Platformers from the late 90’s tended to have a few things in common. One of which were similar character designs. Not that they all looked alike, but that each game had people and places that all were incredibly stylized, exaggerated, and showed off all sorts of personality with every movement. These could be goofy individuals, but it never made the games themselves seem overly childish. From the very start, Yooka-Laylee shows it embodies the spirit of these sorts of games, with characters that are bright and engaging.
It all begins with Yooka and Laylee, Yooka-Laylee’s dynamic duo. The two perfectly portray a double act. Yooka, the chameleon, is the stooge. He’s a genuinely good guy, which is evident by both his quips, character design, and even actions. When we first meet him, he’s relaxed. He sees the value in a book Laylee has found, even though the bat hasn’t even bothered to read it or think of it as anything important. He’s open when it comes to talking to others, and often quite helpful.
While this comes through in conversations, Yooka’s finer points are evident at a glance. When he walks or runs, he’s surefooted and earnest. His idle animations are leisurely. He has bright eyes and a calm smile. Even his color scheme, overwhelmingly green, can be identified with energy and nature. He fits in well within the world, suggesting how easygoing he can be.
Laylee, on the other hand, is a wildcard. She’s an opportunist clown. She’s concerned with her own well-being and success, ready to sell that book when Yooka suggests it could be valuable. She’s a comic who’s always ready with a sarcastic remark. While Yooka can be calm and cordial, she’s aggressive and impatient. She has no patience for Trowzer, for example. While this has some merit, as Trowzer openly admits to doing deals with the first world boss in one of Yooka-Laylee’s first conversations, it’s clear that Yooka understands you need to learn to get along for the greater good. Laylee is more streetwise and understands that certain people need to be handled with a degree of care.
Just like Yooka, Laylee’s character design lets you understand elements of her personality at a glance. She’s a character that’s a little crazy, which makes her big, red clown nose even more fitting. When hovering with Yooka, her path isn’t straight and true. It’s a bit more askew. Her fangs are clearly visible whenever she opens her mouth, a hint at her biting sarcasm. And, of course, her purple color scheme is as indicative of her nature as Yooka’s. The royal purple can be consider prideful and independent, suggesting her tendency to put the duo’s needs first. It could be tied to ambition, which we seem time and again when she greedily searches for pagies and glory.
But it isn’t just Yooka-Laylee’s stars that have this same care and detail poured into their personality. Every NPC you encounter is as detailed. Trowzer is a real conniving snake, but he has his moments. As you play, you come to understand his opportunistic nature means he doesn’t truly bear any ill will. He’s just attempting to do the best he can for himself. Dr. Puzz is a genuinely energetic person trying to do good, though a bit of an edge is evident in her drive and skull shirt. Dr. Quack is clearly untrustworthy, with a cheap candy machine appropriated for his exosuit, a more cynical attitude when compared to someone who’s a more neutral force like Trowzer, and permanent scowl. All of these people’s true colors shine through the moment you look at them, before you even get a chance to talk with them and learn their true intentions.
With Yooka-Laylee, the characters are as bright and vibrant as the world they inhabit. Everything has personality. Getting to look around every corner, examine decorations, interact with NPCs, and generally just be can be delightful. In this way, it pays tribute to classics like Banjo-Kazooie in the best sort of way. All of this helps it stand out.
Yooka-Laylee will come to the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on April 11, 2017. It will come to the Nintendo Switch in 2017.