Yooka-Laylee: A Fine, Nolstagic 3D Platformer For A New Generation of Gamers | A Short Pause Review
Back in the late 1990s, when the advent of 3D graphics in video games was new and revolutionary, there was an array of excellent platforming titles that came out on the Nintendo 64. These games — many of them developed by Rare — featured colorful characters, unique worlds, and lots and lots of things to collect. Keeping with the tradition of titles such as Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64, the folks at Playtonic Games (some of whom are former Rare employees) have created Yooka-Laylee, a brand new collect-a-thon 3D platformer for the next generation of gamers. Although this game will no doubt be fun for everyone, it will definitely stir up some warm fuzzy nostalgia for those of us who are old enough to remember the golden age of Rare-developed mascot platformers.
Tale of the Tape
Release Date: April 11, 2017
Developer: Playtonic Games
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PS4, Switch, PC
In Yooka-Laylee, you take control of the titular duo, Yooka (a sensible green lizard) and Laylee (a wise-cracking bat), as they try to defend their home from the evil corporate schemes of Capital B and his assistant, Dr. Quack. These business-minded baddies have begun stealing all of the books in our heroes' hometown of Shipwreck Creek in an attempt to secure the One Book, a magical tome with the power to rewrite the universe. In order to put a stop to the evil plot, Yooka and Laylee must infiltrate Hivory Towers (Capital B's corporate headquarters) and collect the missing golden Pagies that were torn out of the One Book. Of course, our heroes receive some help along the way from a colorful cast of characters, including Trowzer, a shifty salesman snake who wears pants and a hat, and Vendi, a big yellow talking vending machine.
Within the Hivory Towers hub there are a total of 5 worlds to discover and explore, but there are also things to find and collect throughout the hub world itself. When you discover a new world, you must spend some of the Pagies you've collected to unlock it. However, you can also choose to expand the previously unlocked levels, which not only makes them larger but also adds additional challenges to complete for more Pagies. I was very impressed with the size of the worlds in Yooka-Laylee, and even found myself getting lost a few times while exploring them. There is a lot to do in each of the five worlds, and tons of things to collect. Pagies can be obtained by performing specific tasks for some of the characters that you encounter. For example, you can get a Pagie by winning a race against a speedy cloud, or clearing mushrooms out of a garden for a jive-talking shopping cart. Some Pagies are locked in "cagies," requiring you to solve a nearby puzzle or complete a specific challenge in order to gain access to them. In addition to the 25 Pagies that can be obtained in each level, there are 200 quills to collect in each world. These can be spent on new moves and abilities by paying a visit to Trowzer. Each time you purchase a new move, it allows you to explore more of the level or complete challenges that were previously impossible. I really enjoyed the variety of abilities that can be obtained throughout the adventure, and there are even opportunities to return to previously-visited worlds in order to mop up the remaining collectibles you couldn't reach with the move set that was available to you when you were there the first time. When you first start the game you can only jump, double jump, and attack by lashing with Yooka's tail. But, as your adventure progresses, you'll be empowered with additional abilities such as the Lizard Roll, which allows you to roll up steep hills, or Laylee's Sonar Rings, which enable her to stun enemies and reveal secrets.
There are also some recurring challenges that appear in every level. Each world has five spirits, called Ghost Writers, that must be found and caught in order to get one of the level's elusive Pagies. If you find Rextro (a polygonal low-res T-Rex) within each of the worlds, he'll offer you the opportunity to play one of his signature arcade games, provided you've found the play coin that's hidden somewhere within that world. This is where one of my biggest complaints about Yooka-Laylee comes to the fore. When playing Rextro's arcade games, you will get one Pagie for completing the game and another one for beating Rextro's high score. Unfortunately, there is no way to quickly restart the arcade game if you've had a bad run and want to try it again from the beginning. I don’t understand why the developers would omit such a vital feature, especially since these arcade challenges often require multiple attempts in order to surpass Rextro’s high score. Additionally, the controls for some of the Rextro games are a little bit frustrating, particularly the RC Pro Am-style racing game. Another character you can find in each world is a talking mine cart, named Kartos, who challenges you to complete a Donkey Kong Country-style mine cart level. In these challenges, you must collect enough gems before reaching the end of the track — avoiding enemies along the way — in order to earn a Pagie. But here again, you're not given the option to restart these levels from the pause menu, making the Kartos challenges far more frustrating and time consuming than they need to be.
Yooka-Laylee's overall presentation is where it really shines and scratches that nostalgic itch for me. The game features vibrant, colorful graphics and unique environments. The characters speak with a series of weird noises and grunts, much like the way dialogue was presented in the Banjo games. The dialogue itself is chock full of self-aware jokes, indicating that these characters are not ignorant of the fact that they're in a video game. The soundtrack is fantastically catchy, courtesy of original Banjo-Kazooie composer Grant Kirkhope. I especially enjoyed the theme for the 4th world, Captial Cashino. The game's controls feel good, especially in regards to the platforming and world exploration. However, there were some slowdown and frame rate issues that hampered my gameplay experience to some degree. There were times when I would actually miss landing a jump due to the game engine chugging at an inopportune moment. It's worth noting that I played through this game on Xbox One, and these issues may be isolated to this platform as I haven't experienced the game on PS4 or PC yet. Additionally, some finicky camera issues caused some frustration for me along the way. These issues aside, though, the game looked and played great overall.
Yooka-Laylee is a great first effort from Playtonic Games. The characters and environments are quirky and unique, the collectibles all have a purpose, and the unlockable abilities are fun to use. Despite a few performance issues and some baffling ease-of-use omissions, I enjoyed my time with this game. It takes over 30 hours to complete the game with 100% of the collectibles, which is plenty of content to keep you busy, especially considering the $40 price tag. Here's hoping Playtonic Games offers us another opportunity to explore the world of Yooka-Laylee before too long.
We reviewed Yooka-Laylee using an Xbox One review code that was provided to us by the fine folks at Playtonic Games.
- Unique, varied worlds and characters
- Great sense of humor
- Fun puzzles and unlockable abilities
- Fantastic soundtrack
- Minor performance issues
- Inconsistent camera
- No quick way to restart Rextro games or Kartos challenges