Kickstarter projects sometimes crash and burn. They raise millions of dollars and fail to live up to the lofty expectations of their donors. In the case of Yooka-Layee though, it only took a short demo for me to feel completely confident that this game is not going to fall to that same fate. Based on what we’ve seen so far of the game, the developers fully get what their backers and fans want, and are fully capable of not only meeting, but exceeding those expectations.
For reasons unknown, collect-a-thons have fallen out of favor since their hey-day in the late 90s-early 2000s despite the critical acclaim of games such as Banjo-Kazooie and Super Mario 64. Many fans of the genre, desperate for anything that reminds them of that era, would take anything that remotely reminds them of the good ol’ days.
Yooka-Laylee looks exactly like a Nintendo 64-era game that has been updated with the freshest, crispest, most wonderful coat of modern paint. Every detail down to fearless variety of colors to even the font of the in-game text conjures up your fondest Banjo-Kazooie memories. The courses are just as awe-inspiring in terms of beauty and scale now, as they were in BK years ago.
I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear when I first heard the iconic gibberish spoken from one of Yooka-Laylee’s many adorable characters. Playtonic’s ability to make everyone, no matter how minor, just as charming as the main characters is just fantastic.
Unlike other 3D platforms that sometimes chop up areas based around specific challenges, Yooka-Laylee brings back Banjo-Kazooie style large open worlds. You’re dropped in and free to start exploring for important collectables such as Pagies, Yooka-Laylee’s primary currency (think Jiggies or Stars). As you can probably imagine at this point into the preview, Yooka-Laylee’s first course is just as beautiful, big, and awe-inspiring as any you can remember from Banjo-Kazoooie. And in case you forgot, Yooka-Laylee’s music is composed by the Banjo-Kazooie’s composer, the fantastic Grant Kirkhope, who is has demonstrated over the years that he is a master of creating a tune that perfectly fits the aesthetic of its area.
Gameplay wise, not only does Yooka-Laylee seem to flawlessly transplant the collect-a-thon formula into 2016, it adds-on great ideas without messing with, or removing anything people enjoyed. For example, Quills (similar to BK’s notes in terms of how common they are), are used as a currency to obtain new abilities that you can purchase in any order of your choosing. If you see an area that you want to get to in one world, but need an ability first, you go ahead and shoot for that one, or go for something else entirely that might help you somewhere else or in combat. Yooka-Laylee’s team members during our demo mentioned that they wanted to add an element of decision making and choice that has become so popular since the N64 era.
Speaking of abilities, actions beyond the basic attacks consume energy that can be replenished by searching for, and eating, butterflies around each world. This adds a strategic element that was missing in BK, where there weren’t many reasons to not always just use the most effective moves such as the Talon Trot and the Rat-a-Tat Rap.
One move that Yooka can use is a Kirby-like ability that lets him eat a plant with some kind of elemental property, which then is reflected in Yooka’s own attacks. In the E3 2016 demo, we got to see how this power could be used to effect the jungle-like first world. At the top of the course, there’s a cloud that sits high above the area. Yooka can pelt the cloud with an element to change the geography below. When we entered the area initially, the course’s riverbed was dried up, but if you hit that cloud with the water attack, he would rain and restore the river. Hit him with ice and the river would freeze over instead. Each time this is done, new opportunities to collect important items open up.
Beyond using moves to your advantage, you can also use Pagies to dramatically expand each of Yooka-Laylee’s currently planned five worlds. Doing so opens up a bunch of previously unaccessible parts of that course that require more skill to collect the Pagies within. Yooka-Laylee is not linear, though and players have the freedom to spend their Pagies as they wish. If you like a particular area, and want to expand it so you can continue exploring it further, you can. If you want to try out a new course first before doing that go for it, it’s your choice.
Yooka-Laylee isn’t a watered down version of our memories. It isn’t going to be something that we like because we look at it with rose-tinted nostalgia glasses. Although we’d take a carbon-copy of the amazing Banjo-Kazooie games, it isn’t that either. Rather, what Yooka-Layee is building up to be is something is going above and beyond everything fans of the long lost collect-a-thon genre could ever hope and dream of. There’s nothing missing here BK fans. Based on what we know as of E3 2016, there’s no reason to be worried about Yooka-Laylee despite any concerns the recent delay might have caused. Get ready for the next great collect-a-thon, people. The hype is real.