When Yooka Laylee was shown to the public back in September, we liked what we saw, and recently we were invited to a venue in London to try out the first two hours of the game, an event Playtonic said they were both nervous and excited about, considering how long it's been in development and the Kickstarter success.
This first two hours included the first world (Tribalstack Tropics), an early version of which we talked about in our previous preview, but that also contained the all-important opening, laying out the story for us. Then we saw a second world, Glitter Glaze Glacier. To give some spoiler-free background to the story, you play as Yooka and Laylee, a lizard and a bat respectively, and Capital B (a big bee) steals a book of yours via his HQ, Hivory Towers, resulting in the scattering of important personified pages, or Pagies, across various worlds. It's your task, then, to get the Pagies back and find out what's going on.
In terms of level design, as we noticed back in September, the levels are a lot more open than fans of Banjo Kazooie may expect, not that Banjo Kazooie was linear, but those in Yooka-Laylee offer a lot more to see and do, not to mention some hidden gems for those completionists out there. We spoke to Playtonic's Managing Director and Creative Lead Gavin Price about this, and he said this was a conscious choice:
"We know, because there'll be a broad range of gamers we're trying to attract with this [...] something we definitely wanted to have was to be a bit more hands-off and being a bit more trusting of the player to say 'hey guys, we don't think you're as stupid as some games try and make you feel,' ourselves included (we can be stupid at times). But quite often in games there's so much hand holding that goes on, it's almost too restrictive. I would say this is a game [that has a] toy-like approach, you know, engage with it how you want to engage with it, and do what you want to do with it and when you want to do it, and not [us] trying to say 'you should go here, there' - we're just trying to lay interesting options and choices down. Hopefully it's not an overwhelming amount of choice."
In practice this means you really can get your money's worth out of each world. Not only do you have the content you access via tomes (the books you step into to access a world), which contain various secrets, Pagies, Quills etc., but you also then get the option to spend Pagies to expand those worlds, adding even more locations and content. We played for a solid hour on the first world, Tribalstack Tropics, without expanding it, and didn't even access all the content there, so there's definitely no shortage of stuff to see.
The varied visuals also impressed us as well. Of course much of the content released thus far for Yooka-Laylee has shown off verdant greens, as that seems to be the go-to colour to display great visuals, but during our time we saw much more that was equally impressive. Hivory Towers, for instance, is an indoor section with an interweaving web of pipes, and an industrial design modelled on a beehive. This was just as creative as Glitter Glaze Glacier, with sky blues and whites combining for that classic 3D platformer ice level vibe. All of this looks polished and detailed as well, and there's clearly been a lot of thought put into how this game can replicate that classic N64-platformer look but with modern graphics.
While we were playing we also discovered the depth of gameplay, and what we mean by this is that there's always new things for you to discover or invest in that affect how you play. For example, we discovered the aptly named Playtonics (tonics like Perk-A-Colas in Call of Duty: Zombies) that gave you different boosts or buffs, such as more health, and you unlock more as you progress through the game. What's more appealing, however, are the abilities that the snake called Trowzer sells you, not only giving you a reason to collect the Quills scattered throughout the world, but also giving you powers that can be used to find new items and access new areas. These include the ability to glide, roll up slippery slopes, shoot projectiles, and much more.