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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Gaming

Yooka-Laylee is getting the band back together (hands-on)

What happens when the team behind Donkey Kong Country and Banjo-Kazooie reunite? A game that feels fresh and familiar all at once.

It's strange to feel nostalgic when you play a game for the first time. But there's really no other way to describe what it was like to sit down with Yooka-Laylee for the first time.

The game first hit Kickstarter in 2015, and it brought with it the the team behind Nintendo masterpieces Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country under the banner of Playtonic. Playtonic announced a spiritual sequel to one of the Nintendo 64's best 3D platformers, and so we met Yooka, the chameleon, and Laylee, the bat. The pair are inseparable, working together to perform the sorts of gravity-defying double jumps, butt pounds and launching of projectiles than defined the adventure games of that bygone era.

Yooka and Laylee in Hivory Towers. Yes, there are puns.

Playtonic

Gameplay is the same collect-a-thon experience as Banjo-Kazooie. Jiggies have been replaced with Pagies, Notes with Quills, Jinjos with Ghost Writers. There are hundreds of shiny little things with eyeballs to collect in every level and we're hardly reinventing the wheel here. If there's one fault you can find with the game, it's the find/replace method to the design.

Right down to the opening chords on the title screen (pitch-perfect music by Donkey Kong Country's David Wise and Banjo-Kazooie's Grant Kirkhope), it's very clear that Yooka-Laylee was planned as the third Banjo game we never got (the strange vehicle-based adventure game Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts notwithstanding). There are obvious corollaries to collectables and characters from the Banjo series, but that's how Yooka-Laylee delivers.

Roll into a ball, ingest cannonballs, have something a quarter of your size lift your body weight. The usual.

Playtonic

Collect things to unlock more moves, levels and side quests. It builds on a familiar setup with a bunch of new options, including old-school arcade games, races, transformations (turning into a plant and a snowplow, in levels one and two) and new moves.

My couple of hours of hands-on time showed off the first two (of five) levels, a frigid snowscape and a jungle with overgrown ruins. With enough collectables, you can also expand those levels to grant you access to even more Pagies and Quills, because this is the hamster wheel we are all happy to die on. The expanded versions of the levels are truly massive, and based on what was sampled, the vivid cartoonish style is smooth and stunning.

Trowzer the snake. What? That's his name.

Playtonic

It's a throwback to 3D-platformers, the likes of which we haven't seen in some time. Yooka-Laylee has a very vintage feel that might turn a few people off. For better or worse, it clings to some stylistic choices from the Banjo series imposed more by technical limitation, like a gibberish dialogue over subtitles. But with that comes some on-the-money British humour and seamless platforming fun. For those of us who've been waiting for a decade for the next sprawling Rareware-style platformer, our patience has been rewarded.

Yooka-Laylee will be released on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on April 11.