Though its release in Europe is still a month away, Nintendo has certainly been keen to let the media get their hands on Yoshi's Woolly World. We already gave you a written and video preview for the game in late April, but without spoiling too many specifics we thought we'd provide a follow-up to explain why, after plenty of subsequent hours playing the game, we feel this should be right near the top of Wii U owner's wishlists.
It's this writer's perception, which isn't fool-proof by any stretch of the imagination, that hype levels for this platformer are relatively low. It's not helped by the disparity in release windows - 26th June in Europe but 'Fall' in North America - but also seems to be a consequence of a perceived over-familiarity, a sense of being jaded by yet another platformer from Nintendo.
For one thing, the Wii U hasn't been overwhelmed by platformers, at least not in 2014 and this year to date, so we'd hope any weariness with running and jumping would ease by now. The greater issue seems to be sequel-itis, whether justified or otherwise. Nintendo can be hard-done-by in this respect, as annual sequels are tolerated in many multi-platform franchises but not - in various cases - from the big N.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze arrived 3.5 years after Donkey Kong Country Returns - if we put the 3DS port to the side - yet it's odd that the hype for the announcement of the Wii game was off the charts, yet its sequel was met with mild interest and some shrugged shoulders; clearly some wanted something else from Retro Studios. Some critics and gamers alike did - in this writer's view - go too far in claiming (not always fairly) that Tropical Freeze was a sequel lacking in spark; again, there was quite literally a generational gap between them, and it's not a crime for sequels to share mechanics and some ideas. Tropical Freeze did, despite its hopelessly unambitious approach to the GamePad, do more than enough to justify being a treasured sequel, and not dismissed as some kind of glorified level pack.
There's a fear that similar attitudes are following Yoshi's Woolly World around, in comparison to Kirby's Epic Yarn on Wii. This is despite a 4.5 to 5 year gap, and the fact that Kirby's gorgeous Wii adventure was a clever twist on standard Kirby platforming and the genre in general. It was actually fairly obvious, in truth, that the original concept wasn't meant for Kirby at all, but who cares? It's a fun platformer that's both accessible to all but also poses its own unique challenge for die-hard players with its large range of collectibles.
Good-Feel certainly maintains a number of those Epic Yarn ideas in Woolly World. Environmental clues take the form of loose threads of wool rather than buttons, and there are clever little set pieces. There are also small areas in which Yoshi transforms into a creature or item, and these serve up multiple little 30 second bursts of variety.
Good-Feel also maintains its strong instincts in stage design that supports single player and local co-op. While we've enjoyed the bulk of our time in single player, co-op is particularly enjoyable. There's a cute and malleable chaos as two woollen Yoshi's collide, but also new methods of co-operation that shake up two-player platforming. We solved one puzzle that seemed only possible in co-op - there was likely another solution - that made both players smile; turning one player into a ball of wool (or eggs in normal Yoshi terms) and hurling them up to a high platform is a fun way to work together.
That's one example of how Yoshi's Woolly World evolves and expands upon Epic Yarn's ideas. That delightful squishiness and combat through grabbing and flinging enemies and items fits neatly into standard Yoshi mechanics, and the fit feels more natural. Managing your supply of eggs and having full 360 degree aiming is vital to the game, and adds a notable degree of strategy - some enemies, or a number of the charming bosses - require a combination of Yoshi's eating attack, hurled eggs and perhaps a well timed stomp move.
Other key points relate to tempo and difficulty. For one thing, Woolly World combines steady - at times careful - exploration with movement that's far nippier than the pedestrian pace of Epic Yarn; Yoshi's certainly quicker, with stages that play into this. Occasionally you have to pick up the pace to use disappearing platforms, and there's one delightful level in the first four worlds that's an on-rails DK-style stage in which you're clinging on for dear life. Younger and less skilled players will still be able to handle the pace, but it's a definite step up over the adventure of Kirby and Prince Fluff.
Difficulty is another key factor. Fairly regular checkpoints and a complete absence of lives mean that you only fail when you give up, so it's certainly not punishing in that respect; you can also use in-game currency to buy a whole range of assist items. However, the history of the Yoshi franchise is respected with multiple collectibles. As we previously outlined in our preview you find flower petals, gems with Miiverse stamps, five magic wools and also try to maintain perfect health when you reach the end. In first runs we're occasionally clearing levels without fully completing any criteria, so there's going to be plenty of challenge in not only finding secrets but also having the skill to grab some fiendishly placed collectibles. There are lovely unlocks to be had as rewards, too; it's these extras that'll divide different skill-sets of players.
When you throw in the stunning visuals, quirky and charming design and a lovely soundtrack, it becomes apparent that Woolly World is the real deal - a game crafted with care and skill. It's accessible while also tricky, simple and clever, while it can also be fast or measured.
For this writer it's also the perfect title for some relaxed yet focused gaming. It doesn't have the relentless intensity of so many other games, yet it cajoles us into focusing and doing our best at our own tempo. It's the gaming equivalent of a riveting book - both relaxing and exciting at once.
We've played through a hefty chunk of Yoshi's Woolly World to date and have one key message to share - fans of platformers should definitely have it on their radar.
Don't forget to check out our previous written Yoshi's Woolly World preview for more impressions.