Yooka-Laylee preview: This cheerful platformer's like Banjo-Kazooie from a parallel universe

We spent two hours with Banjo-Kazooie's replacements, and came away both impressed and nostalgic for '90s mascot platformers.

I knew Yooka-Laylee was inspired by Banjo-Kazooie, but until I played it last week I’d underestimated the extent. It’s uncanny.

You know how some people are convinced the Berenstain Bears used to be known as the Berenstein Bears, except we all fell into a parallel universe and somehow the past has changed? Or that Oscar Mayer is spelled Oscar Meyer? The “Mandela Effect,” the internet calls this phenomenon.

Well, in some parallel universe “Banjo-Kazooie,” the Nintendo 64 classic about a bear and the bird who rides in his backpack, was actually Yooka-Laylee, the very similar story of a chameleon and his bat-friend. And then I guess in 2015 someone from our universe fell into that other world, stole a Yooka-Laylee cartridge, and brought it back here.

It’s that similar.

Yooka-Laylee Yooka-Laylee

And not just because of the core mechanics. Sure, those are related. This is a collectathon-type platformer, absolutely familiar to anyone who played Banjo-Kazooie or Donkey Kong 64 or any of the games of that era. Yooka-Laylee’s levels are larger and the MacGuffins in question are “Quills” and “Pagies”—the villain has stolen all of the books from Yooka-Laylee’s world, and it’s your job to steal them back—instead of “Puzzle Pieces” and “Honeycombs,” but the moment-to-moment is still about running around an open-ended area, bashing the occasional enemy, and picking up X number of objects along the way.

Other games have done that though, and done it well. (See: Unbox.) What sets Yooka-Laylee apart is a slavish adherence to ‘90s design, mimicking Banjo-Kazooie on a much deeper level than most modern homages.

Scene transitions, for instance. Banjo-Kazooie’s scene transitions were, I guess, “Puzzle Piece Wipes,” where a silhouette of a puzzle piece would shrink and close out the old, then bloom back out to reveal the new location. Yooka-Laylee does the same except with a somewhat more elaborate silhouette of Yooka and Laylee.

Yooka-Laylee Yooka-Laylee

And nobody speaks. Instead, dialogue is handled the same way as Banjo-Kazooie: Whether villain or hero, all you hear is a series random monosyllabic grunts, while the actual text is spooled out one character at a time in a black box.

Then there’s the look and feel, of course. Bright, almost super-saturated colors. Bizarre cartoon architecture designed strictly for platforming, not some semblance of realism. Upbeat, repetitive music.

Late in my demo I discovered a throwaway joke involving Shovel Knight, and as far as random crossover gags go it’s weirdly appropriate. Shovel Knight is a great game in its own right, but doubly so because it tried to work within the constraints of the actual Nintendo Entertainment System—colors, controls, everything was designed so that it felt like it could possibly, in some other dimension, have been an actual NES release, circa 1987.

Yooka-Laylee Yooka-Laylee

The same with Yooka-Laylee. This is much more than a “Banjo-Kazooie style platformer.” It is Banjo-Kazooie, just with more polygons and 20-odd years of additional design knowledge.

Yooka-Laylee even leans into this fact by taking a sort-of Sonic Generations approach. The first time you enter one of Yooka-Laylee’s levels, you get what I’d call the N64-era version. The first area, the Tribalstack Tropics, for instance: Upon entering, there’s a handful of characters to find, a race to undertake, a shooting range, and a few other little “missions.”

But this is only maybe a third of the Tribalstack Tropics. Once you’ve “finished” the level and exited, you’re told that you can either move on to the next area (Glitterglaze Glacier) by leaving and finding its entrance or, for completionists, you can “Expand” the Tribalstack Tropics (cleverly represented by adding more pages to the hardcover book within which the level exists).

Yooka-Laylee Yooka-Laylee

Expand, re-enter, and Tribalstack Tropics will be completely different. Or rather, the core area will be the same, but now there’s a whole new temple off to the side, and another off in the distance stretching hundreds of feet in the air. The level has tripled in size, adding more challenging platforming sections and a host of new collectables.

It feels almost like you’ve got two games in one—Yooka-Laylee and Yooka-Laylee: Remastered or Anniversary Edition or what-have-you. It’s simultaneously the Yooka-Laylee I might’ve expected in 1997 and the one I’d expect now, in 2017. It’s a fascinating contrast, and one I look forward to exploring further during our actual review.

Bottom line

And I am looking forward to our eventual review, more now than ever. There’s definitely a novelty aspect to Yooka-Laylee. It’s Banjo-Kazooie! Except not! With this style of game largely gone from the collective conscious, two hours with a mascot platformer is both an excellent pastime and a wondrous dose of nostalgia.

Whether nostalgia alone is enough to get people through 10 to 15 hours of Yooka-Laylee? That’s a more difficult question to answer.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Hayden Dingman

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?