Also On: PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Playtonic Games
My first hour with Yooka-Laylee was a nostalgia filled wonder trip down memory lane. Sure, I have played Banjo-Kazooie dozens of times since its launch, but it hasn’t been new in years. This is my first experience with a new game in that vein and oh man was I excited. I ran around marveling at the beautiful environment, taking in every detail while growing accustomed to my new pair of characters. The story made very little sense up front, but I didn’t care. I was here for platforming; glorious, nostalgic platforming. You will notice me use the word nostalgia a lot in this review, and that is mainly because a major source of fuel that keeps this game going, and makes it special, is the nostalgia.
My first interaction with an NPC that wasn’t one of my two companion characters set the tone for the rest of the game. Trowzer the snake, the friendly salesman is a literal snake wearing pants. If you are confused as to how that works, find a picture. Just be real careful typing that one into Google. He will be your guide and vendor throughout the entirety of Yooka-Laylee. The skills you buy from him get progressively more impressive as you continue through your adventure, and are never unobtainable or too expensive. You pay him with quills, little golden feathers you collect through each of the worlds in Yooka-Laylee.
Speaking of the worlds, there are five in total, plus the hub world. The hub acts as a tutorial as you progress. Each new skill you learn can be tested and inside the hub and is required to be grasped before moving on. I say there are five worlds because that’s how many different places you can get to, but in reality there are ten. Each world can be expanded by finding a designated number of Pagies, these are the main collectable you hunt in Yooka-Laylee. After exploring a world and doing everything you think possible or everything you see, you can return to the hub and choose to expand the world. Expanding them opens whole new areas, new abilities and new mini-games, characters and collectables. It is the same general world but feels like a whole new level after being expanded. This aspect of the game really shines in some of the worlds you go through and brings a level of progression and expansion that is missing in a lot of games like this.
Each world is unique, and I will not spoil them for you here but four out of the five are astounding. The fourth world really brings nothing to the game and would be worth skipping if that was possible, unfortunately it is not and brings the game to a bit of a halt while you trudge through it. Fortunately, it is the shortest of the five and can be moved through in under an hour, but in a 14 hour game, one whole hour of “just getting through it” towards the end may mean the difference between someone completing Yooka-Laylee and someone giving up and never seeing the end.
In reality, there is not a whole lot of incentive to get to the end beyond the feeling of accomplishment and the desire for new gameplay. The story is lackluster at best, and definitely not the reason I play or would recommend Yooka-Laylee. The gameplay and the puzzles and platforming is what makes this game a gem worth playing, not the in depth narrative. There are some fantastic scenes and some incredibly humorous side-quests and characters, but they do not carry the game. This is something that I think the developers knew going in, and honestly I think too much narrative would have bogged down the game. I enjoy just running around at my own pace hunting Pagies and completing puzzles. The sense of accomplishment after tackling a large open area and checking the stats, which are incredibly intuitive and easy to track, to see that I have collected everything in an area is immensely satisfying. I love looking down from the top of a platform and seeing everywhere I have been and all of the obstacles that I tackled on my way up.
In regards to obstacles, the majority of them are environmental. Enemies are never a real threat and can be handled with relative ease. They are just as much a puzzle as anything else, you must figure out how to get through an area without running into projectiles or alerting certain foes. Bosses are the only things that are a real threat, and even they are again like giant puzzles. They are a throwback to bosses of an older era; they require persistence and patience, not high stats and crazy weapons. Figure out the puzzle for each boss and you will have little trouble finishing them off. Each world has its own boss that is accessible once you expand the world, and each one is different and requires its own tactic to defeat. Their design is a reflection of the particular world in which they reside, and all are apt representations. The boss fights are a major highlight of Yooka-Laylee for me, and one that I think players will enjoy. They are the carrot at the end of a level, and always worth getting to.
Mechanically Yooka-Laylee has some shortcomings, but nothing that was game breaking for me. There were times that I would fail to complete a platforming section due to inopportune camera angle changes but never to the point of continued frustration. Certain areas are tighter than others and things can get a bit wonky, but actually controlling Yooka is pretty simple and not difficult to master. Movement is always so important in these games, and Yooka-Laylee falls very middle of the road on that scale. It was by no means bad, but didn’t always feel the most intuitive.
Yooka-Laylee is a great experience, and well worth playing if you are a long-time fan of the work that Rare did. This is a game for veterans and newcomers alike though, and there is plenty here to hook a new player or new generation. A lot of the mechanics are a throwback to how things were before, and I don’t necessarily mind that. Some people however may find it slow and tedious at times. All in all I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Yooka-Laylee and would recommend you give it a try if you are even the least bit curious about it.