Yooka-Laylee Hands-On Preview: A Wonderful Blast to the Past

MonsterVine was fortunately invited by Team 17 and Playtonic Games to try out Yooka-Laylee in San Francisco. I spent two hours with the game in a mostly unguided and unrestricted session. Down below you can read my thoughts on the game, watch 30 minutes of gameplay we captured at the event and listen to a short interview with Andy Robinson, writer at Playtonic.

Developer: Playtonic Games
Price: $39.99
Platform: PC, Xbox One, PS4
MonsterVine previewed Yooka-Laylee behind closed doors

In short, any amount of hype that you may be feeling towards Yooka-Laylee is well placed. I enjoyed my time with the nostalgia-fueled platformer that I went well over my allotted preview time without noticing a thing.

Although there’s not much to spoil as the story is purposely minimal to a comic effect, I’ll try to keep it light on story details. In fact, most of the game has a layer of humor to it that is both extremely self-aware and in that special Pixar style where there’s a joke in there for the adults if you’re in the appropriate or rather,  inappropriate, mindset. I’m not sure how many times I’ve physically chuckled at jokes in games throughout the years, but I know at least half of them occurred during my short demo.

Players familiar with any old-school platformers like Spyro, Banjo-Kazooie or Super Mario 64 will be right at home here. The game is, at its core, about snagging as many collectibles as you can. Like Super Mario 64’s Star pickups, these collectibles are the primary way of advancing through the colorful world of Yooka-Laylee.

For the segment of the game that I played there were two forms of collectibles in Yooka-Laylee, Golden Quills and Golden Pagies. The former are used to purchase powerful and unique moves for our dynamic duo and the latter is used to unlock and expand new worlds.

From the get-go Yooka and Laylee have a pretty standard but flexible move set. Our heroes can double-jump, jump-dash, crouch, swim and spin-attack. As you collect Golden Quills and exchange them for moves from our friend Trowzers, who is a literal trouser snake by the way. These moves include but are absolutely not limited to a ground-pound, a quick-roll, sonar blasts and various others that improve both movement and combat, and in turn, puzzles.

Pagies, which are just living pages, are used at Grand Tomes to unlock worlds. In the demo we were given I had access to two colorful and unique worlds, Tribalstack Tropics and Glitterglaze Glacier. Each world had very distinct and differing themes and challenges, but also many constants. As far as I can tell every level has many of the same diverse and hilarious cast of characters, similar types of environmental challenges and boss-type encounters. Everything about these worlds, from the environments to the sound design is both incredibly immersive and happily stylized.

Even though collecting is the name of the game, many items are locked behind varied challenges. For example, in Tribalstacks Tropics I was tasked with racing Nimble, the quick cloud, in order to earn a Pagie. In Glitterglaze Glacier there were certain slopes I couldn’t traverse until I learned the move Slurp State and made Yooka take on the state of Honey, making his roll sticky enough to roll up the slippery slopes. These are just two examples of ways that Yooka-Laylee challenges you beyond simply finding items. Among these challenges are also puzzles, intense platforming, combat challenges and mini-games.

The cast of Yooka-Laylee is hilarious and each character unique. You’ve got clouds, pigs, vending machines and sentient karts, amongst other things. Each character is incredibly detailed. The sounds they make and their animations specifically are top notch, both emulating the ‘90s while teeming with a modern standard of quality. My favorite character has to either be the hyper-erotic plant women or the forgotten video game dinosaur Rextro Sixtyfourus, who reminds modern day players that small games, memory cards and game cartridges were once a thing. We’ve come a long way.

What’s potentially more impressive than any of this is how Yooka-Laylee manages to encapsulate all the lost feelings of yesteryear’s games while also inheriting almost none of its issues. Cameras have almost always been a little bit screwy in 3D-platformers, but with the ability to recenter the camera with the press of a button this problem is almost non-existent. Sometimes the edges of the map felt a tad barren, and sometimes the usage of the same button for jumping and general actions created a micro-frustration, but nothing that hurt my experience in the slightest.

Yooka-Laylee adapts everything you loved about ‘90s video games and brings it to 2017. Beautifully colorful art and sound design, simple yet enjoyable gameplay and a real sense of character make Yooka-Laylee stand out among all the rest. I’m almost certain we’ve got a GOTY contender on our hands, and I haven’t even had a chance to try out the multiplayer yet.

Yooka-Laylee releases on April 11th and will sell at £34.99 / $39.99 / €39.99, be sure to pick it up as soon as physically possible. Seriously.

Yooka-Laylee Hands-On Preview: A Wonderful Blast to the Past
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