Yooka-Laylee made a huge splash when it was announced on Kickstarter; a platforming game from the Rare-fied minds that brought us Donkey Kong Country and Banjo-Kazooie? Where do we sign up?! Naturally, the game saw its share of delays, but the time has almost come for its release! Let’s find out if the wait was worth it, or if the glory days of platforming are truly behind us.
The Stage Is Set
The game stars titular characters Yooka and Laylee. Yooka is a male chameleon, and also the sensible one of the duo. Sitting atop his head is Laylee. She’s a wise-cracking, sarcastic bat who helps you to navigate the world. Together, Yooka and Laylee live in Shipwreck Creek, literally on a beached and wrecked ship. Their seemingly laid-back lives are suddenly interrupted by Capital B and Dr. Quack, as an evil corporation has moved into town and has begun to suck up all of the world’s books in an effort to put together an ancient and powerful book.
The story in Yooka-Laylee stays light-hearted throughout the adventure. There are so many references to old video games, and the modern video game industry itself, that just reading dialogue is a fun time. The game is “voiced” in the sense that the characters talk, but it’s all gibberish. Think of The Sims, but limited to only a few uttered noises per character. It’s incredibly annoying, but thankfully in most dialogue sequences you can press X to show all the text and shut the character up. It’s grating enough that you’re likely to do this in all the sequences that you can.
While the “voice acting” in Yooka-Laylee leaves a lot to be desired, thankfully, the Kickstarter campaign reached all of its stretch goals. This meant the team had extra funds to ensure the game launched with a wonderful soundtrack. Every world has its own theme, and certain sections of these worlds also have their own music. Generally, the audio work is uplifting, and will no doubt bring back memories of platforming games of old to many of you more seasoned gamers.
The platforming pedigree of Playtonic Games shows through in Yooka-Laylee’s level design. While there are only five worlds, called Grand Tomes, plus the overworld known as the Hivory Towers, each area is meticulously crafted. There are all kinds of things to jump on and over, or interact with. Enemies are strewn about as well, even in the overworld. They are generally cannon fodder, used when you need a butterfly health/energy fill-up. Since this game calls itself a collect-a-thon, every world is chock-full of secrets to discover.
The two main currencies in Yooka-Laylee are Pagies, which are caricatured pages from a magical book, and quills (as in the old-fashioned pens used to write on paper). Collect enough quills, and you can unlock new abilities for Yooka and Laylee, such as ground slams for Yooka, gliding and knockout sonar pulses for Laylee. Pagies are harder to come by, and they unlock new worlds in the game. Each world can also be expanded by spending a handful of Pagies. Once expanded, these worlds become even more intricate, and often have a myriad of new locations to see that were just out of reach from you previously. It’s an effective system that makes revisiting old locations a joy.
Yooka-Laylee’s approach to appeal to fans of older platforming games is a double-edged sword. There is no map in the game, for example, so finding everything the game has to offer is going to take quite a while. This is probably not going to sit well with modern gamers, who are used to such courtesies. There are also hardly any checkpoints – if you die in an especially challenging section of the level, you’re likely to reset from the doorway in which you entered the area, and you’ll need to redo everything all over again. Nothing in Yooka-Laylee is so tough as to be insurmountable, however. As with platforming games of the past, practice makes perfect, and you’ll likely be able to pass most challenges that the game throws at you within a handful of attempts.
In keeping with this theme of a classic sense of difficulty, there are also timed challenges that require tight platforming in order to complete. I often found myself down to just one or two seconds after attempting the challenges at least a few times. Yooka-Laylee may have colorful, friendly visuals, but it’s a hardcore platformer first and foremost. Again, this may frustrate younger/inexperienced gamers who are used to more forgiving challenges and mechanics. Since there are no difficulty settings to tweak, what you see is what you get. You simply have to hone your skills through repetition, but once you do, the feeling is very rewarding.
Camera control is usually a difficult thing to get right in any 3D platforming game. Yooka-Laylee’s camera is generally not a nuisance, but every now and then it locks its Y-axis in the wrong spot. A simple press of the R1 button brings the camera directly behind you, but the awkwardness of the camera tends to kick in during some of the aforementioned challenging portions of the game, which can hinder your progress a bit. Not a deal-breaker, but annoying nonetheless.
Yooka-Laylee was developed using the Unity Engine. Sporting a bright and varied color scheme to match the generally cheery, and oftentimes silly, tone of the game, it runs swimmingly. There aren’t often too many enemies on the screen at any one time, but everything runs very smooth and consistently. The initial “cold boot” to first get into the game from the title screen can be a little lengthy, but subsequent loads of worlds and sections of each world are on the order of a dozen seconds or so. The cartoonish aesthetic works admirably, and graphics are detailed to about the level you’d expect for a middle-budget title.
What is one thing that classic games almost always included, but which is lacking in modern games? If you said “a complete package that didn’t come tethered with already-installed premium items,” you’d be right. But we’re not talking about that. No, no, what you should be thinking of instead is co-op! Yooka-Laylee has co-op for its main campaign, which is a great addition. Beyond that, a tyrannosaur-like character called Rextro, who is modeled like an older, low-polygonal NPC, unlocks various arcade games. These are usually quick mini-games, such as a top-down racer in the style of Super Sprint, but mixed with the game’s modern physics and mechanics. These minigames can be played with up to four players, adding even more length to Yooka-Laylee’s playtime.
Yooka-Laylee is a breath of fresh air. Playtonic Games knows platforming, and knows it well. The incredibly precise reactions needed by players, coupled with the lack of some of the genre’s more modern conveniences may turn some newer/younger gamers off. But for those looking for a deceptively deep collect-a-thon that has an entertaining story and wonderfully-crafted world, look no further. With an asking price of $39.99, this is an easy recommendation for platforming fans.
Review code for Yooka-Laylee provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.