Playtonic is a studio made up of ex-Rare developers, known for (among other things) their work on Banjo-Kazooie back in the Nintendo 64 days. Their latest game, Yooka-Laylee, started life as an idea in 2012, before seeing a Kickstarter campaign in 2015. Now, two years on, the release is finally here, and, as expected (and marketed), it's very much a modern spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, something that's very clear from the outset.
To give a bit of premise before we continue, the plot of Yooka-Laylee involves Yooka, a lizard, and Laylee, a bat, having their special magical book stolen from them by a book-sucker run by Capital B, a bee, and Dr. Quack, a duck in a jar (for some reason). Their quest then requires them to infiltrate Hivory Towers, Capital B's headquarters, to find the pages (pagies, and the equivalent of Banjo-Kazooie's jiggies) of the magical book, before eventually getting the book itself back.
What's perhaps the clearest link between Yooka-Laylee and Banjo-Kazooie is the visual style. Whereas Banjo-Kazooie was a bunch of colourful sharp polygons, Yooka-Laylee is a brighter and more polished game, and still as colourful. From the lush greens of Tribalstack Tropics to the shiny surfaces of Capital Cashino, all of Yooka-Laylee looks great, with detailed characters and objects populating these environments. There are occasions where fine details show a bit of pixelation, but you'd have to be looking for these, and they're few and far between. It doesn't detract from the fact that Yooka-Laylee is one of the best looking 3D platformers we've ever played.
The game contains five "tomes" for you to explore (the five worlds of the game, each of which has to be unlocked), as well as a starting area, and the Hivory Towers hub world. These worlds can then be expanded by spending pagies to add content to them, also allowing more opportunities to collect further pagies, which we found was a neat feature, especially as you don't get overwhelmed by the amount of stuff to do as soon as you enter the tome.
In regards to how these tomes are filled, some might argue that they're a little empty, as there are large spaces filled with only a few enemies and quills, but it never becomes a case of marching miles to get from one place to the other. We found it big enough to keep us entertained but small enough that we didn't get lost and frustrated looking for pagies, but those who want to find everything in these tomes (including secret collectibles like Ghost Writers, arcade tokens, and the aforementioned quills) will still have to do quite a bit of looking.
In each of these worlds there's also Trowzer, a snake (get it?), who sells you abilities for quills, although some are given to you for free. These abilities let you complete challenges, get to different areas, and generally make your life easier, and keep gameplay fresh and different by introducing elements regularly, something that was very much appreciated. It also gives a reason to revisit previous areas you couldn't access before. These abilities include a sonic boom to stun enemies and shatter objects, Yooka being able to roll up slopes, and a slam attack.
One puzzling ability you receive in the latter half of the game is the ability to fly. Not glide, but actually fly. We thought this an unusual addition because it allows you to totally negate some of the platforming sections by simply flying over them, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it did seem strange to us to as it makes the game significantly easier. Also, the power bar you drain when using abilities drains very slowly when flying, so you can pretty much use it to get anywhere.
Overall, though, these abilities worked well, as did the gameplay in general, producing the classic 3D platforming formula. It felt smooth and responsive, and whereas Banjo-Kazooie felt quite clunky (doing the high jump was painful), everything is quick and easy to use.