by Preston Dozsa
reviewed on PC
Drawing from the games of old
There’s nothing quite like a good old fashioned 3D platformer filled with collectibles and colorful worlds and characters. Though the era of these kinds of platformers has long passed, Yooka-Laylee is the first major effort in many years to delve back into the genre that captivated so many in the N64 console generation. While Yooka-Laylee has some issues, it largely succeeds as a platformer where collectibles are counted in the hundreds, maintaining a high quality of play from beginning to end.
Yooka-Laylee, the first game developed by Playtonic Games, though certainly not the first platformer for some of the ex-Rare developers, places you in the role of the chameleon Yooka and his bat friend Laylee. In the midst of relaxing by their house, one of their books is sucked into the air and subsequently loses most of its pages. This is all part of a master plan by the evil Capital B, who was planning on using the book for nefarious purposes.
Using Capital B’s headquarters Hivory Towers as their base, the duo explore five different worlds through a series of magical books to collect the pages (known in game as Pagies), helping a varied and colorful cast of characters along the way. It’s a simple setup, but it’s in the execution that Yooka-Laylee begins to shine.
If you’re a fan of collecting a wide variety of items in games to achieve perfect completion, you’ll have your work cut out for you here. Pagies and Quills, feathers that are used to purchase abilities, are the primary collectibles in the game. Quills are mostly found out in the open or require some very minor platforming to reach, while Pagies typically require the completion of a task in order to be collected. These vary from simple platforming segments, to races that take you around a set level, to unique puzzles that appear once and are not seen again. Some are straightforward, others are downright frustrating, but most strike a fine balance between difficulty and enjoyment.
Collecting Pagies is a necessity, however, as they can be used to unlock new worlds in addition to expanding the ones you have already found. This is in addition to plenty of other collectibles that are even more difficulty to find in game, leaving you with a whole host of objectives that, fortunately, never seems too overwhelming. The worlds themselves are varied, though they are extremely familiar to those who have played other platformers, such as a jungle world, an ice world, etc. Despite the cliche areas, they are a blast to explore, with plenty of hidden nooks and crannies that I was still uncovering on my fourth and fifth visits to them.
It is to Playtonic’s credit that much of the fun in Yooka-Laylee comes from how great it is to control the characters and explore the world. A platformer lives or dies depending on the controls, and I’m happy to say that I did not encounter any problems with it as I played, transitioning well between exploration and combat. That being said, I must mention that the game should absolutely be played with a controller, as it does not play well at all with a keyboard and mouse setup. In addition, camera issues popped up several times throughout the game, as the camera would get stuck in the scenery or would otherwise provide a poor perspective on the action on screen.
The aforementioned Quills also create a very good progression system, enabling you to buy any ability in any order once you have discovered it. It’s a great feeling to unlock a new ability and return to previous worlds, discovering new locations and collectibles that would have previously been unreachable. Coupled with the expanded worlds through the use of Pagies, and you have a game that is continually engaging from start to finish.
Beyond the gameplay, the worlds of Yooka-Laylee are bright, colorful, and maintain a high level of quality throughout. Animations flow smoothly, with the side characters and enemies popping out from the world around them. Speaking of the characters, they talk in the same series of grunts and gargles that were commonly used in platformers of the N64 era. It’s an acquired taste, and while I did find the dialogue between those characters funny, the characters themselves were not that memorable or interesting. Yooka and Laylee are serviceable heroes, but I didn’t really grow attached to them in my time with the game. The villain and his henchman, Capital B and Dr. Quack, were not compelling, and most of the side characters did not make much of an impact.
Blast from the past
Looking at Yooka-Laylee, it would be remiss to not discuss the legacy of games like Banjo-Kazooie, which plenty of Playtonic’s developers worked on. This game contains all the hallmarks of those kind of 3D platformers, and it is to Yooka-Laylee’s benefit that relatively few games in the genre have been released in recent years. At times I feel like Yooka-Laylee is too dependent on nostalgia, unwilling to try new things and instead coast by on the legacy of the games that came before it. Ultimately, that’s what makes Yooka-Laylee so good - it’s a return to a kind of platforming that few have been willing to try, and largely succeeds in doing so.
When it comes down to it, Yooka-Laylee just feels good to play. It’s great to control, it’s fun to explore, and it scratched the collectible itch in me in a way that few games have managed to properly accomplish nowadays. If you’re a fan of wide open 3D platformers, or are wanting to take a nostalgia laden trip through one, Yooka-Laylee is certainly the game for you.
Great gameplay loop, huge worlds to explore and unlock
Camera issues, characters feel stiff and lack personality