Cast your mind back to October 2016. EGX Birmingham was upon us and I got to finally get my hands on a 10 minute preview of PlayTonic Games’ Yooka-Laylee (read that article here). Now return your mind to the present day.
It’s a standard Friday afternoon. I’m sat at my desk trying hard to stay awake as the clock ticks down to 5pm and I can go meet my friends for some drinks. I look down at the little blinky light on my phone, there’s a new message, from Aaron saying “How much do you love me?”, followed closely with “Yooka-Laylee is here.”.
Now, if anyone was watching, they would tell you the instant change that came over a snoozy-midafternoon Spud. From dozing to instantly alert, practically vibrating with excitement. It’s here. Now. Happening. 17 years later, the game we were promised had arrived. I was dying to get home and whack in the sexiest 25-digit review code I had ever seen in my life. But alas, I had to go meet my friends, pretend to be “in the moment” and play some games, when really my mind was at home, with my controller in hand and dreaming of finally seeing that little green reptile and his fanged friend again.
I didn’t get home until 11:30pm that night (thanks British Rail) and despite the fatigue of the week, I flew upstairs, woke up the Xbox and cautiously entered the code. I waited with bated breath as I watched for the code to be accepted. The words “Downloading Now” appeared. It was late, I was tired, but I had to know it was real, that it worked. So when that little bubble of “Ready to Launch” appeared I held down the home button with the weight of 17 years of expectation.
It started. The words appeared, the music rang merrily in my ears and the words “Press Start” beckoned to me. Satisfied that I could get a running start in the morning I hit the hay. The sun rose and I moved the Xbox downstairs, this needed the big TV. Fired it up and away we went, on an adventure long since dreamed about and finally delivered.
So. What’s all the build up for? Setting the stage once again. Yooka-Laylee isn’t just for me, nor is it just for the fans, it’s for EVERYONE. I played the game for a solid 12 hours in one sitting, my 11-year-old niece beside me and my parents watching too. Not just for a bit, the whole 12 hours. There were other TVs in the house, but they were loving it, hell I was loving it! Those 12 hours blew past!
The bright and cheerful colours ease you in, they remind you of Saturday morning cartoons and sunny afternoons. The music is familiar and fun, its friendly and light, kinda repetitive after searching an area for ages to find every damn item there is but that’s unavoidable and again, kinda expected and warming. It’s unshakeable, patient and ever-steady. It picks you up when you fall, reminds you you’re not alone and convinces you to keep going. Sure that challenge has beaten you again, but you’re getting better and you nearly had it that time! Keep it up! It’s that motivational whisper in your ear when you’re down, the hand that pulls you up and then track that drives you forward.
The huge game worlds are breathtaking in scope and design, making full use of the new movement scheme. Rolling up into a ball and speeding across the landscape is surprisingly therapeutic. Large enough to keeping you hunting for those all those pesky Pagies, the hidden treasures and the elusive Quills (I tried to find an alliteration, but I am just a man okay?), but not so large that they’re obnoxious. You hear that little fanfare, the pat on the back to say “Good job buddy, now let’s get the next one.”. You see the happy little smile on the Pagie as it floats around your head and off to wherever they put their feet up. There’s no greater feeling than seeing a completed world totals screen.
What makes the experience that much better is the witty dialogue and casual fourth wall breaks. The scripting is full of eye-rolling puns and terrible jokes and the occasional insult. Laylee incorporates the spirit of Kazooie beautifully, bringing the same loveable charm into the modern age. Yooka provides the calming and logical yin to her yang, much like our yellow-shorted friend from way back.
It’s not just the dynamic duo that are a hat-tip to their predecessors but the entire game itself. There’s no need to go hunting for easter eggs and references, they’re everywhere. Remember the Ice Key? The Stop N Swap scheme? Not to mention the Hivory Towers and Capital-B’s evil corporation, being controlled by a mysterious board of executives. Maybe it’s a jibe at the team at PlayTonic leaving the corporate world and becoming Indie devs, maybe it’s not, but that’s part of the fun.
I don’t need to tell you how the game plays, if you’ve played Banjo-Kazooie or Banjo-Tooie you know exactly what you’re letting yourself in for. The controls work the same, the characters behave the same and move the same way. That being said, it’s not just a rehash, it’s a revival. When was the last good collectathon? Yooka-Laylee isn’t a tired horse coming in to stable, it’s the new stallion on the ranch, ready to go out there and show the world what it can do. It’s a breath of fresh air in a stale atmosphere of war shooters and survival horror games. Sure the nostalgia of returning to an old stomping ground is there, but it’s not all it brings with it. There’s fresh ideas and energies about the place that really bring the game to life.
PlayTonic Games didn’t just step up, they’re old hands returning to what they’re good at. They’re not pioneers, but returning veterans. The heroes we know and love picking up a familiar standard and getting back into the swing of things. They knew what they were doing 18 years ago and they came back to do it again and do it brilliantly. Yooka-Laylee keeps you on your toes, it gets your brain in gear and it makes you think. The challenge is there and the struggle is the same, but it pays off every single step of the way.
Yooka-Laylee launches globally for PC, Xbox One and PS4 April 11 and will be coming to the Switch later on this year. You waited this long, a few more days are totally worth it.