It was arguably the golden age of the platforming genre. With titles like Donkey Kong Country, Banjo-Kazooie, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day taking the genre to stratospheric new heights, the mid-to-late 1990s was a time of unsurpassed creativity for the platforming scene. Since then, developers have tried — and come very close — to recapturing that lithe feeling of wonder that companies like Rare so effortlessly encapsulated. But none have actually achieved such an end.
Enter Yooka-Laylee, a new (old) type of platformer that inks all the hallmarks of those Rare platforming days to an absolute T. And it makes sense, considering a large majority of Playtonic Games’ development team is made up of Rare veterans — the very developers, programmers, and creative minds that brought Donkey Kong and Banjo-Kazooie to life.
From the PAX East showroom floor, I ran, swam, and flew through a gorgeous and unique world that immediately took me back to that golden age. Yooka-Laylee played right into the nostalgia I forgot I had — and I fell completely in love.
Yooka-Laylee‘s World is Big — Like, Really Super Massive Big
In my time with the game, I was only able to see a minuscule fraction of Yooka-Laylee‘s expansive and dynamic world. But what I was able to get my hands on was unique and diverse. Starting out in an overgrown jungle zone accentuated by a derelict pirate ship, cliffs, and roaring waterfalls, I quickly made my way into the steampunk lair of the game’s nefarious antagonist, where I captured my first Pagie (more on that in a bit).
Next, I quickly found myself in a glacial world, sliding down frozen slopes like an Olympic sled runner. Here, craggy mountains made for some precarious platforming, while frigid lakes held hidden secrets inside dark, bat-filled caves.
Spread over five grand “worlds,” Yooka’s levels start small and expand at a rapid pace.
Wildly diverse and engaging, these levels are segmented into specific zones. And while you can freely travel between these zones once you’ve opened them, you’ll first need to unlock them by finding the 25 Pagies scattered throughout each world. According to the developers, players will need to find a set number of these pages in order to unlock each zone, and players are able to do so by completing various in-stage challenges, like races and timed platforming sections.
All in all, Yooka-Laylee‘s vibrant, colorful world is inviting and full of life. And my favorite thing about the whole experience very well may have been the feeling of freedom with which Playtonic Games has infused the core Yooka experience. Instead of linear progression, there’s a sense of adventure and exploration inherently bred into each and every level.
Every world and every level might be treacherous, but every world and every level is well worth the challenge.
Yooka-Laylee Plays Like Your Favorite Platformer — New or Old
Getting around Yooka-Laylee‘s levels is fun and intuitive. As soon as I picked up the controller, I immediately knew how to use all the tools at my disposal. And if you’re familiar with most 3D platformers from the last 25 years, so will you.
Thing is, though, Yooka-Laylee never felt tired during my 45-minute playthrough. I ran. I flew. I swam. Although I didn’t get to experience them, publisher Team 17 told me there are other modes of transportation (such as mining carts) in other levels of the game.
Running & Jumping
Running and jumping is fluid and tight. And whereas some games struggle with camera positioning (arguably the most important mechanic in any platformer), Yooka’s camera is a breeze to manage — and never once proved to be an issue.
Swimming & Diving
Each world’s verticality means that not only will players be jumping across chasms and running along craggy cliff faces, but that they’ll also be swimming across bodies of water and diving into their dark depths for secrets and treasure. Here, the camera felt a little more fickle than it did on land, but overall, swimming and diving was easy to grasp and led to some truly awesome discoveries.
Flying (Kinda’) High
So, OK. You can’t technically fly in Yooka-Laylee. But you can double-jump, flutter, and then glide from A to B. This comes in super handy when you’re trying to beat the clock in some of the game’s more difficult platforming sections and Pagie challenges. Overall, the mechanic made sense in our playthrough, and I’m interested to see how Team 17 and Playtonic Games implements the mechanic in more creative (and challenging) ways throughout the game.
Beating Down Baddies
Combat in Yooka-Laylee is quick, yet full of punch and power. The titular duo has a basic tail-spin-like attack that dispatches foes in quick fashion, but they also have discoverable powers like sonar (which stuns enemies where they stand). This adds a bit of strategy to the otherwise typical platformer experience. Instead of whacking every enemy you come across, you’re able to nullify them in different and interesting ways.
Yooka-Laylee’s Story is a Classic Platforming Adventure
Capital B is out to take over the world, and it’s Yooka and Laylee’s mission to take him down. After one of their favorite books — a tome that allegedly holds some type of magical, world-altering power — is stolen by one of Capital B’s henchmen, the otherwise laid-back duo is thrust into a world of danger and adventure.
It’s silly and whimsical and everything you’d expect from the developers behind some of the 90’s quirkiest adventures. Imagination and creativity run amok through both Yooka-Laylee’s world and its characters. Like a fresh painting, personality drips from every vista, every character, and every ounce of story.
My only real (small) gripe here is that like Banjo-Kazooie, players can’t skip Yooka‘s cut-scenes. And like B-K, each character speaks in garbled, nonsensical soundbites that are just as coherent as the Peanuts parents’ drunken gag reel. At first, it’s funny and endearing. But as time goes on, especially during the tutorial, it starts to get just a bit grating. It’s not terrible by any means — and if you played any of Rare’s titles from the 90s, you’re pretty used to this by now — but the cacophony can sometimes get in the way of reading the subtitles because you just want to get through it all.
At the end of the day, Yooka-Laylee doesn’t feel like a platformer that will revolutionize the genre, but instead one that fondly remembers platforming’s golden era. And it does so in swimming fashion — at least so far.
Playtonic Studios said that they’ve focused on style over technicality when it comes to Yooka, and I can firmly say that while this isn’t the most technical game on the planet, it’s not meant to be. And since Yooka is utterly gorgeous, Playtonic has firmly accomplished their vision. It’ll just be interesting to see how audiences react come April 11.
Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more news and coverage on Yooka-Laylee.