If you're anywhere near as decrepit as we are, you'll remember the days where you could barely move for platforming adventures. From the bright orange marsupial Crash Bandicoot, to the bird and bear duo of Banjo-Kazooie, and the limbless wonder that was Rayman, there were millions of mascots everywhere. Like Donkey Kong, Conker, and Ratchet and Clank. Or even Spyro, Jak and Daxter, and Kirby. No matter your platform of choice, there were oodles of the things around - and then, suddenly, almost overnight, there were none.
Caught up in an industry that was so desperate to chase after the shooter crowd, it forgot about the other 90% of the market, there were precious few character-based platformers left kicking, with Mario being one of the only ones keeping the running, jumping, collectathon flag flying. But much like fashion, games are cyclical things - and now the character platformer looks to be making a comeback.
One game in particular smashed records when it went up on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter, hitting its funding goal in less than an hour, before smashing the million mark in less than a day. We're talking of course about Yooka-Laylee. Developed by Playtonic Games, a new, UK based studio helmed by key figures from legendary studio Rare, Yooka-Laylee is a game with an exquisite pedigree, drawing on developers who worked on classic platformers like Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country. Now, just under two years later, the finished item has landed - but is it the Rare-vival we've all been hoping for?
Our story begins with best buds Yooka the chameleon and Laylee the bat having a good old post-spring-clean picnic, when a great gust of wind suddenly sweeps up a mysterious old book Laylee had found while tidying, spreading its golden pages all across the land. Chasing after it, the pair soon discover it wasn't just any old gust of wind that swept their book away, but one caused by the evil honey bee Capital B's dastardly corporate plan - to vacuum up every last book in the known universe in search of one all-powerful tome, the One Book, which will allow him and his bird-brained sidekick Dr. Quack to rewrite the entire world. As luck would have it, that book just so happened to be the one that belonged to Laylee - and so the pair set off on a globe-trotting adventure to round up the missing pages, known as Pagies, before Capital B can get his hands on them!
If you've ever played Banjo Kazooie, Yooka-Laylee should feel familiar from the offset - in an incredibly good way. Really, this is the platform adventure we'd always dreamed of playing. Scattered around the game's five or so worlds are umpteen characters who'll reward you with a Pagie for helping them out - whether its a race against a speedy cloud, helping a porcine knight track down the rest of his crew, or having a quick blast on a shooting gallery, there's almost 150 Pagies to collect throughout, with each requiring a bit of a different strategy to the last.
One of the more unusual tasks we came across fairly early on involved getting the tentacled scientist, Dr. Puzz, to transform you into a flower, so the local racist fauna would actually speak to you. Things quickly took a turn for the bizarre, however, when one asked you to run around and perk up her sisters by spraying them with your pollen, because they "could do with a strapping flora like you in their lives". Ooo er.
But while Pagies are your main target, there's a whole host of other pick-ups littering the landscape for you to hunt down too. For starters, there's hundreds of Quills, Yooka-Laylee's currency, which you can exchange for new moves at Trowzer, the dodgy shorts clad snake salesman's store (Trowzer snake - geddit?). In turn, these new moves will let you access new areas, and find even more collectables that you couldn't get to before. Each region also has five hidden Ghost Writers you can catch, with each requiring a different approach - for example, the pink ghost is a glutton, and you'll usually have to feed him some nearby berries, whereas you'll need to chase down the speedy green ghost if you hope to capture him. Add in a hidden Mollycool (which gives you a new world-specific transformation, a la the flower from earlier), health and power bar boosts, and five play coins, which can be exchanged for goes on a retro dinosaur's arcade of wonders, and you've got a lot of collectables to keep you busy.
In order to reach the smorgasbord of collectables, Yooka and Laylee have a whole range of moves at their disposal - an ever growing list, with each new world getting you access to a brand new Trowzer store. Whether its Laylee the bat flapping her wings at the end of a jump so you can glide for a short distance; curling up into a ball to ride up the slippery slope of an incline; or Yooka bouncing on his springy tail to backflip onto a higher ledge, your ever-expanding move set means you'll have to return to previous worlds to get the collectables you couldn't reach the first time. Yooka also has a unique ability that lets him slurp up various elemental berries, and harness their powers to solve puzzles, perhaps swallowing some fire to survive a bitterly cold (and therefore health-sapping) ice cave, chugging down a bomb before spitting it out at a breakable rock, or lapping up some super-sticky honey to let you stroll up a slope unperturbed.
Once you've collected enough Pagies, Yooka-Laylee gives you two options with what to do next - you can either spend the Pagies on unlocking a brand new world, or use them to expand the ones you've already visited, adding new areas to explore and missions to complete (along with opening up the world's boss battle). However, finding the next world in Capital B's maze-like offices-come-factory hub can be a bit of a challenge - and this is perhaps our biggest bugbear with Yooka-Laylee.
Sometimes, if you've not unlocked the right moves yet, working out where to head next, both in the worlds and in the Hivory Towers hub, can be a bit tricky. For example, you might find yourself wasting a load of time trying to press an underwater button, only to find that actually you should have turned right further up the hallway, despite what the giant pink flashing arrows on the walls seem to suggest.
But where Yooka-Laylee really shines is in its humour. Full of self-referential jokes, hilarious quips and kooky characters, with more than a smattering of innuendo thrown in for good measure, its nice to see the traditional Rare writing is still intact after all these years. There's a depressed cloud who's devastated because his wife left him for a hotter tornado; Kartos the 'God of Ore' (groan), a minecart who pines for the 'good ol' days'; and a skeletal adventurer who's always getting herself into a spot of bother with the natives - and that's not even counting Yooka and Laylee themselves, with the latter having a sassy comeback for pretty much everything. Even the bad guys get their time to shine, with Dr. Quack showing up before each new world with his 'Dr. Quack's Quackfire Quizzes' - because only the most evilist of evil geniuses would blow all their security budget on a gameshow.
If you're after some good old fashioned platforming and collecting, then Yooka-Laylee should be right at the top of your most wanted list - it's a more than worthy spiritual successor to the likes of Banjo-Kazooie, and a great game in its own right. With lashings of humour, silliness and light-hearted fun, its a breath of fresh air in the current gaming line-up, and we'll be keeping our fingers thoroughly crossed that it can kickstart the platforming revival.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Wii U