Yooka-Laylee review (Xbox One) – A spectacular Rare-vival
It has been said many times that 3D platformers are a dying breed, but a group of ex-devs from Rare and thousands of Kickstarter backers would beg to differ. Yooka-Laylee is the debut title from studio Playtonic Games, with the goal to bring back the platforming genre made popular during the Nintendo 64 era. With a colorful cast of characters, hundreds of collectibles, and lots and lots of jumping, it’s time to find out if the collect-a-thon platformer translates well to this generation of gaming.
In case you couldn’t tell by the title, logo design, and the wisecracking sidekick, Yooka-Laylee is a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, a game by Rare that fills the hearts and minds of many ’90s kids with pure, joyous nostalgia. Yooka-Laylee’s developer Playtonic is made up of key members from Rare’s glory days, and this becomes apparent when you realize just how flawlessly the game translates elements from Banjo-Kazooie, starting with the story.
It begins with an introduction to the game’s antagonist Capital B, a corrupt CEO who intends to steal all the world’s books for profit. As a result of getting their book stolen, a chameleon named Yooka and his bat sidekick Laylee make their way to his corporation called Hivory Towers to foil his evil plans once and for all. Sprinkled on this simplistic story are cheeky British humour, terrible puns, and some subtle or not-so-subtle innuendos like the snake named Trowzer.
Hivory Towers serves as the game’s hub, transporting you to different worlds via books. However, the hub has its own enemies and puzzles in itself, with most areas being closed off until you collect new powers by visiting the aforementioned worlds ranging from lush, green floating isles to bright and colorful casino. You will never come across two worlds that look even the slightest bit similar. One of the most noticeable perks of developing a 3D platformer for the modern generation is making these worlds bigger than they could have been on something like the Nintendo 64. There’s even a feature where you can expand worlds by collecting a certain number of Pagies, which are the game’s key collectibles.
Expansions can be as obvious as adding more to the map, or unlocking indoor areas hidden under lock and key. There are about the same number of levels in Yooka-Laylee as there are in Banjo-Kazooie, but the expansion feature adds an even greater amount of content for completionists. It took me 20 hours to beat the game’s story without getting 100% of the collectibles, but I know another fellow reviewer who logged in a whopping 68 hours and they didn’t even collect everything yet!
As stated previously, Pagies are the key items in Yooka-Laylee and are used to unlock new worlds, expansions, and you’ll need to collect 100 of them to get to the game’s final boss. You receive them by completing puzzles, challenges, and bosses within the worlds. Much like the worlds themselves, there’s great variety to the mini-games used to win these Pagies, my favorite one being the minecart challenges where you have to collect a certain number of jewels through classic 2D minecarting. These are the same people that made Donkey Kong Country after all.
Speaking of retro, a digital T-Rex by the name of Rextro will let you play with his arcade cabinets that feature original arcade games you can play by yourself or with a second player. These include a racetrack, obstacle course, collecting games, and so on. Although there are times like these where I wish the game was running at 60 fps since reaction timing is key with the fast-paced sections like the minecarts.
Yooka-Laylee runs on the Unity engine with 30fps on consoles, which is fine considering platformers don’t require a high framerate like online shooters or hack-and-slash games do. Even though the framerate dips occasionally, it’s nothing game-breaking. Visually, it has the aesthetic of an animated film with gorgeous lighting but some minor low-res textures which you won’t even care to notice. I also came across some strange glitches that were amusing at best, like water disappearing out of nowhere.
The best part about Yooka-Laylee that will fulfill your nostalgia fix is the music by Rare veterans Grant Kirkhope, David Wise, and Steve Burke. Their compositions evoke a sense of deja vu, as in they’re completely original, but oddly familiar. Each track sets the tone of every world perfectly: from the percussion sounds of Tribalstack Tropics, to the jazzy tones of Capital Cashino.
Every character in Yooka-Laylee talks in repeated grunts in classic Rare fashion which can be skipped during in-game conversations, but I found myself wanting to hear every amusing grunt each NPC makes. These individuals range from anthropomorphic animals, snowmen, plants, grocery carts, you know, the usual. All of them with the signature big eyes that Rare games are known to have. So much so that they decided to make googly-eyes an enemy! Come across these devils and they will possess any inanimate object nearby to attack you.
Combat in the game is pretty stale. Enemies may look different, but they are more or less the exact same. They’ll look at you, scream, and bum-rush you as fast as they can. You can take them out with one hit, two if it’s a squad leader indicated by a police hat. These little grunts are only threatening in large numbers. Then there are mean, gigantic brutes who can take off a good chunk of your health if you get too cocky. Despite the lukewarm enemy variety and combat, it was never the main focus of the game and should be treated as such. Yooka-Laylee is first and foremost a collecta-a-thon, and there is a LOT to collect.
Feathers are the most common collectible and can also be used as currency to buy new moves from Trowzer. The first few moves are based on Banjo-Kazooie ones, but now you have a power meter limiting the amount of time you can use them. Sorry, I know rolling is faster than walking, but rolling everywhere would be too easy. One of the later powers you get allows Yooka and Laylee to fly literally anywhere so the power meter is a welcome addition for the sake of balancing.
Other powers include Laylee’s Sonar, Yooka’s invisibility, and a spin-dash. These moves can be useful against enemies, but they’re mostly used to solve puzzles and get the Pagies. Thanks to the help of a character named Dr. Puz, the duo can shapeshift into the strangest things such as a plant, a swarm of piranhas, and a snow plow. These will let you access areas you couldn’t get to before, although controlling them can get really slippery at times, especially with the snow plow.
Boss battles are another big part of Yooka-Laylee and are also the weakest part of Yooka-Laylee. I stated that the weak combat wasn’t anything to worry about considering the game is mainly a platformer, and most platformers don’t have deep combat anyway. Unfortunately, this really becomes apparent with the meager boss battles. There is always one per world and they can get quite frustrating for the wrong reasons. For example, there is an ice boss that slides against the wall getting smaller and smaller the more you shoot flames at it. Even if you were able to aim in over-the-shoulder mode in this level (which you’re not), it would still be difficult to hit him when he’s at his smallest.
What’s even stranger are the quiz sections in Hivory Towers. They’re not necessarily boss fights, but they make a joke during the first quiz about how most of the budget didn’t go towards the bosses. The sad part, it probably wasn’t a joke. Your goal is to get past a river of toxic sewage by answering questions and you’re able to progress when you get them right. Three strikes though and you’re out. It’s totally out of place, interrupts the flow of the game, and is mainly just used as an opportunity to include more jokes. It’s a wonder how these made the final cut.
Nostalgia is one heck of drug. It’s a yearning for things that have come and gone, and it is rare (no pun intended) for something new to give us that feeling we’ve felt as kids. Thankfully, Yooka-Laylee is that new thing. Having played Banjo-Kazooie again recently, Yooka-Laylee feels exactly like that game, pros and cons included. Playtonic has perfectly captured the gameplay, style, and finesse of what made the 3D platformers of the late ’90s so admirable. But most importantly, they proved that there is a place for such a genre 20 years later.
Rating: 4/5 Atoms