Playtonic Games took the conventional approach with Yooka-Laylee; Assuming we go off the late 90’s version of developing 3D platformers. The same company, nay, the same people from the company that produced great hits like Donkey Kong 64, Banjo Kazooie, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day return to bring us a real treat – Yooka-Laylee.
There is no time taken to introduce the player to the game’s colorful (both figurately and literally) characters and overworld. Yooka, the green lizard, and Laylee, the purple bat, join each other on a rather odd adventure, collecting pages (referred to as Pagies) for a book that they just so happened to come across. The duo is rather attached to the book, like it’s the treasure of the lost ark, and as such, they decide that they must risk their lives to gather the missing Pagies. If you are looking for a deep and meaningful story – look the other way, but that is where the charm comes from with Yooka-Laylee.
It was never about the story as much as it was about an enjoyable experience. Laylee (remember the bat), is the one who provides the comic relief by finding a way to make fun of other characters, modern gaming, or even this game itself in nearly every conversation. It provides a good laugh for the older crowd, and while it may fly past some youngin’s heads, there are plenty of jokes and humor found in this game that is sure to amuse those early in reading.
Be ready for some some pun-based humor, as there are lots of puns scattered throughout the regular dialogue. There are even more knocks to what we know as the gaming industry of today, with some jabs being made to particular developers. An example of one of these jokes would refer to a racing cloud found in the game. After agreeing to race with him, Yooka blurts out “Cloud-Based Racing… How next-gen.” It is the subtle jokes like these that we would expect to find in a title developed by this team, and although they aren’t that funny, they provide a cheap laugh as your progress through the game. This, plus the pop-culture references found everywhere throughout the game, gives the characters a colorful personality.
Music composer Grant Kirkhope is back at it again with Yooka-Laylee, and it nearly brings a tear to my eye. The sudden jingle when you enter the game’s first level right to the Yooka-Laylee Rap found after completing the game is soothing to the ears. There is a lot of quality put into the music that combines so nicely to the game, with one example being when you swim through water, the music’s tone changes to a slightly watered out, but slower pace, making it feel like you are under the water. Of course, each level and area in the game have its music, with each one suiting the level’s theme near perfectly. The music meets any and all expectations I had and goes to show that you don’t need an impressive orchestra to complete the score for your game.
Completionists will find lots to explore in Yooka-Laylee, but they may get exhausted running back and forth between the game’s levels. An example of this is shown in the game’s very first level, where it is impossible to collect everything without collecting each and every ability found throughout the game. After the player owns the skills, they are then forced back to traverse through the lengthy overworld to where the first level is located, only to find out that there is one quill or golden Pagie hiding in a rather peculiar place. It is a bit tiring to have to traverse to each level again after acquiring a new ability, just to find out what you missed to have to do it all over again after continuing through the game.
That said, there are lots to explore and collect within the game. Ghost Writers, Golden Pagies, Quills, Vendi Tonics, play coins, adventurers, and more are found in this game. It totals to about 3,000 different things to collect – scattered between the game’s five worlds, not including the overworld. Those looking to complete the game 100% are likely in for a lengthy experience, while those who don’t care about collecting everything are bound to an experience that lasts about 10 hours.
Multiplayer options are present, albeit, limited. You and three other friends can jump in a game of some classic pixel-based titles, with each of them given an “HD” facelift. Most of the game’s resemble Rare’s past titles, like R.C. Pro-AM, Jet Force Gemini, and Solar Jetman, just with their own unique Yooka-Laylee twists. Most of the games are a blast to play, especially with friends and are a nice knock to retro games. Some of these games are presented as challenges through the main story, offering a Paige upon beating Rextro’s high score. The difficulty of his high score increases as you progress through each of the worlds, with the last world being incredibly difficult to defeat, even for the experienced gamer. If you are aiming for that 100% completion mark, it would be wise to practice up on your retro gaming skills; it’ll kick your ass.
The problem is Yooka-Laylee loans itself too much to nostalgia. In the end, the game feels more like a chore, traversing through levels collecting everything and repeating your travels to find all of the quills. There are some great throwbacks to Rare’s older titles, such as the characters’ personalities, the humor, the music and the general experience of the game. Even as I sit here, writing this review, the characters idle animations are taking effect, as Laylee charmingly bites Yooka’s ear as a prank. It’s this warm spirited game that has me so wrapped up in the nostalgic feels that it almost forces me to ignore the gameplay faults and focus on what the game is: a nostalgic masterpiece.
What strikes me is that for a Kickstarter title, Yooka-Laylee came out great. Usually, Kickstarters have a reputation of not meeting demands or coming up lackluster, and that is certainly not the case with Playtonic Games’ first title. While I have my gripes with certain aspects, the game’s graphics, music, and gameplay mix wonderfully, for a pleasant, easy-going experience when picking it up to play.
I’m torn. Everything about this game yells out “Rare” when they developed some of the industry’s best games in the late 90’s. Those were some of my fondest memories in gaming; running around, collecting every little thing throughout the level and having an occasional cheap laugh at my expense. That said, the formula feels watered down in a game developed for the modern age. There is a reason these games stopped being produced, or at least, very rarely produced nowadays. It ages terribly. It is a shame because I did enjoy this game. However, looking at the game from an objective level, it just doesn’t hold up.
Yooka-Laylee releases on April 11th, 2017, for the Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC. The game will also be released for the Nintendo Switch on a future date.
Thanks to Playontic Games for providing a digital copy of Yooka-Laylee.