Yooka-Laylee is a platform game published by Team17 in 2017 for Windows, macOS, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Developed by Playtonic Games, a group of former key personnel from Rare, Yooka-Laylee is a spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie series released for the Nintendo 64 nearly 20 years prior. After years of planning to develop a new game, Playtonic Games initiated a Kickstarter campaign that attracted significant media coverage and raised a record-breaking sum of over GB£2 million. The game follows chameleon Yooka and bat Laylee on their quest to retrieve a magical book from an evil corporation.
Yooka-Laylee received mixed reviews, with critics divided on whether emulating its predecessors was enough to make it a successful game, or whether it was purely trying to capitalize on nostalgia. While most critics agreed that it captured the essence of earlier platformers, they also pointed out technical shortcomings and outdated gameplay. A spin-off, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, was released on October 8, 2019.
Yooka-Laylee is a platform game played from a third-person perspective. The gameplay is similar to that of games in the Banjo-Kazooie and Chameleon Twist series. The player controls two characters that work together to explore their environment, collect items, solve puzzles and defeat enemies. The playable characters are Yooka, a male chameleon, and Laylee, a female bat. During their adventures, Yooka and Laylee explore worlds contained within magical books and complete challenges to collect "Pagies": golden book pages that act as the main currency in the game. Players can use their Pagies to either unlock new worlds or expand those which have already been unlocked.
Yooka and Laylee can learn a variety of abilities, including "sonar blasting", "tongue whipping", "sky soaring", eating berries for temporary powers such as fire breath, and a "fart bubble" for breathing underwater. Most of these abilities use a power meter that is filled by collecting butterflies (which can be eaten instead to restore health). Each new ability is earned by collecting enough quills to purchase them from Trowzer, a snake salesman who wears pants. Collectibles by the name of Mollycools are given to Dr. Puzz, an octopus scientist, in order to give Yooka and Laylee various transformations that grant them exclusive abilities. Play Tonics are RPG-style ability modifiers that are purchased from Vendi, a living vending machine, and equipped to modify or enhance players' ability stats. Also found in the levels are Ghost Writers, collectible characters who provide various challenges like catching or fighting them, and Play Tokens, which are used to play the secret arcade games that are found once per level, hosted by a low-polygon tyrannosaurus rex named Rextro Sixtyfourus. There are several "quiz show challenges", similar to the Banjo-Kazooie games. Furthermore, there is another character named Kartos, a sentient mine cart who allows "mine cart" sequences, similar to those of Donkey Kong Country and Donkey Kong 64.
The game features a local cooperative multiplayer mode for two players. There is also a 2–4 player adversarial local multiplayer mode, with eight different minigames. The game also features an optional "64-bit" mode, which imitates the graphical appearance of Nintendo 64 games.
After their precious book, later revealed to be the magical "One Book", is sucked up by the evil Hivory Towers Corporation, Yooka and Laylee enter their headquarters to retrieve their property. Fighting their way through the vast company grounds and the levels they contain, they eventually manage to reassemble the book's lost pages. In a final fight against the CEO Capital B, they manage to defeat him and reclaim the One Book. Yooka and Laylee proceed to invite everyone from their grand adventure for a party at Shipwreck Creek, and Laylee decides to lock the book up in a safe so that it appreciates in value. During the credits, it is revealed that Hivory Towers is part of the bigger evil organization V.I.L.E., which still targets the book.
In September 2012, a group of former Rare employees attempted to create a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie. They joined under the Twitter handle Mingy Jongo, the name of a boss from the second Banjo game, Banjo-Tooie, with cooperation from ex-Rare designers, including composer Grant Kirkhope. In December 2014, the account was left abandoned and the project confirmed to be on indefinite hiatus by Kirkhope in a Reddit AMA; however, in August a video game company named Playtonic Games was incorporated by this group, and the account was soon revived under the name of its new company. Playtonic then announced that they were planning a spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie franchise titled Yooka-Laylee, formerly codenamed Project Ukulele. At the start of development, six people were involved. To finance the game, the development team decided to use fundraising website Kickstarter to acquire GB£175,000 to start production. Immediately, the campaign attracted enormous attention and the goal was reached within 40 minutes, a record on the platform. Later the campaign made another record for the fastest game to get US$1,000,000 pledged in the history of the platform. Within a few weeks, the game had garnered GB£2.1 million from over 80,000 backers.
The game was intended as a resurrection and modernization of the "collectathon" 3D platforming game genre of the late 1990s and early 2000s, with an emphasis on progression by collecting various different items. Some of the collectibles were created using 2D sprites. Additional post-launch downloadable content is planned, which began production following the game's release, with crowdfunding participants receiving this content for free. The game's native language is featured in English, but it also features French, German, Italian and Spanish localizations. Wil Overton, a former artist for Rare, illustrated the game's instruction manual.
The game was created with the Unity engine with help from middleware tools. This allowed for bugs to be more easily repaired and the incorporation of ten thousand polygons. The phoneticizing of "ukulele" was an early idea that went through several versions (e.g. Hawaiian terms Yoku, meaning "to eat bugs", and Laylee, meaning "to fly") until the final title "Yooka-Laylee". Yooka-Laylee features 3D worlds by environment artist Steven Hurst, who also worked on the Banjo-Kazooie series as well as Viva Piñata. The game's characters were designed by Kevin Bayliss, who helped design the modern Kong characters in the Donkey Kong Country series, and Ed Bryan, who designed the characters in Banjo-Kazooie. Originally, character art director Steve Mayles imagined Yooka as a lion, but eventually made him a chameleon and created Laylee as a bat, because of how their abilities could accommodate the gameplay. Player characters were deliberately left without voices so as to enhance player choice. The game's perk system was based upon what was done in video games outside the 3D platform genre. Layered animations were among other things employed to improve character movement. Along with Kirkhope, former Rare composers David Wise and Steve Burke collaborated to compose the game's orchestral score. A soundtrack CD was released and rewarded to certain supporters of the crowdfunding campaign. The increase in memory availability since working on Banjo-Kazooie permitted a higher quality soundtrack. The title character of the indie game Shovel Knight makes an appearance as a non-playable character, voiced by Shovel Knight director Sean Velasco. The inclusion was announced by Shovel Knight developer Yacht Club Games following the release of Yooka's character trailer in September 2016.
In March 2017, YouTube personality Jon "JonTron" Jafari, who was set to voice a character in Yooka-Laylee, would have his voiceovers removed from the final game after making controversial comments on a Twitch livestream. Jafari stated that although it was unfortunate his role had been removed, he understood Playtonic's reasoning and wished them success.
Shortly after Yooka-Laylee's release, Playtonic announced further updates to the game to address criticism of the in-game camera and controls while adding additional features and various other improvements.
The game is published by Team17, who also assisted Playtonic with localization, product certification, quality assurance, marketing and general non-developer tasks. The game's funding project was announced on Kickstarter in May 2015. It reached its initial crowdfunding campaign goal of GB£175,000 within thirty-eight minutes and its initial highest goal of GB£1 million in 21 hours, at the time becoming the fastest video game in Kickstarter history to reach US$1 million. Playtonic Games later sent out a public statement thanking all their supporters and promising more updates in the future. The campaign added four additional stretch goals, all of which have been reached. Those who contributed predetermined amounts to the campaign received special rewards related to the game's release. It is currently the highest-funded UK video game in Kickstarter history, passing the previous record held by Elite: Dangerous, earning GB£2,090,104. with success in the crowdfunding campaign allowing a simultaneous April 2017 release for consoles.
In October 2016, Playtonic Games confirmed that the game would have a physical retail release alongside the digital release, and promised backers who earned the digital version the choice of physical media. In December, Playtonic Games confirmed the game would be available both digitally and at retail worldwide on 11 April 2017 for all platforms. In the same update, Playtonic Games announced that the Wii U version had been cancelled, with development duties moved to the Nintendo Switch. The announcement cited "unforeseen technical issues" as the reason for cancelling it. Playtonic offered Kickstarter backers who pledged for the Wii U version choices of refund or moving their pledge to any other platform at no additional cost. Playtonic said that additional details regarding the game's Nintendo Switch version would be announced in January 2017. It was later explained that the decision to cancel the Wii U version is unrelated to the console's poor commercial performance, and that some of the developers expressed reluctance to do so. In February, Playtonic noted that a physical release for Yooka-Laylee on the Nintendo Switch was "beyond [their] scope", and they had no plans for it at the time. Limited Run Games announced to release physical copies for the Nintendo Switch in North America, starting in August 2018. Playtonic Games also announced the release of a special Collector's Edition of the game for December 2017, including a statue, concept art, a key chain, and pins.
Yooka-Laylee was delayed to early 2017 in order to give the team additional time to polish the game. Additionally, Playtonic Games was focusing their development efforts on the PC and Wii U versions, and originally giving the latter platform "the right attention" due to greater demand from Kickstarter backers, as well as nostalgia factors. Publisher Team17 assisted porting the game to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. On 1 April 2017, Playtonic released The Yooka-Laylee Rap!, which was a stretch goal on Kickstarter. It pays homage to the DK Rap from Donkey Kong 64, with Kirkhope reprising his role as the composer.
|PC Gamer (US)||68/100|
Yooka-Laylee received "mixed or average" reviews on the PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, while on the Nintendo Switch it received "generally favourable" reviews, according to review aggregator Metacritic. Critics generally agreed that the game recaptured the feel of a classic 3D platformer, but were divided over whether this made the game successful or simply made its gameplay and design feel unoriginal and outdated. Its Kickstarter backers were ultimately satisfied with the final product, despite their disappointments with the pre-release demo being delayed and the cancellation of the Wii U version, with many of those backers being given Steam codes instead of Switch codes. It debuted at number 6 in the U.K. all-formats chart in its first week as well as the number 2 spot in the Australian sales charts in its first week. By 24 November 2018, the game has sold over 1 million copies. The game won the award for "Game in a Small Studio" at The Independent Game Developers' Association Awards, whereas its other nomination was for "Action and Adventure Game". It was also nominated for "New Games IP", "Animation", and "Visual Design" at the 2017 Develop Awards; and for "Game, Original Family" at the National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers Awards.
Many critics praised the game as a successful follow up to the original Banjo-Kazooie games. Steven Bogos of The Escapist positively referred to the game as "Banjo-Threeie", calling it "a nostalgic ride through time, bringing the collect-a-thons from the N64 era into the modern age". James Kozanitis of Game Revolution felt that Yooka-Laylee improved on the gameplay and structure of classic titles, in particular the relevance and importance of the collectables. Chris Carter of Destructoid praised the expansive levels and the colorful design, but concluded that due to the throwback designs, it would not be for everyone. Marty Sliva of IGN called Yooka-Laylee "a good reminder that this genre, once thought to be dead, still has some life left in it". He also noted different aspects of the game that felt authentic to games from the 90s, praising the level design, soundtrack and characters while also criticizing how the game controlled at certain points and stated it was "not 1998 anymore" regarding frustrating camera movement. Kallie Plagge of GameSpot similarly praised certain aspects such as the collectibles and non-linear structure, while also criticizing the uncooperative camera and in some instances convoluted level design.
On the other hand, Colm Ahern was more negative about the game's intention to capitalize on people's nostalgia, especially noting "camera issues, ambiguous puzzles, a distinct lack of signposting, and voices that will make your ears bleed", while the game itself could not decide whether it was aiming at children or adults as an audience. Furthermore, while he was positive about the first level, he claimed that all other levels in the game were falling short, finding them repetitive and confusing. Chelsea Stark of Polygon noted that Yooka-Laylee was "proof that sometimes our fondest memories should stay in the past". She called the game's combat mechanics "a chore" and was critical of the controls. GamesRadar also noted the game's repetitive missions and objectives, with reviewer David Houghton noting that some of the game's power-ups, especially the flight ability, render most puzzles and level design choices obsolete.
Spin-off and other appearances
A spin-off, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, in contrast to its predecessor, is the game set in 2.5D levels resembling those of the Donkey Kong Country series, although it does contain a 3D overworld. The game was released for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC on October 8, 2019.
Yooka and Laylee appear as playable guest characters in the fighting games Brawlout and Mighty Fight Federation, in the party battle game Brief Battles as a skin for the character Violet, and as assist characters in the upcoming Beat ’Em Up game Jitsu Squad.
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There are various guest Underwearriors (yep) from other indie titles, such as Yooka-Laylee...and more.
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