The much-called-for renaissance of the 3D platformer of yonder is very much afoot; the halcyon days of zany characters, slapstick humor, and a boatload of items to collect is most certainly upon us. And it’s about time, too.
Crowdfunded for an idea-affirming £2,090,104 — despite its relatively meager campaign goal of £175,000 — Playtonic Games’ Yooka-Laylee, in many ways the spiritual successor to Rare’s Banjo-Kazooie, has a weight of lofty expectations about itself. So, sitting down with Chief Writer/Editor Andy Robinson for an extended look during this year’s E3 was an opportunity that was simply too good to pass up.
Would the game forgo any semblance of modern design sensibility in favor of recreating a faithful rendition of the beloved ’90s ‘collectathon’ despite its now-abundant shortcomings? Or would it fall foul to the many design pitfalls that still plague games of similar ilk in the indie space? Thankfully those fears have been tentatively allayed as developer Playtonic Games has employed a slew of design philosophy shifts that bring the formula up to a level more conducive with today’s standards.
Firstly, there’s a more determined sense of purpose within the game’s collecting mechanics; everything has its place within the world and feeds back into the mechanics. Yooka-Laylee employs a currency called ‘Pagies’ (literal pages from a golden book) which can be used to unlock new worlds and develop new patterns within existing ones. Interestingly, it’s up to each individual player just how open they want to make each world; there’s never any inherent pressure to complete everything 100 percent. Sure, the incentive is there for the sort of player pining for that type of experience but it’s never required to progress beyond a point.
To get a better sense of just how dynamic the worlds are within the game, Andy showed us one such aspect involving a rather forlorn looking cloud named Nimbus, perched close to the overhang of a waterfall, who was in dire need of some water. Noticing the situation, Yooka hurried to a water berry tree, collected some of its contents, and then satiated the cloud’s thirst. In doing so, Nimbus released the water, which then filled up a canyon below, revealing new pathways and secrets. To take it a step further, Yooka then fed Nimbus with a ice berry and the subsequent snowstorm made the canyon freeze over, revealing a new race for Yooka and Laylee to compete in that would not have been there otherwise.
As is to be expected, throughout the adventure Yooka can purchase new abilities from a trouser-wearing snake, aptly named Trowzer. Doing so will, too, create more options for exploration within the world. It’s a relief, that’s for sure, as he’s a touch friendlier than that old killjoy Moneybags from the Spyro games — that misfit would take the last gem on your person had he half the chance. Additionally, players can find ‘Play Tonics’ around the world and equip them to modify the characters’ existing abilities.
Employing his chameleon powers, Yooka can turn invisible to evade objects, while Laylee can use her sonar as an attack as well as carry Yooka in a sort of double jump momentarily. One thing that was made abundantly clear throughout the 20-minute demo was just how colorful and alive everything felt — platforms were vibrant, areas densely populated with wacky items and verticality, and all of the inhabitants had a distinct charming style that was incredibly endearing and warm. As is a customary trait from games of a similar disposition, Yooka-Laylee also promises a whole host of mini-games and cooperative content to supplement the main story. That said, by-and-large, it’s tough to decipher whether the game’s charm and relatively pronounced scope will suit everyone’s taste, but it’s very clear that Playtonic Games knows who it’s catering for. And that’s not a bad thing in the slightest.
Make no mistake, this is still very much a love letter to the Nintendo 64 era platformers of yonder; a love letter without the romanticized visage of subjectivity, however, but instead one with a more acute awareness of what works and what doesn’t for the genre within a modern template. With the team at Playtonic Games spearheaded by some of the most famous names out of developer Rare in the 1990s — namely Steve Mayles, Chris Sutherland, and Steven Hurst — it’s easy to see how the unassuming pair of both Yooka and Laylee can triumphantly spur on a reawakening of ‘collectathons’ for years to come.
Yooka Laylee releases in Q1 2017.