Due April 11 for PS4, Xbox One, Windows PC, Mac and Linux. TBC for Nintendo Switch
There’s a good reason people are excited about Yooka-Laylee. Coming from Playtonic Games – which is essentially made up of the minds that created Banjo-Kazooie back in 1998 – it’s a love letter to a genre that hasn’t been the same since the late '90s.
While it’s hard to imagine today, there was a time when the platformer reigned supreme. You didn’t need a gun, a ranking system or to overuse the colour grey. As long as you had a lead character with heaps of personality and a world that people could get lost in, you were halfway to producing something of note. This is why a return to the period is high on many wish lists and, better still, why it’s welcome news that Yooka-Layee doesn’t look like it’ll disappoint.
The real joy here is how easy it is to play. Within minutes you have an understanding of the concept and from there you’re encouraged to simply enjoy what’s on offer. Controlling Yooka and Laylee – a chameleon and bat respectively – it’s up to you to retrieve a magic book’s pages that have been stolen by a massive bee. Straight away you should be realising that nothing here is meant to be taken seriously...
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That’s the whole point, however, and why it’s so much fun. The mentioned pages will open up new worlds – and expand old ones – and the sheer amount you can do in each is almost ridiculous. Aside from the usual platforming you’ll need to perfect in order to progress the story, there are also side quests galore and all contribute to moving forward.
As an example, the preview build on this occasion showcased the first two hours, and in that time I had raced a cloud around a track, saved a skeleton from being eaten, helped Shovel Knight find some treasure, played retro classics on a giant arcade machine, cured an air vent’s sore throat and bested a shooting gallery. There’s no shortage of imagination, and it does a great job of keeping you interested from start to finish. You just don’t know what each hub will ask of you.
This continues when we bring Trowzer into the conversation, too. A constant figure in a lot of the footage that’s been released by Playtonic, he essentially exists to help you level-up the deeper you get into the game. Throwing out new moves and abilities that you can purchase, his role is far bigger than expected simply because he almost serves as a conduit for change. It’s unlikely you’ll get anywhere without him, and hunting him down at the start of a world becomes a priority.
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It certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s always prepared with a bunch of dad jokes either, although that’s true for Yooka-Laylee as a whole. Almost drowning in humour, you can find a gag waiting wherever you look, if your eye is up to the challenge. Many will make you roll your eyes – which in itself is always an achievement – but there are also some that truly hit it out of the park. Incredibly self-referential and aware of the nonsense that surrounds the gaming industry, such gibes just pull you in further. You’d have to be a hardened soul not to be won over in some sense.
Obviously all this would be for nought if Playtonic hadn’t nailed how it played. The most important aspect of any platformer is the platforming, and if it feels like you’re not in control it’s unlikely to hold your attention for long. When you initially get to grips with it there may be a sense that it’s a little too floaty – LittleBigPlanet is a good comparison – but before long it’s not even an issue. Like any good setup your brain soon adjusts to what’s required. Then it’s just a case of figuring out what you can and can’t get away with.
All of this comes together excellently, and the game’s biggest strength is how well it replicates what came previously without being out of touch. Naturally the developer has to ensure this remains true for however long it intends on hanging around, but if events stay as inventive, creative and smart as the opening hours, then there’s nothing to suggest that won’t be the case.
Yooka-Laylee is currently ticking every box it needs to tick. I imagine the experience you have in your head is going to be very similar to the one you will actually get, simply because Playtonic has done such a good job of bringing the concept into the modern day. That does mean if a bear and his bird jaunting around was never your thing you won’t be swayed now either – but you’re clearly not the intended audience.
Throw in that it’s also a delight to look at – it’s a rarity to see a green palette used with such pride – and this is everything you could possibly expect from a project that's worn its heart on its sleeve from the beginning. A pleasant change to the norm we’ve become used to, Yooka-Laylee should be an absolute delight come April this year.