GDC 2017 Hands-On Preview: Yooka-Laylee (Switch)

The Banjo-Kazooie successor is shaping up nicely!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 03/06/2017 10:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

I was heartbroken when I’d heard that Yooka-Laylee, the spiritual successor of Banjo-Kazooie being helmed by former Rare staffers, was no longer going to be coming to Wii U. The title seemed like a perfect fit for the console given its very tangible connections to the glory days of the Rare-Nintendo years of yore. Though Yooka-Laylee won’t be coming to Nintendo’s previous home console, its new hybrid system Switch will instead be playing host to the chameleon-bat duo’s debut. I finally got to experience the title for the first time at this year’s GDC, and my expectations are officially high as a result.

I played through Glitterglaze Glacier, an enormous icy world replete with a castle and great swaths of frigid waters to navigate. Built with Unity, Yooka-Laylee is looking stunning so far. The environment was rich with details and a great sense of scope, not to mention some spectacular lighting effects. Like Banjo-Kazooie and Tooie on N64, I spent as much of my time trying to complete objectives as I did just soaking in the scenery. Yooka and Laylee felt great to control; movement speed is significantly faster than it ever was in a Banjo game, which means an overall zippier feeling that I appreciated. The pair’s variety of moves is in line with what one would expect of a mascot platformer, but that’s not a bad thing. I had a basic expectation of what sorts of attacks and movements I’d be able to pull off, but I also was surprised by some of the innovations, like Laylee’s sonar ability.

If I had any complaint to make about Yooka-Laylee, it would be the swimming. I was anxious to dive underwater the second I saw the light glistening off of its surface, but once I made my way down, I got thrown off by the wave effect being employed. Attempting to mimic the sensation of actually being submerged, objects appeared to wave and wiggle with the movement of the water around me. Unfortunately, it really disoriented my eyes and made it hard for me to get around. I’m hoping that it was a fluke of the camera of perhaps my being overwhelmed by all the people on the floor of the convention, but as it stands it was a flaw that really disappointed me, nonetheless.

I can’t say the same thing about the music, though. David Wise, the legendary composer and an expatriate¬†of Rare from back in the day, is handling composition duties for Yooka-Laylee (alongside two other former Rare composers, Grant Kirkhope and Steve Burke), and he’s really knocking it out of the park, from what I heard. The background music of Glitterglaze Glacier was quintessential Kirkhope: ambient and deep, the music washed over me and compelled me to want to keep digging deeper into the level. There were a number of enemies to smash on as I made my way around the environment, and combat was both quick and satisfying. I wish that Yooka’s reach was a little wider, as I felt that I had to be a bit too close to baddies to inflict damage, but that’s more nitpicking than anything else. The controls are precise and both fighting and moving are handled wonderfully.

Yooka-Laylee won’t be dropping the same day as it will be on other platforms, but developer Playtonic is promising that the gap won’t be be very long. That’s good, as Switch players should have this one on their wishlists. It’s a game clearly being crafted with love, one that pulls from the rich history of 3D platformers that have preceded it. I’ll reserve final judgment until I play the launch build, but what I experienced at GDC felt very polished and packed to the brim with potential. Switch is looking to have a very solid library of games within the first couple of months of its launch; here’s hoping that Yooka-Laylee is one of them.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story gave credit to David Wise for Glitterglaze Glacier’s music, but that honor belongs to Mr. Grant Kirkhope. Thanks for the catch, and for reading, Mr. Kirkhope!

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