Most Anticipated Games of 2017, Part Four: Yooka-Laylee

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3D mascot platformers have been gone for a long time, but they are not forgotten. Nintendo 64 and PlayStation’s libraries each had their own slew of these games: Super Mario 64, Spyro The Dragon, and Banjo Kazooie. These hub-based collect-a-thons were fun for people of all ages and were a prominent example of 3D world exploration during this era. It seems that interest in mascot platformers has returned, with a handful of new games coming to fruition such as Ratchet & Clank, Knack (that’s right), and the upcoming Super Mario Odyssey. A favorite game from the golden age of 3D platformers is Banjo Kazooie, as well as its sequel, Banjo Tooie. Playtonic Games is made up of former Rare developers who had key roles in these games. In 2015, they launched a funding Kickstarter to develop a new spiritual successor to Banjo, titled Yooka-Laylee.

The game is very close to its Nintendo 64 heritage, with the level-headed chameleon Yooka taking on the role of Banjo and the sassy bat Laylee filling in for Kazooie. Essentially, Yooka-Laylee follows the same gameplay loop as seen previously in the fan-favorite Rare game. There’s an emphasis on exploring, collecting, and learning new abilities. Playing a game with a classic mindset on a modern console will add a level of polish that may be just enough to revitalize the genre.

I have spent the past few months playing both Banjo games casually, jumping into them when I have a couple hours to kill or when I want to play something more lighthearted. Many of my favorite games of this generation are brutally difficult and stressful. Jumping back into Banjo has been a palate cleanser for me as well as a great nostalgia trip. Certain aspects of these games feel dated (the wonky camera instantly comes to mind), but overall they have held up well. It feels so good to fall back into the colorful world of family-friendly platformers after dragging myself through Resident Evil 7 and chipping away at Dark Souls 3 for what has felt like an eternity. Video games are about escapism, whether that’s into a cartoon fantasy world or a realistic driving simulator. This generation is a great example of the diversity and the many options that players have to jump into. The fact that Yooka-Laylee, a game with an age-old concept, can stand alongside modern titles with some success is inspiring to me.

Modern gamers have really been feeling the effects of open-world games. Some might even say the formula has been exhausted by games like Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, and Metal Gear Solid V. There are outposts to capture, side quests to complete, areas of the map to uncover and thousands of items to collect — eventually it just becomes too much for people. Yooka-Laylee is definitely a collect-a-thon from start to finish, but I don’t believe it will suffer from the same formula that so many games follow today. It’s an open-world game on a much smaller scale, with a focus on world building and “themed” environments. Finding and exploring are built right into the DNA of the game, which causes each collectible to be that much more important. The developers place a great amount of care into where and why items exist in each world hub.

Yooka-Laylee is essentially the third Banjo game in spirit, since Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts had very different ideas and priorities. Despite having an entirely new cast of characters and worlds, Yooka maintains the spirit of its predecessor. A main hub world branches off into smaller worlds, each with their own unique theme. Encountering a quirky cast of troubled characters is always a joy, even if curing their woes is fairly simple. A preview by Trusted Reviews elaborates on some of the early gameplay. Yooka-Laylee’s encounters consist of a sad cloud named Nimbo and a minecart brilliantly named Kartos. This channels classic Banjo characters such as Gobi the greedy camel and Nipper the angry hermit crab. These goofy characters added life to each level, and there are sure to be some callbacks and easter eggs in Yooka-Laylee.

Minecart levels are said to be featured in Yooka quite often, which is a gentle reminder that these developers also worked on the legendary Donkey Kong Country series. Also making a return is magical transformations for the heroic duo. A snowy level may require some assistance from Yooka and Laylee in snowplow form thanks to the help of the aptly named Dr. Puzz and his (also aptly named)  “D.N.Ray.” In another casino-themed world, the duo can be morphed into a helicopter in order to explore the higher areas of the map. These transformations allow players to approach the levels from a new perspective and are just downright fun!

Watching some recent gameplay footage from IGN has only reaffirmed my excitement for Yooka-Laylee. It seems like Playtonic have truly hit the nail on the head with this one. For Banjo fans, it’s a dream come true to have the game “revived”, especially considering it’s part of a genre that many thought had seen its last life. The video has my nostalgia meter skyrocketing, demonstrating Yooka and Laylee platforming through a variety of obstacles in complete N64 style. Even the silly soundtrack feels straight out of Banjo, which makes sense considering it’s the same team of composers. Watching the characters double jump and float across gaps using the wing flap technique reminds me of what video games used to be when I was growing up. These types of mechanics were commonplace in almost all action platformers, and it is great to see that they have not been forgotten.

I truly believe that Yooka-Laylee will help revitalize this amazing genre that holds fond memories for many people. It is a continuation of Banjo and the N64 mentality as a whole. As gaming progresses forward as a medium, it becomes increasingly important to take influence from its past decades. For every new style of game, the medium needs to recognize its past achievements and reshape their greatest elements. Yooka-Laylee looks to be a fun nostalgia-soaked adventure with something for every type of gamer to enjoy. It has a release date set for April of this year, so mark your calendars!

Previously I expressed my excitement for Resident Evil 7, Tacoma, and Thimbleweed Park. I’ve got one more game to discuss within the next few weeks, so be on the lookout for that!