Yooka-Laylee is a platform game published by Team17 in 2017 for Linux, macOS, Windows, 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 their series Banjo-Kazooie released for the Nintendo 64 nearly 20 years prior. To develop the game, Playtonic Games initiated a Kickstarter campaign that attracted significant media coverage and raised over a record-breaking 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 capitalise on nostalgia. While most critics agreed that it captured the essence of earlier platformers, they also pointed out technical shortcomings and outdated gameplay.
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 open 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.
The characters' abilities include "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 used 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 for more activities, and Play Tokens, which are used to play the secret arcade games that are found once per level, hosted by a low polygon T. rex named Rextro Sixtyfourus, a homage to the Nintendo 64. There are several "quiz show challenges", similar to the Banjo-Kazooie games. Furthermore, 2D and 3D "mine cart" sequences are also included, 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 will also feature an upcoming, optional "N64 shader" mode, which imitates the graphical appearance of Nintendo 64 games.
Hivory Towers is an evil corporation run by the money-and-control-loving Capital B and his scientist assistant, Dr. Quack, who used to run a company known as Quack Corp. before its buy-out by Hivory Towers. After learning of a book known as the One Book that has the power to re-write the universe, Capital B has Quack build a machine known as the Noveliser 64 (a reference to the Nintendo 64) to suck up all the books in the world.
Meanwhile, Yooka and Laylee are enjoying the day in Shipwreck Creek renovating their Shipwreck home when Laylee’s book (found in the shipwreck), apparently the One Book targeted by Capital B, is sucked away into the nearby device. Its golden Pagies escape, and Laylee, deciding to sell it for a large sum of money, gets Yooka to help her after it. They explore Hivory Towers, collecting Pagies to restore to the book. With the help of Trowzer, a snake salesman who teaches them new transportation and combat abilities, and Dr. Puzz, an ex-Hivory Towers scientist who transforms them into various plants, animals and machines, Yooka and Laylee eventually reach the elevator leading to Capital B’s office.
Capital B allows them in granted they collect 100 Pagies total. When inside, he reveals it was a trap to refill the Book. Laylee says he will have to take the Pagies from them, and a battle ensues. After Yooka and Laylee win, they begin to question the Capital and Quack. But just then, their friend Blasto the cannon comes for medical aid and accidentally fires at the evil Hivory Towers leaders, knocking them into a nearby book as it locks them inside.
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.
In September 2012, a group of former Rare employees announced their intent 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 2014 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. After the highly successful Kickstarter campaign, the team was expanded to an average of fifteen full-time employees.
The game is 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. Kirkhope noted that 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. The inclusion was announced by Shovel Knight developer Yacht Club Games following the release of Yooka's character trailer in September 2016.
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. A Wii U version was in development but cancelled in December 2016 due to "unforeseen technical issues", with a Nintendo Switch version of the game taking its place.
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 stated 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. Playtonic announced that there would be no physical release for Yooka-Laylee on the Nintendo Switch. In October 2017, Playtonic Games 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.
In June 2016, Playtonic announced that they had delayed the game to early 2017 in order to give the team additional time to polish the game. Additionally, it was confirmed that Playtonic Games were 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.
In March 2017, Playtonic announced that 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 racist 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.
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, the cancellation of the Wii U version, with many of those backers being given Steam codes instead of Switch codes.
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, while noting instances of what he felt were "a creeping sense of budgetary concerns" due to the varying quality between them. While Carter himself was favorable towards the game, he 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". Sliva 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. Plagge conversely was critical of what she felt was convoluted level design and outdated gameplay. Shortly after Yooka-Laylee's release, Playtonic announced an update to the game that will attempt to address criticism of the in-game camera and make other improvements.
On the other hand, Colm Ahern was more negative about the game's intention to capitalize on people's nostalgia, noting that the game "aggressively captured both the bad as well as the good: 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 obsolete.
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