After being announced on Kickstarter on 1st May 2015, Playtonic’s Yooka-Laylee is finally nearing its release. After GameSpew previewed it at EGX last year, I was given a chance to get even more hands-on time with the much-anticipated successor to Banjo-Kazooie.
Touted as a return to the golden-era of “collectathons”, Yooka-Laylee certainly has its target set high. Trying to re-immerse older players whilst inspiring a new generation is obviously no easy feat, but right from the off you get a real sense that this game knows what it is about. Everything from its vibrant colour scheme, its fabulous cast of characters and its utterly charming world design all scream “this is the 90s!” – but with the quality and finesse of a 2017 production.
Playing the first two hours of the game was a little daunting; when Yooka-Laylee dropped me into its world with little clue to what to do I instantly panicked. This game was serious about you having to explore, discover and remember what is happening. There’s no map of any sort and this at first threw me off, but it didn’t last long; after a while, it felt like the shackles of a culture of hand-holding games had been taken off.
With no explicit marker of where to go and what to do, I was able to just explore and truly embrace the universe of Yooka-Laylee. Minor inconveniences from getting stuck fell quickly for the love of just jumping around and bustling my way through every obstacle I faced. For the first time in a long time, I felt that I was truly playing a game and not just reaching an objective.
I spoke to Steve Mayles, Yooka-Laylee‘s Character Art Director (and father of Banjo) about what mechanics they had to change from the Banjo-Kazooie days. Surprisingly, he told me that basically nothing had changed – at least not in principle. The only thing Steve mentioned was the fact that Yooka-Laylee has been made to be much less linear: you don’t just learn a new skill for the sake of beating the next section; rather, you can use it to re-visit old worlds and engage them in new ways.
New skills are gained by spending quills, the game’s currency, with a character named Trowzer. This character is a literal trouser snake, wearing a pair by feeding himself through one leg and back up the other. He’s just one of a number of memorable and hilarious characters – a fun sense of humour is always at the forefront of Yooka-Laylee. Among the list is of course Yooka and Laylee, the two main protagonists that both have plenty of wit, along with the antagonist Capital B and his underling Dr. Quack
I tried to ask Mayles about his favourite character but he cheated and copped out the question by answering both Yooka and Laylee. Before I could follow up, he went on to say that the characters are intended to be a “cast to last”, with the hope that they will span several games. So a possible franchise is on the cards – and future games may not necessarily be platforming collectathons: Mayles mentioned that this cast could fit plenty of genres. While I can’t necessarily picture Trowser Snake and gang fitting in a gritty FPS, we may well see them in something different a little further down the line. These are certainly characters I am hoping to see again; it’s impossible not to love their childish humour and properly clever (and surprisingly adult) jokes. May I suggest that we see the cast again in a new Karting game?
But let’s focus on the game we already know is just around the corner for now. Yooka-Laylee‘s soundtrack is also great – I urge you to look it up as simply describing it in words just won’t do it justice. What I will say, however, is that the soundtrack coupled with the brilliantly crafted sound effects manages to reinforce the ‘retro’ feel that Yooka-Laylee is recreating. Even the random string of sounds to give the illusion of character conversation is there to remind us of games gone by.
I may have only had a couple of hours with the game, but already, I can’t recommend Yooka-Laylee highly enough. Collectathons were never broken, just oversaturated. To see one return to the forefront with such polish and charisma is truly exciting. It taps into what made 3D platformers so enjoyable – their fun-loving nature and the wonder of discovery. Yooka-Laylee, in its non-linear form, has pushed that wonder further than anything I have played lately, and I can’t wait to explore more of its charming world.
Yooka-Laylee is set to release on PC and consoles on 11th April.