by Matt Porter
previewed on PC
Back to the 90s
It may have been Gamescom 2016, but in Team17’s booth we were transported two decades into the past. The mid-to-late 90s were a hotbed of 3D action platforming games, with the likes of Nintendo’s Mario 64 and Rare’s Banjo-Kazooie taking the world by storm. Developer Playtonic Games, founded by a number of former Rare employees, is now working on Yooka-Laylee, a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, and it’s expected to release early next year.
I went hands-on with the game for about half an hour at Gamescom. Taking control of Yooka, a male chameleon, and Laylee, a female bat who rides on his shoulders, I took a trip on the nostalgia train as familiar controls and gameplay systems came back to me within minutes. Yooka-Laylee will indeed appeal to those who grew up with this style of game in the 90s, but it’s also worth mentioning the appeal to a new generation of fans who may not have played anything like this in recent times. We are still a way off from release, but the controls feel tight, and even in the first level of the game there is a great deal of content and variety.
That first level I played isn’t going to be the final version of it, as parts have been added to show off during the demo, and other parts have been taken out (there was no boss battle, for example). Regardless, the playing area is sprawling, both horizontally and vertically. You will spend a couple of minutes running from one side of the open-ended level to the other, and climbing the mountain lets you see all the areas below. There are characters you can speak to seemingly around every bend, and each one has a helpful hint or a new quest to give you. On top of that, the conversations which play out between Yooka, Laylee, and the other characters are delightful, with a fun sense of humour.
The levels themselves can physically change, too. Up at the top of the mountain is a rain cloud. You can help it… release its fluid, in a number of different ways using various berries. Laylee can eat different types of berries, and then spit them out for different types of effects. The basic one will make the cloud rain simple water, causing a waterfall river to wash through the middle of the map down at ground level. An ice berry will cause it to freeze over, allowing you to walk over it. A red berry will create hot lava.
Laylee can also spit these berries out to ward off enemies, or you can do your basic spin attack to defeat them. There’s also a sort of ground pound, or a stealth mode if you want to sneak past, or sneak up, on something. Laylee, being a bat, has a sonar ability, which will activate certain platforms or buttons you need to progress. She’s also got wings, giving you access to a double jump, and a brief period of soaring once you’re in the air. If you need to get up a slope, Yooka can roll up it, and this will give you a bit of a speed boost while roaming the level as well.
There’s even a transformation device which you will have to use to open up even more questing opportunities. Certain creatures in the land won’t talk to you, that is, unless you transform into something they like. Turning into a handsome plant is the only way to chat to some of the lady plants in the world, and you will have different abilities when you’re in that form. Yooka-Laylee is all about giving the player freedom to go wherever they want, and to do things in whichever order they please. Instead of becoming frustrated at not being able to solve a problem after a minute or two, I simply moved onto the next area and did that instead, aiming to come back later.
However I never did manage to come back, because even after half an hour I still hadn’t seen all the areas of that one level.
Hours of fun
There will eventually be five levels in the game, and each will have their own tricks up their sleeve. Yooka-Laylee is shaping up to be a great look into the past while keeping up with modern times, and because of that, it will appeal to a wide range of people. It’s not going to have the deepest story or the most challenging enemies, but it will provide hours of fun. And what’s more important than that?