Scott Watson reviews Yooka-Laylee…
Is it cool to say this is gloriously retro? Is it far enough back in gaming history, that we can class a game that has its heart, soul and roots in the superb platforming spectacles of the N64 era as retro? You know what, screw the retro, Yooka-Laylee is platforming glory that is very nearly a perfect example of its kind.
It’s been nearly two years since the game was floated as an idea on Kickstarter, grew legs, and took off to the tune of £2.1million from 80,000 backers. It was and still is (to date) the most funded UK games kickstarter ever. No surprise given the development team are, for the most part, all ex-Rare.
Yooka-Laylee hearkens back to the days when platformers such as Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country were king. Parallels have been drawn, in particular, to Banjo-Kazooie thanks to the ex-Rare team influence and the considerations of it being a spiritual successor to the N64 hit.
Introducing us to Yooka (a small green lizard), and his partner Laylee (a purple bat with a large nose), the game begins in their home of Shipwreck Creek as the pair enjoy a lazy sunny afternoon. Feeling the need to read, Laylee goes to grab a favourite book (that just happens to be magical) only to find it ripped away from their grasp and shredded.
Their favourite book stolen, with its pages spread across the lands, the pair decide to embark on an adventure to restore the book and thwart the evil plans of dastardly tycoon Capital B and his sidekick scientist Dr. Quack’s to absorb all of the world’s books and have a monopoly over the book industry. Cartoon comic book plot in a nutshell right there!
This premise sets you off on a platform adventure collectathon, crossing multiple expanding 3D levels throughout the game, all reached through the main hub and Capital B’s headquarters, Hivory Towers. Anyone used to the platform antics of the likes of Mario, Banjo-Kazooie et al will feel right at home here!
Your key collectibles (although there are many) are the Pagies, the ripped golden parts of Laylee’s stolen book. Throughout each level they’re either trapped in cages or held behind a side quest from one of the many colorful characters you’ll encounter throughout the game. The game does a great job of mixing up different ways and means to capture each of them; sometimes it may be a simple fetch quest, others it may be taking out waves of Capital B’s minions, solving puzzles, doing some crazy platforming gymnastics or even racing around the level to beat the clock. None of it ever feels boring or overtly long. Infuriating? At times it can be, predominantly because of my own lack of speed or timing thankfully and not because of unresponsive controls. The camera can at times go a little bit crazy, but these occurrences tend to be few and far between.
Collecting the Pagies is key to progression in the game. Hivory Towers has a number of Grand Tomes spread throughout, that unlock each level of the game if you have collected a specific number of Pagies. Getting to the Tomes generally requires some degree of puzzle solving or use of new powers that our green and furry buddies acquire along the way and usually from shifty salesman Trowzer, a snake in a fetching pair of shorts who is never off his 80s inspired brick of a mobile phone. Yep, from that sentence alone you can appreciate the kind of humour weaved throughout the game too!
One of the great things about Yooka-Laylee is the manner of control the game has in ensuring you’re kept interested without getting bored of the same tasks. While the Pagies are the central focus, golden quills are dotted around the levels as well that allow you to purchase new moves from Trowzer that, in turn, allow you to visit areas previously out of reach. It’s platforming 101 granted, but it’s a lot of fun as you see your powers unlock, knowing immediately how and where they can be put to use. From simple upgrades such as higher jumps, to spin attacks, water bubbles and Yooka’s ability to eat particular types of fruit or objects, they all have a purpose and are all put to good use throughout each level.
It’s worth noting here too that the characters and levels are all incredibly bright, colorful and cartoon like in their quality. When you expand the levels further using the Pagies, it can be breathtaking making it to the highest point and looking down across the whole gaming area. The humour throughout is more wry smile and knowing nod than anything laugh out loud, but that works fine for me. Those aware of Rare’s history will probably see more than a few nods to Banjo-Kazooie in particular. Hell, there’s even a great cameo from Shovel Knight in there. If I had one complaint to make on this front, it’s that I wish they were all voiced rather than the grunts, growls, squeaks and what not you hear. This would add another layer to the personalities on show and give the game even more sheen.
It’s testament to Playtonic Games pedigree, that throughout Yooka-Laylee the only grumbles I can muster are a few camera issues and a lack of voice acting. It’s a delightfully beautiful return to classic platform gaming and shows when done right that there’s still life in the old dog yet.
+ Beautifully colorful worlds and characters
+ Challenging platforming and puzzles throughout
+ Huge levels to explore
+ There is a LOT to collect!
– Camera can lose track at times
– Give them all voices!
– There is a LOT to collect!
Platform review on Xbox One (also available on PC, Linux, Mac and PS4)
Yooka-Laylee is available from April 11th on PS4, Xbox One and PC