Yooka-Laylee is a prime example of getting exactly what was advertised. This Kickstarted game was developed by veterans of several teams, some responsible for games such as Banjo Kazooie, and other popular platform titles from the late 90s and early 2000s. Yooka-Laylee is essentially Banjo Kazooie 3 without the familiar characters. Developer Playtonic has resurrected the 3D platformer, warts and all, and brought it into the new generation. The big question now is, will players respond to the collect-a-thon style game play of that era?
3D platformers were a genre of their time. Yooka-Laylee was meant as a sort of renaissance of the idea, proving that gamers and players alike still wanted games like these. Playtonic has nailed the exact feeling of the N64 days, including the issues I had with a lot of those games.
Platforms: XB1 (reviewed), PS4, Switch, PC
Price I’d Pay: $39.99
Each world in Yooka-Laylee feels like a massive playground. There is a theme and unique characters, all of which feature the same cartoon-style eyes and gibberish dialogue found in their previous work. Every level is also chock full of things to collect. Pagies are the main item, and these are used to unlock new worlds as well as expanding current ones. Then there are quills which are currency to purchase new moves. Levels also contain a health extender, a power extender, a hidden treasure, and a transformation device. Finally we have five ghosts per level, each hidden, and each one has a unique way to catch them. Whew.
Yes there are a lot of things to collect in the game, but again this is how these games work. Players are tasked with completing various mini-games and challenges in order to collect Pagies, while the rest are scattered throughout the level in various fashion. Levels can take hours to fully explore and finish, oh did I also mention there are hidden tokens to unlock classic arcade-style mini-games? Well there are.
Every world in the game has a unique theme, but not all are created equal. The game starts strong, and the first two levels invoke nostalgia, but also carry great design. Sadly, as the game goes on, the levels feel less inspired. The dark swamp level feels bland, and the casino world is all based around coins players collect in mini-games that simply aren’t that fun to play. Thankfully, the last area brings back the quality of the earlier ones.
As I mentioned there is a lot to do, but it is also worth noting that the game doesn’t hold the player’s hand at all. Some Pagies I still have no idea how to get. There are no arrows pointing out where to go, and while the camera does a pan the first time I entered a world, it never points out exactly where everything is. It is obtuse by design, and sometimes that can lead to frustration. There are already a million things to collect, no need to make it so convoluted on where to find them.
Throughout the game the duo will obtain new moves that allow them to get to previously unexplored areas. Some of them are pretty standard fare, while others feel uninspired. The core moves required to progress are free, but the quality of life ones cost quills. It is a nice carrot on a stick to progress, and each time I earned new moves, it came with the feeling of being able to go back and obtain items I had skipped over. Controlling Yooka works like one would expect. Jumping feels good, and the glide mechanic works as intended. Tying moves to the power meter feels more of a nuisance than anything else, and the camera will often times find itself in the worst possible position.
The mini-games that are scattered around the levels are actually kind of neat. They can even be accessed from the main menu, and played with friends. There is also a set of quizzes that players must pass before reaching new areas in the main hub. It is the personality of the characters and these little touches that really make this game stand out. The whimsical design really tugs on the nostalgia strings.
Visually Yooka-Laylee is a mixed bag. I loved the theme and verticality of some levels, while others felt bland and uninspired. Frame rates can also be an issue on console. While the game runs at 30fps most of the time, there are areas, most notably the casino level, where things get a little rough. It is never game-breaking by any account, but it is still quite noticeable. The music on the other hand is absolutely amazing. Grant Kirkhope and David Wise return bringing their familiar styles to the game. I still hum the title screen music on a daily basis. This is a game where a soundtrack purchase may be required.
Yooka-Laylee is exactly what Playtonic promised, and also exactly what I expected. While some of the levels are not great, the overall package takes me back to a different time where the genre thrived. For better or worse this game recaptures what made those games special, and frankly if it starred a certain bear and bird combo, it could have easily been a sequel to a game from that era. For those that long for collecting endless arrays of useless items, this game is a must play, for everyone else that grew out of that genre long ago, there is nothing here to bring you back. Except maybe for that music, my goodness is it good.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.