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.
We wouldn't class the game as easy overall, though. Obviously it's family friendly, and a lot of pagies require one little thing to be done to get them, but as you progress some challenges require a lot of skill and time to beat (not least of all the last boss, with its many phases). You won't be rushing through and just hoovering up pagies, then, and finding them is also part of the challenge as well.
There's another reason you won't be rushing through Yooka-Laylee either. There are 145 pagies in the game overall (25 in each tome, and 20 in the hub world), and when you reach the door to the final boss, you'll need 100 to get in. If you've been skating through with the bare minimum pagies needed to advance, then you'll likely be looking at an extensive grind back through each world (like we did - we had six hours clocked when we got to the door, and fifteen when we managed to open it), but if you're committed to 100% completion throughout, this shouldn't be an issue.
Technically, Yooka-Laylee performed very well for the most part, but there were occasional noticeable slips. For instance, every now and then the game would become unresponsive for a split-second, and the loading screens were very stuttery all the time, and although this didn't affect how we played the game for the most part, it's something to bear in mind.
What Yooka-Laylee really nails is the tone, the charm, the humour; basically everything that made Banjo-Kazooie so popular. As with the old Nintendo 64 game, all of the speech is in mumbles and noises, which is a delight for those playing the game for nostalgia, and the humour is great. There are puns everywhere, fourth wall breaks, and so many things (like, for example, paid DLC) are poked fun at. The beauty of all of this is that there's jokes in there for both kids and adults, and so this isn't just trying to satisfy those in their adult life playing a Banjo-Kazooie spiritual successor, it's also doing a lot to win the hearts of new fans too. The dry wit of Laylee and the reasonable Yooka play off each other very nicely as well, and they've done a good job realising interesting characters that you'll meet along the way.
In terms of the audio side of the game, the Banjo-Kazooie comparison is going to have to be drawn again, as the jingles in Yooka-Laylee are just as infectious. Each world has its own tune that's guaranteed to get stuck in your head, but comes with the same burden; if you've been stuck in a world for a while, it might get that teensy bit annoying. Even the noises the camera makes when it's panning in and out is certain to hit the nostalgia nerve, and this will no doubt be appreciated.
There's another thing we must mention, which annoyed us greatly at times, and that's the absence of a restart button on certain activities. When playing the Kartos mine-cart challenges, for instance, there comes a point where you know you haven't got enough to advance, but you need to just sit there on the cart until you die or get to the end and fail. A simple restart button, then, would allow you to easily do these challenges from the beginning, and would have been appreciated during some of the more difficult sections.
Many have wondered whether Yooka-Laylee is just for those wanting some nostalgia for a time 20 years ago when 3D platformers were arguably at their peak, but we'd argue there's more to it than just that. It's very well polished, and undoubtedly reminiscent of Banjo-Kazooie in a number of ways, but as a package overall it will appeal to young and old alike regardless of their experience with 3D platformers. There's a lot to do, a lot to find, and a lot of laughs to be had, all wrapped up in a well-designed and polished adventure, and for that it should be commended.