It’s clear Yooka-Laylee has the same lifeblood pumping through it as Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country. Watching it in action, while undoubtedly modern, the game gave me the weird sense that I’d played it long ago, like it was one of the games I used to play after school on my friend’s N64.
It’s not a surprise the game is so familiar, seeing as most of the team at Playtonic had a strong hand in making those classic games from the iconic Rare studio. In fact, only four of the 20-something team didn’t work at Rare before Yooka’s Kickstarter campaign in 2015.
Before I get stuck into what I saw, there’s a little slice of bad news. Originally, Yooka-Laylee was scheduled for release in October of this year; it has now been pushed back into the early months of 2017. Considering Playtonic was originally looking for £175,000 and managed to raise more than £2 million, it’s not too surprising the game has been delayed, especially as it grew its scope to match the fuc reaction.
Onto the game.
For good or bad, Yooka-Laylee is basically as close as Playtonic could get to making a Banjo-Kazooie sequel without infringing any copyright. This is hardly a surprise and it’s not something Playtonic has been trying to hide but if you had foibles with Rare’s early games then don’t expect them all to be solved here.
As with Banjo-Kazooie, Yooka-Laylee is an open world platformer. You gain access to a hub world that lets you jump into themed worlds, like an ice world and a jungle world. By amassing collectibles, in this case pagies, you can spend those to unlock more worlds until, eventually, there are no more worlds to conquer. Each world you visit will be bulging with puzzles, mini games, secrets, races, and platforming. Completing them will net you pagies.
Taking that structural skeleton, that we’ve not really seen in 15 years, Playtonic has dressed it in some gorgeously colourful clothes. I was only shown the early levels of Yooka-Laylee: Shipwreck Cove, the heroes’ home; Capital B’s factory, the villain's lair and the game’s central hub; and the first world, a tropical realm filled with palm trees, moss-covered stone, and cannibals. Each area was brightly coloured and lovingly detailed.
The worlds are also full of things to do. In the tropical world you could race a cloud called Nimble who has a need for speed; help Clara, an explorer who has already been half-eaten by cannibals and needs your help to stop her other half being eaten, too; and play one of Rextro Sixtyfourus’s arcade games. Every direction Yooka and Laylee travelled they would encounter a new character who was in charge of a minigame or oversaw a puzzle. Linking all these characters were strings of collectibles. In each world there are 200 quills for you to find, in the tropical world there are more than 30 pagies for you to seek out, and on top of all those are butterflies that you use to restore your health and energy.
I’ve never been a fan of collecting things in games and Crackdown’s orbs and Assassin’s Creed’s feathers arguably have their roots in the collectathons of the old Rare games. Something that differentiates Yooka from Banjo in this regard is that your collectibles are at least more readily usable. Your pagies are for unlocking new worlds in Capital B’s factory, the quill’s can be spent in shops to buy new abilities that let you get to new parts of the worlds to which you already have access, and the butterflies, as I said, get you health and energy. I don’t know if their utility is going to make me like them any more than I used to but it’s a welcome change.
The pause screen is still a mess of counters telling you how many “x/200” quills you’ve got, and so on. For fans of the Banjo games that will likely be lovely thing to see. I was a little put off when I got a glimpse of it.
By visiting a snake in a pair of shorts going by the name of Trowser you can buy yourself new abilities, like being able to roll (which lets you move faster – vital for racing), or to fire out sonar rings that you can use to reveal secret platforms, or to double jump. All of these give you greater access to areas of the world around you. As with Banjo, when you first visit a world you only really getting a glimpse of everything it has to offer. As you gain abilities and change aspects of the environment you discover whole new areas you couldn’t reach before.
I was shown, for instance, that once you can fly you can get access to the top of a waterfall. Up there you’ll find an old cloud who can’t, er, take a leak without your help. If you eat the nearby splash berry – giving you the ability to spit a stream of water – and douse the cloud it gives him the right stimulation to start taking a leak. The rain that pours out of him will fill the riverbed on the level below and give you access to an underground cave system you couldn’t get to before. If you used a frostberry instead then you will get the cloud to snow and freeze the river below, giving you access to a new race. In this way each world in Yooka-Laylee opens up the further you get into the game and the more abilities you get access to.
There is another way to expand the game’s world. Rather than using your pagies to buy your way into new worlds you can spend them on expanding the worlds you already have access to. In the case of the tropical world, after spending pagies to expand it, whole new sections were added to the map. A giant floating tower become linked to the world, giving you a new jumping puzzle to complete. Elsewhere a floating island with a massive temple joined the main world, giving you another challenge to compete. Each of the worlds can be expanded in this way.
I came away from Yooka-Laylee itching to play. After Rare was bought by Microsoft it just stopped making this sort of game and no other studio took up the challenge. Playtonic knows its audience and it’s building a game just for them. It has constructed colourful worlds and stuffed them with things to do, items to collect, and weird characters who spout cringy puns.
If you’ve missed that sort of game then the wait until 2017 is going to be a long one.