Yooka-Laylee is Graciously Pushing Past Mere Nostalgia

I’m going to start things off by going a little against the grain with my early impressions on Yooka-Laylee here. Now please don’t get me wrong, the intrigue and genuine excitement for Rare-in-anything-but-name Playtonic Games’ spiritual successor to the beloved Banjo-Kazooie platforming marvel isn’t lost even on a solemn, nostalgic glutton such as myself. Believe me when I say Yooka-Laylee is shaping up to be a cleverly-constructed yet thoughtfully entertaining platformer and I would be lying if I said certain parts didn’t invoke a similarly-nostalgic flutter of late-90s periods playing on my N64 from time to time. And yet, accumulating everything I’ve seen and played so far — be it the early stages of the game’s first World, Tribalstack Tropics; the more spacious and dare I say worryingly empty charades of Capital Cashino…or to pull this back to present discussion, the latest unveiling, the snowy and slightly more concentrated enclosures in Glitterglaze Glacier — I worry that a lot of people, fans and press alike, are losing sight of the real deal and shifting precariously into too rose-tinted territory when looking at the game in its most stand-alone aspects.

Of course, to discard the name, experience, even the legacy of the people behind the game is no easy feat. As is the difficulty Playtonic themselves have in satisfying veterans whilst taking advantage of the many contemporary standards that we’ve genuinely come to enjoy and praise just as highly. But in order to judge, one must first divorce any and all prejudice from what’s come before and base what’s been shown as if carved out by an entirely new and inexperienced studio. To reiterate, my interest has remained fairly high since the first teasers of a dual-protagonist pair-up cropped up on the web — and has only increased as the months have rolled on — but this isn’t 1997 anymore. It’s 2017 and with that recoiling two decades back into the present, comes the added expectation that the game in question isn’t itself caught in the mind-set of the past, even if our own self-propelling nostalgia longs for a game that recaptures “the good old days”.

Yooka-Laylee Preview Screenshot
I was lucky enough, during my chaotic meanderings around GDC this year, to stop by Team17’s booth and play a brief round of Yooka-Laylee’s recently unveiled World and while my more cautious and press-headed line of thinking remains ominous in my brain, it’s pleasing to see that even at its most spacious and less-extravagant, Yooka-Laylee still holds its own to conjure some engaging yet thoughtful moments of platforming purely from the perspective of its level design and very structure. As you might have deduced given the ample similarities to the Rare platformers of yonder, Yooka-Laylee never once confides to a linear or otherwise singular progression. Its Worlds are vast and opportunistic enough, players will more than likely find themselves starting one particular objective or “quest” (if you want to call it that) only to dart off in a completely different direction seconds later.

It’s what I’ve come to dub the “Fallout Dilemma” (though this manner of gameplay goes beyond a mere Bethesda RPG): the idea that you can set your sights on one objective, yet somehow get distracted along the way by the minor or meagre of curiosities. As a consequence, the main objective becomes secondary becomes optional becomes totally discarded — to be followed up at a later point…maybe. While Glitterglaze doesn’t hold the same variety or structural complexity as Tribalstack does (surprising as it was to find such amount of depth packed into such a small region), even with the areas I was restricted to, Playtonic still manage to do enough and offer enough to invite player intrigue with platforming that is, thankfully, challenging but fair. What’s more, the lack of any blatant instruction on telling the player what to do shows a deep-rooted understanding from Playtonic’s side that showing (and not telling) will always be the definitive way to instruct one’s self on the laws of the land.

This ramp is too icy to roll one’s self up? Oh but what’s this: a nearby hive that gives me a sort of sticky ability? Areas that are too cold to traverse, yet there’s a fire nearby that I can again acquire an ability from? More often than not these challenges root themselves in mastering Yooka-Laylee’s balance of momentum-based platforming — on quickly getting to a particular point given the strict circumstances — but also simply obtaining the quaintest of timing to get that last jump spot-on. Whether it’s indeed getting up an icy slope in time or even tackling one of the game’s many time-based challenges that has you jump and leap through a series of goggly-eyed hoops, while the camera controls don’t always confide to the player’s will, such segments are dictated more by the player’s skill and succeed because of it.

Yooka-Laylee Preview Screenshot 2
While not the most complex of systems, Yooka & Laylee’s means of attacking enemies broadens a little from the early basics of simply spin-attacking one’s way through a gathering of foes. And while it may indeed require but a firing of a projectile or whatnot, it’s the way these confrontations come by way of the platforming segments as well that signals that most-grateful of signs that the more you learn of the mechanics, the more you’re required to prove you haven’t just lucked your way through up until now. Lest we forget, Yooka-Laylee is a 3D platformer; of course there will be confrontations, but the goal is to jump, leap and flutter one’s way up and around the many Worlds the budding duo come across in their ventures. And one of the early signs that a platformer is off to a promising start is the very notion that its players not only find themselves getting caught in two minds — on continuing up one path or detouring down a completely new one — but also want to continue exploring its many nooks and crannies to fully embrace what this humble, solemn little British studio has carved out.

To that, I found myself somewhat glum at the notion I had to, eventually, depart from the World of Yooka-Laylee as it’s a game I’m both keen and eager to discover but also conquer in its entirety. From the platforming challenges to its momentary puzzles, even the 3D mine-cart segments, Playtonic may be tugging at many a platformer enthusiast’s heart-strings here, but there’s enough too to assure even the most skeptical of returning fans (such as myself) that Yooka-Laylee is no mere nostalgia-trip. It’s a game that is both recognizable yet entirely original at the same time. Granted, not all of the game [so far] has seen a sky-high loft of positivity adorning its more sizeable yet empty showings, but from what Playtonic are presenting on a general level, there’s warranted reason to feel players of all experiences will come away from Yooka-Laylee both happy yet all the more surprised at what these ex-Rare creatives, twenty years on lest we forget, can still possibly conjure. In around a month’s time (plus however longer for those confiding to the Switch release), we’ll know the full extent as to what Playtonic have been cooking up — successful Kickstarter support and all.