Touted as the spiritual successor to classic N64 platformer Banjo-Kazooie, Yooka-Laylee is being developed by a number of former key Rare personnel who came together to form Playtonic Games. With one of the most successful video game Kickstarter campaigns of all time under its belt – and the longest queues of the entire Rezzed zone at EGX 2016 – public appetite for the Team 17-published 3D platformer is at a high. We recently had the opportunity to have an extended playthrough of one of the early levels in the game, and it’s fair to say the hype is justified.
Yooka-Laylee sees its titular heroes, a lovable, whacky duo consisting of a green chameleon and a purple bat, explore vast worlds in the search of quills, gems and paiges; collectables that can be used to buy new abilities and even unlock new worlds. It features a lush, vibrant aesthetic that will feel familiar to anyone who grew up with the likes of Banjo, Spyro and Super Mario 64, although let’s be clear: Yooka-Laylee is not a retro game.
While its overall warmth and cuddliness are deliberate nods to platformers of old, Yooka’s graphical fidelity, gameplay mechanics and even sound design are certainly of the modern era. This modernisation also extends to the game’s level design; while at its core, Yooka-Laylee is all about the classic ‘collectathon’ associated with Banjo-Kazooie and its ilk, it also provides a Metroidvania-esque element, in terms of hidden content and locked areas that require players to backtrack through earlier levels having obtained the requisite items later in the game.
With Yooka and Laylee receiving equal prominence, players have a multitude of moves and traversals at their disposal. These can largely be broken down into various platforming mechanics; including, for example, Yooka being able to roll up into a ball to gain the necessary traction to make his way uphill, or the use of Laylee’s wings to hover between platforms – but there are other ways and means to explore, too.
In our demo, one section required our heroes to take on the appearance of a wiry plant, along with the unique hopping abilities it provided, in order to progress past a certain point. We’ve also seen evidence of other means of transportation in the game, including the use of a mine cart, the ability to transform into a bulldozer, and being able to swim underwater.
The duo’s health is denoted by an on-screen meter filled with butterflies, and can be replenished by eating the insects that are plentiful throughout each level. While this may seem a little bit too similar to Spyro the Dragon’s method of using coloured dragonflies as its health indicator, Playtonic told us it was designed with the intention of avoiding the excessive resource management that has led to many modern games becoming unnecessarily complicated.
It would be remiss to discuss Yooka-Laylee without remarking on its fabulously effervescent soundtrack. Composed by Grant Kirkhope, a fellow Rare alumnus who composed for classic titles including GoldenEye 007, Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64, the game’s upbeat orchestral score perfectly complements the warmth and lusciousness of its universe.
In our 30 minutes or so with the game, we had a joyous experience, taking our time to explore every nook and cranny the demo area had to offer, and eagerly anticipate Yooka-Laylee’s release in early 2017.