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Return to the '90s platforming

Platforming Bats and Chameleons

We’re about six weeks out from the launch of Yooka-Laylee now, and it’s time for fans of old school platforming adventures to get excited. It’s essentially the spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, made by a group of ex-Rare employees from the N64 era of platformers. At Gamescom last year, I played around half an hour of an unfinished version of the first level of the game in which I had plenty of abilities already unlocked. Recently, I got my hands on Yooka-Laylee again and was given two hours of free reign from the very start of the game. This time, I got more of a sense of the story, how things ramp up and the sense of progression you get by building up your arsenal of special abilities.

The game begins in Shipwreck Creek, the home of Yooka, the chameleon, and Laylee, the bat. The duo venture into Hivory Towers, a shady business headed up by the equally shady Capital B. A cutscene tells you what’s going on, a short tutorial teaches you the basics, and you slowly meet and get to know some of the recurring characters that’ll crop up throughout the game. Hivory Towers acts as a hub world, but there is plenty to do here beyond simply selecting which level to go to. It’s a place to explore in itself and as you acquire more abilities, you’ll be able to unlock new areas, which will in turn lead to new zones and extra story progression.

Explore the Zones

The first of five zones you’ll be visiting in Yooka-Laylee is called Tribalstack Tropics, a name which should give you a good idea of what to expect there. You’re greeted by a tropical environment, filled with tribal enemies, villages and ruins. The middle of the map is dominated by a large temple. There’s plenty to do here, and if the mention of five zones seems like a small number to you, you can rest easy knowing these zones are very large and filled with extra hidden areas. It would’ve been easy to spend the entire two hours I had with the game exploring Tribalstack Tropics. The second zone is called Glitterglaze Glacier, again, a highly descriptive and alliterative name. Instead of a jungle setting you’ll be faced with snow and ice, bringing a whole different set of challenges to your platforming. Glitterglaze Glacier in particular impressed me with the sense of scale. Standing on a slippery cliff you can see way into the distance, as towering pillars of ice climb to the sky.

The zones are littered with items to collect. The main things you’ll see are Quills, which are essentially your currency used to acquire new abilities. You buy these from Trowzer. He is a trouser snake - I mean a snake that wears trousers - who has an uncanny ability to keep popping up where you wouldn’t expect him. From the start you’ll get a selection of abilities to choose from and you can unlock them in any order you wish. New abilities will be added to the list as you progress through the game, increasing your choice, but eventually you’ll need them all in order to find everything you need to progress.

Elsewhere you’ll find Pagies (or sections of them), which are your ultimate goal. Pick up enough Pagies, and these are your tickets to new zones later on as you explore the rest of Hivory Towers. They’re also used to upgrade existing levels, opening up new areas and quest lines within. Pagies are found either by simply exploring the level thoroughly, or engaging in quests or activities for the wide array of characters you’ll find in each zone. There’s a good variety of activities and minigames you’ll be engaging in, whether it be simply defeating a certain number of enemies or winning a race or successfully collecting gems on a crazy minecart ride or completing a very meta quiz. There’s even a giant arcade machine and you can play the secret games if you collect hidden Play Tokens.

There are also butterflies, which act as either health packs if you swallow them up with your long tongue or energy which lets you use your abilities if you simply run into them. As for the abilities, you’ll get a variety which will either give you more options in combat or help you get to places you couldn’t before. In the demo, I was able to unlock the likes of being able to glide or do super jumps. You’re also able to do things like suck up certain types of plants and spit them out, applying elemental effects to whatever you hit.

Return to the '90s

The platforming isn’t perfect, and I found myself wrestling with the camera in some locations, but for the most part, Yooka-Laylee is very well built. There’s also a good variety in the level of difficulty you’ll be facing. Jumping on blocks and beating up enemies is largely trivial, but there are some trickier platforming sections here if you’re looking for more of a challenge and some of the minigames in particular may take you a few goes to get right. This, as with all games of this type, is for a completionist, someone who wants to find every secret and collect everything that can be collected. Those days have been left in the past by some and this game isn’t for them, but for those looking for a return to that '90s style of game, Yooka-Laylee will transport you there with ease.