Last week I had the opportunity to play the first couple of worlds in the much-anticipated open world platformer Banjo Threeie, I mean, Yooka-Laylee on the PlayStation 4. As you’ve probably heard, Yooka-Laylee is the spiritual successor to Banjo Kazooie, created by a group of former Rare devs that now operate under the name: Playtonic Games. After raising just over £2 million in a Kickstarter campaign that started back in May 2015, Playtonic have been working on reviving the 3D Platformer genre, attempting to create a worthy successor to that lovable bear-bird duo, while giving the genre a much-needed lick of 2017 paint. Playtonic are therefore under a hell of a lot of pressure to get this right and with less than two months until its release, does Yooka-Laylee look as though it’ll live up to its preceding ‘Rare-surrect’ status?
Jumping into the tutorial area entitled, Shipwreck Creek, I was instantly transported back to what felt like a late-90s 3D Platformer. When remembering our favourite games, many of us tend to think of them in a rose-tinted sense. We forget how graphically dated they look and omit a number of other issues from our memories. Yooka-Laylee does an excellent job of transporting players back to that familiar genre while making it a lot easier on the eyes. The main story also revolves around the classic model of the good-guy duo versus that one bad egg, or in this case, bee. Players will control Yooka (the green chameleon) and Laylee (the purple bat) as they traverse a strange world that has recently been purged of all its books, thanks to corporate creep, Capital B. Players will have to complete a number of puzzles and platforming challenges in order to retrieve valuable Pagies, which can be used to unlock and expand the game’s worlds. In doing so, you’ll will meet new characters, encounter bosses, unlock arcade games and more.
Similar to Banjo Kazooie, players will be able to make their way through each of the worlds at their own pace. Whether you prefer to take the completionist route of gathering every possible collectible, or like to grab the bare minimum before racing on, Yooka-Laylee will accommodate your preferred playstyle. After a running through the tutorial in Shipwreck Creek and Hivory Towers, I entered Tribalstack Tropics, where I spent a considerable amount of time hunting for Quills (like the pen). In this area, after collecting thirty Quills, players will be able to purchase special moves including: Sonar Shot, which helps to reveal secrets in an area; Slurp Shot, which gives Yooka the ability to ingest fire, water and ice berries which can then be used to fire projectiles, and Buddy Slam – essentially just the Ground Pound move from Super Mario 64. In Tribalstack Tropics I collected ninety Quills and cashed them in for each of these moves however, there are supposedly two hundred quills in each world. As far as I know, the only way to spend the Quills is by exchanging them for new abilities by speaking to Trowzer, a wheeler-dealer, Del Boy-esque snake, so I’m unsure what those additional Quills can be exchanged for. They also feature in the Arcade mini games later on but again, information on what else these can be spent on, if anything, is pretty sketchy. Other Collectibles include Play Coins, which unlock the arcade machines scattered throughout each of the worlds and Play Tonics (get it?), which Yooka and Laylee utilise to enhance their stats and abilities. If you’re able to locate five Ghost Writers in each world, you’ll also unlock a Pagie.
Wandering around Tribalstack Tropics started off as an enjoyable experience and gave me a good idea of what I should expect from the rest of the game. At first, there seemed to be Quills everywhere and all of them were very easy to reach, with the most strenuous tasks requiring me to simply roll up a ramp. After speaking to a few NPCs, players will also have the opportunity to complete a few challenges in return for a Pagie or two. One challenge had me racing against a strange cloud where I had to roll through candy-striped rings, while trying to avoid my stamina bar depleting and another had me shooting projectiles at a number of moving targets. The shooting-range task proved to be a bit tedious as aiming on the PS4 controller felt quite awkward. Despite this, everything in this first world seemed quite harmless to the point where it didn’t really feel that challenging at all. If you’re a diehard Banjo fan, then you’ll probably enjoy this game regardless, but for those that are looking for a 3D Platformer that not only revives but greatly improves the genre, Yooka-Laylee may not quite fit the bill. Playtonic have certainly dusted off a successful formula and have revamped it for 2017, but I’m interested to see whether anything particularly game-changing or innovative has been added. It’s important to remember that this is the spiritual successor to Banjo Kazooie, but nineteen years later, I’m unsure whether expandable worlds, unlockable moves and better graphics will be enough to impress fans and other players that may pick up the game. For the most part, the gameplay feels like more of the same which will make this a perfect choice if you want to just sit back and play very casually, but it could potentially feel a bit lacklustre if you were craving something more.
That said, Playtonic have included local multiplayer in hopes of revitalising couch co-op. Yooka-Laylee features eight unique multiplayer arcade games. These can be played with up to four players locally and can also be played solo, if you don’t like your friends. When playing the main adventure, player two can also jump in at any time and take control of the ‘Bee Team’ to collect Quills and butterflies (which are used for health and stamina replenishment). Basically, player two will have to assume more of a support role, here and leave most of the cool stuff to player one. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to try this mode but I’m sure many fans will appreciate its inclusion. If you’re a Shovel Knight fan, you’ll also be happy to hear that he makes a sweet little cameo in the main adventure, too.
Overall, I think fans will be satisfied with what Yooka-Laylee has to offer. Playtonic’s vision has been very clear since the day they Kickstarted the project: “create a spiritual successor to [their] most cherished work”, and I think they’ve fulfilled that goal for the most part. I spent just under two hours with the game and despite not being blown away by it, I don’t dislike it either; I’d most likely play this game casually on the Nintendo Switch. Small touches like Yooka and Laylee’s idle animations exemplify a certain level of polish in this game, yet the traditional Banjo-style ‘voice-acting’ (which is definitely an acquired taste) made me want to turn off the audio altogether. The puzzles and challenges utilise the characters’ moves in somewhat interesting ways and these are reminiscent of past 3D Platformers, but they don’t feel particularly innovative or impressive. Those that want an updated Banjo Kazooie, will receive exactly what they want with Yooka-Laylee however, if you’re looking for a game that defines a new era in this genre, this game may not live up to your expectations.
Minimum System Requirements:
OS: Windows 7 (64bit)
Processor: Intel i5-2500 3.3GHz
Memory: 8 GB RAM
Graphics: NVidia GTS450 / AMD Radeon 6850HD
DirectX: Version 11
Storage: 9 GB available space
Sound Card: Windows Compatible Card
Additional Notes: A Controller is STRONGLY recommended to play this game.
Recommended System Requirements:
Yooka-Laylee will launch on April 11th 2017 for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Unfortunately, plans to release Yooka-Laylee on the Wii U were scrapped near the end of last year. Instead, we can expect the game to release on the Nintendo Switch, at some point, although the release date for that remains unconfirmed.
Price & Purchase
Yooka-Laylee is available to pre-order for $39.99 for non-Kickstarter backers in both digital and physical formats. You can easily find it on GMG.
Kickstarter backers will soon have the option to upgrade to a physical version. The pre-order offer includes an instant unlock to the Yooka-Laylee Toybox which will give you a good idea of what you should expect platforming mechanics-wise in the full game. The Toybox is a self-contained sandbox experience and its spoiler-free, so the game will still feel fresh when you boot it up on April 11th.