Back in the days of the Nintendo 64, a particular genre of exploration-focused platformer emerged from the jump to three dimensions, and Banjo-Kazooie was arguably the greatest example of this. Since those days, it seems that the genre has fallen a bit by the wayside, but the developers of Banjo-Kazooie aim to bring it roaring back into the modern age with its new game, Yooka-Laylee. We got a chance to sit down with the game at PSX 2016 this past weekend and walked away feeling extremely confident in the potential of this new collect-a-thon.
The demo gave us a glimpse of the game's first world, Tribalstack Tropics, which managed to be a lovely throwback while still showcasing the benefits of a new generation of hardware. The vibrant world is more vast and packed with secrets than any such game that's come before it, and it lets you off the leash early to do whatever you want to do. Each world contains thirty 'Pagies' scattered about, all hidden behind a new challenge of some kind, and you can tackle them in just about any order that you please.
It can be a bit overwhelming when you first get dropped into the world, simply because you don't even know where to start. Do you climb that mountain in the distance which has a conspicuous path leading up to its summit? Or do you go explore the ruined temple to the left which has a small horde of enemies atop it? Really, it doesn't matter which one you do first, but the game is sure to suggest to you where to go next by its main currency, Quills. There's 200 of these things in each world, and they're usually placed in lines that will lead you to another objective or challenge. It's in your best interest to collect them all, too, because they can be used with Trowzer, the pantsed snake, to buy new moves that allow you to access new secrets.
In addition to this, Tonics are a new way in which you can upgrade and improve Yooka and Laylee's abilities, while also acting as a soft secondary mission system. They give you various buffs that help to make the journey easier, such as extending the breath meter when underwater or allowing you to sense when rare items are nearby. The only way to unlock them, however, is by performing certain actions or collecting certain objects. For example, if you want the Brawler Tonic – which increases the amount of health gained from eating butterflies – you must first defeat 100 enemies.
There's a wonderful diversity to the requirements for obtaining Pagies, as well. In our demo, one Pagie required us to defeat several waves of enemies in a small arena so we could free a trapped ally from being cooked in soup. Another had us scaling the side of a mountain while shooting targets with iceballs to align platforms that would open the way forward. Elsewhere, an objective had us jumping between a series of cloud platforms that became visible one at a time. You never know where the next Pagie is or what it will require you to do, but it's a pretty safe bet it'll require you to do something different than the ones that came before it.
And then there's the charm that's bursting out of every aspect of the gameplay. Enemies and NPCs all have the same chunky, bug-eyed look that seems straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon, and there's plenty of humour in dialogue between the titular duo and other characters. The world is bright and inviting, and the music is similarly playful. Better yet, the hardware of the current generation allows for long draw distances; viewing the whole level from atop its highest point is quite a sight.
Of course, it's not all sunshine and rainbows. We ran into a handful of glitches in our test, and while they never impeded gameplay in a major way, it's still clear that the QA team has got its work cut out. In addition to this, the controls are a bit weaker than we expected them to be. Weirdly enough, the camera tends to swing around a lot just by moving the left stick, and the controls do not feel as precise as they could be. There were several instances where we overshot jumps or accidentally ran into enemies; things are just a bit too loose here. Still, we were assured that we were playing through an older build of the game, and there's still plenty of time left in the game's development for these issues to be properly addressed.
All told, we really liked what we saw of Yooka-Laylee. This is exactly what an N64 platformer would look like if it were made with current hardware, and we couldn't be more pleased with the way collectibles are stashed throughout the world. While there may be certain elements that need tightening up before release, it is quite evident that this is shaping up to be a worthy tribute to its forebears. It may have taken longer than expected, but Banjo-Kazooie 3 is finally here in spirit.
Are you ready to run through this Rare platformer? Are you fan of the old N64 school of design? Find all of the Pagies in the comments section below.