Has Play­tonic crafted the feel­good hit of the spring?


PC, PS4, Xbox One

Play­tonic Games admits it was hurt by the de­ci­sion to can­cel the Wii U ver­sion of Yooka-Laylee. Since it owes such a debt to the 3D plat­form­ers built by its mak­ers when Rare was in its N64 prime, the pain is par­tic­u­larly sharp: the stu­dio’s muchan­tic­i­pated, part-crowd­funded de­but feels like it truly be­longs on a Nin­tendo plat­form. “Un­fore­seen tech­ni­cal is­sues” is the of­fi­cial line; it’s easy to as­sume com­mer­cial fac­tors had a part to play, but af­ter spend­ing some time with the lat­est PC build, we’re con­fi­dent that less ca­pa­ble hard­ware would surely have meant tech­ni­cal com­pro­mises. Those who backed the project for its Wii U in­car­na­tion will be of­fered the game on an­other plat­form: by the time you read this, Switch may well be one of them, with Play­tonic say­ing at the time of writ­ing that it’s “work­ing closely” with Nin­tendo to make it hap­pen.

The sweet­ener ac­com­pa­ny­ing that bit­ter pill came in the form of a pre­order in­cen­tive: those who take the plunge now will be given ac­cess to the Toy­box, a pro­to­type world de­signed to show­case the game’s con­trols and sys­tems, which was pre­vi­ously avail­able only to Kick­starter back­ers. It’s a bold choice in many re­spects, but it also demon­strates Play­tonic’s con­fi­dence in the core of its game. Few play­ers, once they’ve spent some time rolling and leap­ing around this in­choate sand­box, will be ask­ing for their money back.

It feels good, then, which is half the bat­tle with a plat­former. And it un­de­ni­ably cap­tures the spirit of its late-’90s fore­run­ners, from the cast of out­landish char­ac­ters and their bab­bling speech pat­terns to the cus­tom type­face used for di­a­logue. Not to men­tion the myr­iad puns, quips, sin­gle- and dou­bleen­ten­dres that lit­ter the script – even if it’s

not quite the bar­rage it was in ear­lier builds. Writer Andy Robin­son de­scribes the edit­ing process as “slightly soul de­stroy­ing”, but admits that a lit­tle dad-jok­ing goes a long way. Ex­changes are now brisker and less self­ind­ul­gent, and fun­nier as a re­sult, while some near-the-knuckle gags have been ex­cised.

Oth­er­wise, Yooka-Laylee is defined less by the Rare favourites it re­sem­bles, and more by how much it builds upon their clas­sic shared for­mula. Yes, there are var­i­ous col­lectibles, but find­ing them gives you more than just a vir­tual pat on the back. Quills aren’t just squir­relled away in hid­den nooks, but scat­tered in places de­signed to draw the eye or to en­cour­age feats of skill. The HUD is con­spic­u­ous by its ab­sence; col­lectibles will be ac­knowl­edged in the top right of the screen when you grab them, but oth­er­wise it’s re­fresh­ingly clut­ter-free. As such, you can take in the full scale of these sprawl­ing stages, which com­bine size and de­tail in a way that would’ve been im­pos­si­ble on N64.

The lack of a mini-map is an­other sur­prise. Anyone ac­cus­tomed to be­ing led by the nose will be shocked that there are no gi­ant flash­ing mis­sion mark­ers, glow­ing bread­crumb trails or way­points to help guide them. Play­tonic is con­fi­dent that its play­ers are smart and cu­ri­ous enough to find their way around. That nat­u­rally ex­tends to how you progress through the game – whether you spend the Pa­gies you’ve ob­tained to un­lock later worlds or max­imise the cur­rent one; whether you’re a casual tourist or a die-hard com­pletist. You’ll be able to take things at your own pace, in other words, but we dis­cover that’s not en­tirely true when a de­vel­oper is keen to show you the high­lights: Robin­son in­ter­venes more than once when we spend a lit­tle too long hunt­ing down Quills.

A whis­tle-stop tour around a later level, a tack­ily ex­trav­a­gant casino, demon­strates a pleas­ing will­ing­ness to vary the pace. Here, you’ll earn to­kens by com­plet­ing games and ac­tiv­i­ties, which you’ll ex­change for Pa­gies with an un­scrupu­lous banker. We’re keen to see more, but Play­tonic is play­ing coy. It’s not about hid­ing weak­nesses, cre­ative lead Gavin Price in­sists, but main­tain­ing the el­e­ment of sur­prise for back­ers who’d rather go in cold.

Not ev­ery­thing works quite so well. An an­gry golem, the boss of first world Trib­al­stack Trop­ics, gives us some trou­ble un­til we realise Yooka’s up­hill mo­men­tum can be ar­rested, in­creas­ing the height of his jump: a coun­ter­in­tu­itive mo­ment in an oth­er­wise en­joy­able hands-on. Sorry, Wii U loy­al­ists – you’ve got an­other rea­son to be cheer­less.

Ex­changes are now brisker and less self-in­dul­gent, and fun­nier as a re­sult

This fel­low takes his role as a one-armed ban­dit a lit­tle too se­ri­ously. Each of the casino’s ma­chines has its own quirks, which you’ll have to learn be­fore they’ll pay out

Wheedling busi­ness-snake Trowzer pro­vides you with new moves; Ghost Writ­ers must be caught or fought

Cre­ative lead Gavin Price has am­bi­tious plans for

Yooka-Laylee’s ex­tended cast, sug­gest­ing he’s al­ready ear­marked some char­ac­ters for fu­ture Play­tonic games

TOP LEFT Each world has its own unique trans­for­ma­tion: this snow plough can bash through ob­sta­cles, though its han­dling is – pur­posely – a lit­tle ob­sti­nate.

ABOVE You won’t gain the abil­ity to fly for quite some time, though once it’s even­tu­ally un­locked it should be a boon for po­ten­tial speedrun­ners

LEFT En­tre­pre­neur Cap­i­tal B and his side­kick Dr Quack have a some­what un­easy al­liance, with the for­mer hav­ing ousted the lat­ter in a hos­tile takeover. The plot is de­signed to be light and un­ob­tru­sive: cer­tain cutscenes won’t be skip­pable, but you can ac­cel­er­ate the di­a­logue

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