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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Team 17
Developer: Playtonic Games
Release Date: April 11, 2017


WiiU/PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Yooka-Laylee'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on July 25, 2016 @ 3:00 a.m. PDT

Yooka-Laylee is a 3-D platformer adventure with stunning worlds to explore, unique collectibles to uncover, fun moves to learn and hilarious characters to meet – or defeat.

Platformers are no longer the dominant genre they once were. It used to be you couldn't turn on a video game system without having 10 different high-quality platformers vying for your attention. These days, not only are they quite a bit rarer, but most are focused on capturing the nostalgic delight of 2-D games like Mario and Mega Man. Perhaps that explains Yooka-Laylee's runaway success. Earning over $3 million on Kickstarter, Yooka-Laylee is to Banjo-Kazooie what Bloodstained is to Castlevania. Former Rare development members got together to attempt a spiritual reboot and successor to the classic N64 platformer. We got a hands-on demonstration of it at E3 2016, and what we saw hinted that Kickstarter backers should be very happy.

N64-era platformers could also be called "Collect-A-Thons." The original Banjo Kazooie and its ilk were well known for having countless different widgets and items to collect in order to progress. The developers are aware that the collect-a-thon nature of the games was both one of the big selling points and most controversial feature. Their goal is to create a game where collection is both present and meaningful. Rather than having five different types of items to collect, every item unlocks a specific feature. There are 200 quills scattered in each world to unlock new powers, magic pages you can use to unlock new worlds, butterflies who restore your vitality, and countless other objects. We saw a ton of different collectibles in our brief demo, but each one had a meaning rather than just asking you to collect 10 medals to progress.

When Yooka-Laylee was designed, the intention was to create two animals who had a great selection of natural talents that could be translated into fun video game powers. As such, they ended up with a chameleon and a bat. Yooka's powers are fairly varied. He can roll into a ball, climb walls, eat things with his tongue, and become invisible. Laylee's bat-like powers include gliding, flight and magical sonar that can reveal hidden platforms or objects in the environment. They both have some powers that aren't quite normal to their species, either. For example, Yooka can eat various fruits scattered throughout the world that grant him the power to spot ice blasts, breathe fire, spew streams of water, and various other abilities that allow him to attack enemies and solve puzzles. These powers are fueled by a shared power meter, which you can refill by collecting butterflies.

One thing we saw is that the game is huge. There are five worlds, but the first level we saw, Tribal Stack Tropics, is the simplest world and is absolutely gigantic. It's a large, open world that puts anything in the original Banjo Kazooie to shame. More importantly, the basic world isn't the entire thing. When a world is first opened, it's at its smallest and least impressive. Once you collect more magic pages, you can leave and choose to go to another world — or you can use them to expand the world you're currently in. Tribal Stack Tropics went from a relatively small selection of islands to a massive landscape full of floating pieces of land and tons more to explore.

In addition to expanding worlds, you can transform them. We saw an example of this in the demo with Nimbo the Cloud, which is only available after scaling a gigantic tower (or flying there with Laylee's flight power). He's a sad cloud who hasn't been able to rain since his wife left him. If you find a way to use Yooka's elemental spit attacks on him, you can cause him to change the weather. Get him to rain, and he'll flood the dry riverbed below to completely change the world. There are quite a few ways to use the duo's powers to alter the world in this manner.

The developers absolutely want to make Yooka-Laylee a game about player choice. They've said that they're designing the title with the idea that a lot of this content is optional. It's entirely possible to play it as a straightforward platformer, but there's so much optional content that it feels silly to do so. Player choice also applies to power-ups and upgrades. Rather than power-ups coming at set times, you'll be able to purchase them from Trowser the Snake. (Yes, really, that's his name.) He'll let you upgrade your character as you like, but certain powerful abilities (e.g., flight) are locked away until later in the game. You can also change tonics at Vendy the Vending Machine, who allows you to pick one tonic that alters the gameplay. You can only have one tonic at a time but can switch at will and unlock more by completing challenges.

All in all, Yooka-Laylee seems to capture all the fun of a '90s-era platformer but with more modern design sensibilities. It's cute, it's colorful, and from what we saw, it looks like a blast to play. As I watched Yooka rocket to the top of a giant mountain and gaze down over the tremendous landscape full of things to do, I felt a nostalgic rush back to the first time I played <i<Mario 64. There's still a lot of polish necessary before Yooka-Laylee hits shelves, but it's shaping up to be what it promised to be. Yooka-Laylee is due in early 2017 for all current consoles and the PC.

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