You’d be hard-pressed to find a game as honest as Yooka-Laylee, the Kickstarted, 3D collectathon game from Playtonic Studios, set to release early next year. Playtonic, comprised of several ex-Rare employees during the golden age of Nintendo 64 platformers, is set to retake the world by storm, by bringing back the 3D collectathon to the forefront, which has largely fallen by the wayside over the last two decades. It wears its influences on its sleeves; spending just a few minutes with Yooka-Laylee was enough to see just how close it sticks to Banjo-Kazooie. Still, there are plenty of changes that have been made, modernizing the genre for a modern audience, as we learned during a closed-door walkthrough led by Playtonic.
Although they provided countless afternoons of hunting during our childhoods, collectibles often run rampant in 3D platformers but usually have little effect on the overall gameplay loop. The staff behind Yooka-Laylee have taken the idea of collectibles back to the drawing board though and have managed to trim the fat from the equation. There are fewer types of collectibles this time around, but they often have dual purposes, shaping the way you play the game or transforming the world around you.
Butterflies, for example, can be eaten in order to restore health, or collected in order to restore your power meter, which is used to power certain special moves. Quills are the main collectible strewn throughout levels (much like musical notes in Banjo-Kazooie), but they also function as currency in the game. Quills can be used to purchase new abilities from Trowzer, a snake who dons a rather restrictive pair of shorts. Lastly, there are collectible ‘ghost writers’ in each world, which function similarly to Jinjos from the Banjo-Kazooie series.
The most interesting change to the formula is how ‘pagies’ work. Pagies (the game’s equivalent of puzzle pieces) stand as the main collectible. However, rather than using them to unlock levels in a linear manner, you can choose to unlock levels as you see fit. Pagies are also used to expand and open up new areas of a level, should you decide to invest more time in a particular world as opposed to going to an entirely different one. The world of Yooka-Laylee is pretty big for a platformer, and there’s plenty to unlock and see for those who are looking for a challenge. This freedom to choose how to progress through the game allows players of different skill levels to see whatever parts of the world they want, and this helps less skilled players to see a little bit of everything.
Still, Yooka-Laylee is very reminiscent of earlier titles from Rare’s catalog, and there are plenty of visual elements lifted straight from your favorite games of yesteryear. Menus and text look nearly identical to the best of Rare’s games on Nintendo 64, and characters speak in the same mumble-like language you’ve come to love. The titular characters, Yooka and Laylee, are two distinct animals that team up together, much like Banjo and Kazooie.
Levels and worlds also take a cue from games from the distant past; races against other characters, mine cart levels, end of game quizzes, and arcade games all make their way into Yooka-Laylee, and there’s a colorful cast of side characters to boot. These side characters are lifted straight from the 90s in their design and dialogue, and some of them will even transform the world as you help them. For example, the developers showed off a cloud character, who can flood the empty riverbed in order to open up a new area to tool around in. The same riverbed can even be frozen later on.
While we’ll still have to wait until next year to get our hands on Yooka-Laylee, we’re optimistic for Playtonic’s debut title and can only hope that it manages to deliver on its promise of nostalgia. For those who backed the game’s Kickstarter campaign, you’ll be able to check out a specially made map dubbed the Toy Box. Due out in July, this area is a standalone environment that is waiting to be explored, and it won’t be featured in the main game, which is due out in Q1 of 2017.