekick who can save you from any pitfalls anyway. This makes it a pretty relaxed affair, which you can probably already tell from the calming artistic direction, both graphically and musically. The game places a much heavier focus on exploration and soaking up the world around you than intense pinball action.
For any classic platformer fans out there, this approach works a treat. The setup means that you'll be foraging through the entire world, looking in every last nook and cranny for any hidden collectibles - some of which are very cleverly hidden indeed, without stressing too much along the way. It's the sort of game that will take a good few number of playthroughs to find every last hidden detail, and it will be interesting to see how the plot progresses and if even more new elements are added in future boss sections. We'll make sure to find this out and more in our final review.
Yoku's Island Express is scheduled to release on 29th May, and will be available to pre-order from the eShop from today for £15.99/€19.99/$19.99. Will you be grabbing a copy?