Article by Alyx Jones
Edited by Sam Hughes
Developer: Playtonic Games
Composers: Grant Kirkhope, David Wise & Steve Burke
Audio Director: Dan Murdoch
Reviewed on: PS4
Since the days of Spyro and Crash Bandicoot, there has been a real lack of children’s games on consoles. Of course, there is the amazing Lego franchise and Spyro’s reincarnation in Skylanders, but they are few and far between. Yooka-Laylee is a much needed title and has a perfect blend of echoing the history from 90’s titles, especially Banjo Kazooie of course, and making a funny and pun-filled game that is enjoyable for adults and kids alike.
It’s a natural choice to pick Grant Kirkhope, David Wise and Steve Burke, the composers from Banjo-Kazooie, as they know exactly how to encapsulate the 90’s vibes and enjoyable soundtracks for games with minimal threats, focusing on exploration and puzzles.
They were tasked with having to recreate music for the previous era of video games, in a new and enjoyable way, while still maintaining the initial sound and mood of their previous work. Grant Kirkhope said that he used recognizable harmonies and familiar structures, so was able to combine many techniques he’d learned earlier in his career, with the current technological advances, such as not being limited by memory/sample playback.
Steve Burke was responsible for the music used in “Rextro’s Arcade”, an in-game arcade machine. He took inspiration from the Commodore 64 and Amiga consoles when designing the tracks, and only added more modern elements towards the very end of the process. It’s a really fun game machine, that may even be some children’s first experience of the retro era of gaming, and the sounds associated with that time period.
Despite the 90’s vibes, there’s some really great implementation and adaptive music happening in the game. When Yooka & Laylee are pottering around in “Hivory Towers”, the Hivory Towers theme plays but there is a small area of water in this environment where you can swim and dive. If you dive under the water, the moment your camera drops below the water line, the instrumentation changes, to just harps, while the song continues without any interruption to the flow of the music.
My absolute favourite part of the sound design, is the characters voices when they’re talking. The small repeated snippets at different pitches is really enjoyable as it takes you back to the roots of this genre, making you smile at the same time. Sure it can become annoying, but intentionally, in an amusing way!
There’s so many quirky and fun sound effects, from cheeky enemy sounds to giggling ghosts, it just adds to the playful and enjoyable atmosphere of the game. The audio design really is key to that.
All the little enemies that come spinning or stampeding towards you, often let out a playful scream as they reach out to grab you. It’s a really fun way of initiating “combat” or an interaction between characters. When Yooka spins, its little lizard tail whooshes and twirls, batting off any unwanted nasties! There’s lots of ways to defeat obstacles and you even end up eating fire/ice/water berries and breathing out the elements. The fire especially sounds so much like how fire sounded in the 90’s, with a filtered down whoosh.
You are also rewarded with little trumpet fanfares when you’re doing especially well, that sound like trumpets before they were high quality sound recordings, along with guitar arpeggios when you collect a golden quill. A lot of the sound effects that are musical, have the “90’s”/midi/smaller sample size sound and it adds to remembering the time, when the 3D platformer was king!
Audio placement in the 3D world is essential to being able to find a lot of hidden objects, that are either invisible (like the cheeky ghosts) to us, or hidden behind rocks, or in caves. The aim of the game is to collect “Pagies” that produce a windchime twinkly sound to alert you to their presence, and the more you get, the further you can travel. Hearing the twinkly sounds when you get to unlock a cage or the slide/swanee whistle sound when going up or down to a new area are really satisfying to hear.
We absolutely love Yooka-Laylee, and we can’t wait to see a new generation of kids grow up with this fantastic new title, a classic for all ages. The music and sound create a lighthearted and whimsical audio world for every player to explore and enjoy, a serious bundle of squishy, squeaky, pun-filled fun!
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The Sound Architect