This is not at all a bad thing, especially for Kickstarter campaign backers who are making Playtonic Games’ first title, out early next year, possible. In fact, that Nintendo 64-era Rare connection is a major part of Yooka-Laylee’s crowdfunding pitch; Playtonic is comprised of several key members who worked on classic adventure games from the iconic studio.
For me, that made playing Yooka-Laylee’s debut demo — behind closed doors at Gamescom — instantly comfortable and familiar. (The first console game I ever played, in fact, was Banjo-Kazooie.) The similarities between the two are obvious even before jumping in: At the start, co-stars Yooka and Laylee appear in the center of a vivid world, immediately surrounded by collectibles, multiple paths and odd creatures. That’s just like the lighthearted Banjo games, defined by an open world full of things to grab at your own pace.
There are no requirements of where to go or what to do in Yooka-Laylee. Within seconds, I sent the pair randomly running up a hill toward the great unknown. Up ahead were simple platforming puzzles that made use of Yooka and Laylee’s basic skill set — just like Banjo and Kazooie before them, Laylee and Yooka support each other as the respective brains and brawn. Laylee (the bat) helps Yooka (the chameleon) reach higher ramps, while Yooka can twist around and ground-pound on the monsters that chase after them as they grab items.
I spent my half-hour running around like a five-year-old
Spinning, stomping and chasing down enchanted items is about all there is to do in Yooka-Laylee, at least in the level I played. There are some unique nuances: Grabbing all of the magical book pages spread across the land unlocks more places to run around, and different areas give Yooka access to new abilities.
Mostly, though, I spent my half-hour running around like a five-year-old again, blissfully ignorant of any of the activities that might help me progress. I took a gem-filled ride in a cart for kicks, helped out a local in exchange for one of the elusive talking storybook pages and jumped off ledges toward certain death, just because I could.
All of this was OK with the developer who guided me during the demo; sure, there are things I probably should have been doing, but none of the characters ever felt the need to tell me about them, including the blissful Yooka and Laylee. Without having someone bear down on me to do this or that, I could do whatever I wanted — and that's the best thing ever for a former 22-year-old, reborn as a five-year-old.
As a kid, I never got past the first two or three worlds in Banjo-Kazooie, because I was having too good of a time running circles in its entry-level friendly landscapes. Yooka-Laylee, it seems, will totally support that lackadaisical kind of play — and sometimes, that's perfectly fine. The stakes are low, at least at the beginning; none of the enemies are overly aggressive. Perhaps this can get dull after a while — especially with a childlike attention span — but everything is so inoffensive and pleasant that, in a short burst, Yooka-Laylee is charming and refreshing.