EGX Preview: Yooka-Laylee Sets a New Benchmark of Platforming

I was never a massive fan of Banjo-Kazooie. If I’m being entirely honest, I thought it was rather overrated. That’s not to say I didn’t love the other 3D platformers that were born from the 90s; I couldn’t get enough of the likes of Crash Bandicoot, Spyro and Croc. Still, I was but a child back then. I didn’t imagine I’d still enjoy the genre just as much today. How wrong I can be.

It seems that the 3D platformer is returning with a bang. Within mere metres of each other at EGX last weekend, we had a demo of Sumo Digital’s upcoming platformer Snake Pass, as well as the first ever hands-on demo of the much-anticipated Yooka-Laylee. I hate to admit I was indifferent at best about the announcement of Yooka-Laylee. I couldn’t get on board the hype train; I’d been-there-done-that some 20 years ago and I wasn’t interested in playing some sort of retro revival title now. I’ll stick to something modern, thankyouverymuch.

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Oh, but how glad I am that I made an appointment with Team 17 to try Yooka-Laylee and see what all the fuss might be about.

In a word, Yooka-Laylee is shaping up to be fantastic. For fans of the 90’s classics such as Banjo-Kazooie, it’s everything you could hope it would be. Bright, bold, colourful locations filled with a wacky and lovable cast of characters. Simple controls and delightful music. Humorous dialogue and a simple yet enjoyable narrative. But even for those who aren’t so enamoured with 90s throwback games (or God forbid, those who weren’t alive at the time), Yooka-Laylee feels fresh and new. It’s not merely fan service for those pining for a classic 90’s game; this is a brand new awakening of a tried and tested genre in its own right.

The demo we played covered one level. Taking control of Yooka, a green lizard, with Laylee, a purple bat, perched on his bat, we were thrown into a green wonderland. A gorgeous, well-realised world surrounded us that sprang to life with colour and character. After a brief conversation with a friendly snake (apparently called “Trowzer”…) who gave us the quickest of control tutorials, we were on our way. First saving a monkey from a perilous situation, we span and kicked our way through hordes of oncoming enemies. Of course, in true platforming style, combat is little more than well-timed presses of one button, but it’s satisfying to see your foes flying across the screen once you’ve landed a blow! After saving our new friend from sure death, it was off to explore more of the wonderful lands that awaited.

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The aim of the demo – and indeed, the game as a whole – is to collect “Pagies” – scattered golden pages that, when picked up, unlock new levels and areas. In order to find these, we had to solve a number of environmental puzzles, such as activating switches to control platforms to reach higher levels. There are other collectibles to lay our green and purple mitts on too; obligatory coins scatter the lands, and there’s an abundance of butterflies that will top up the health meter. The openness of the levels means there’s no right or wrong way to complete it; it’s up to you which way to roam first, discovering the delights that the game holds entirely at your own pace.

Whilst Yooka-Laylee doesn’t necessarily do anything new, it takes a tried and tested formula and completely invigorates it. Nothing feels “retro” or dated about Yooka-Laylee; this is a brand new adventure that feels right at home in the 21st century. I’d even go as far to say that calling Yooka-Laylee a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie is doing it a disservice. It’s so much more than that, and we can’t wait to discover what else it has in store for us come next year.

Yooka-Laylee is set to release in Q1 2017 and will be available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.