By now you've probably heard Yooka-Laylee is the spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie. While that statement rings true – though the minds at Playtonic Games have traded in the honey bear and red-crested bird combo for a chameleon and a bat – seeing Yooka-Laylee as a rose-tinted trip down memory lane does the game a disservice.
Yooka-Laylee is an old-school delight. Almost instantly the player is thrown into a lavish landscape and left mostly to their own devices. It's up to the player to traverse the world in search of something – anything – to move the game along.
In most cases it's an NPC with a mission, but finding them is done through exploration rather than a dot on a mini-map or a glistening breadcrumb trail.
The old-school nature of Yooka-Laylee is both its biggest strength and its Kryptonite. Freedom to explore without a mini-map holding your hand is refreshing, and harks back to a time before kids' games became patronisingly simple. This is still a game aimed at children.
Adults who grew up on games like this will surely feel at home, but will children enjoy the stylings of yesteryear – or will the lack of direction clash with their expectations of what a game is in 2017? Then again, we live in the YouTube generation, where answers are but a click away.
Books are to Yooka-Layee what paintings are to Super Mario 64. Find a book, click a button, and it's off to a new world to start collecting. Playtonic describes Yooka-Laylee as a 'collect-'em-up'. Your time here will be spent amassing quills to unlock new moves, as well as book pages – known as 'pagies' for some reason.
Pagies act as a collectable currency that upgrade levels to unlock new areas. In the first world, a skeleton in a cauldron informs the player there's an area behind her, but you'll need to come back when you've collected a certain amount of pagies. The more pagies collected, the bigger the world becomes.
Judging from the early sections, the game is built upon the idea of learning new tricks to progress. You'll find yourself making a mental note of varying structures or places that do something, but what that something is eludes you.
One section featured cracked blocks in four corners of an area. They obviously did something, but it wasn't until I'd unlocked the butt-bonk smashing attack that the pieces came together. Or, in this case, broke apart into a thousand tiny pieces to uncover another pagie.
Characters you'll meet and receive quests from are the standard child-friendly affair. A talking pig, a sentient cloud and a green Daffy Duck/Dr. Fetus hybrid all add to a Looney Tunes-esque cutesy look. There's even a red snake in shorts called Trowser (get it)? This guy comes out with a "Nyah" sound every time he opens his gob. You'll want to punch him in the face after about a minute of meeting him, and to make matters more insufferable, this is also who gives you new moves – so expect to see him a lot.
Unfortunately, I couldn't find the option to turn him into a pair of snakeskin shoes for Yooka. Hopefully that feature will be in the full game. There is another character, a guest character, who's a welcome surprise. If you've been following Yooka-Laylee, you'll more than likely know who this is. If not, no spoilers here.
In terms of gameplay, attacks are split between Yooka and Laylee. The former acts as the damage-dealing part of the duo, while Laylee is the smack-talking, potentially ranged option. Early on, Yooka gains the ability to tail-whip enemies, flinging them away, along with the ability to curl into a ball to jettison up angled ramps to access previously out of reach areas.
Yooka also has a tongue lashing attack that can be used to gobble up butterflies, replenishing health; something you'll need to keep an eye on when you're tackling a new section to avoid the imminent threat of respawning seemingly miles away.
There's a certain elegance to the platforming sections, almost akin to executing a Mario triple jump over lava. Rolling up a ramp at full speed then jumping off onto a floating platform to then gracefully hop from pad to pad feels immensely satisfying. Time has clearly been put into getting the controls refined to a point where hitting these beats feels natural.
Conversely, failing to land a jump and plummeting back down to ground level is about as enjoyable as listening to that red snake say "nyah" for the millionth time. There's nothing more crushing in Yooka-Laylee than messing up an otherwise perfect run of movement and having to re-attempt an entire section.
From the hour we played, Yooka-Laylee shows great potential to be something special. Yooka-Layee feels like a throwback with a shiny lick of paint. It's not without a few problems, but if you miss the open-roof 3D platformers that dominated the 1990s – such as Mario 64, Spyro the Dragon, Croc, MediEvil and Jersey Devil – then this trip down memory lane is definitely worth taking.