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