Yooka-Laylee Review | A Rarely Consistent Adventure
The 3D platformer has been stagnant for a while now, with only Mario, Ratchet and Clank continuing to fly the flag for what was once a vital genre. Yooka-Laylee‘s hugely successful crowdfunded Kickstarter campaign, in which developer Playtonic Games (a studio formed from the remnants of Rare’s old team) bagged over £2 million and smashed its initial £175,000 goal, proved that there was a considerable market for a return to the games that defined the late ’90s. So nostalgia has carried Yooka-Laylee to development, but has it managed to step out of the shadow of its spiritual predecessor Banjo-Kazooie?
The game’s titular heroes possess a similar kinship to Banjo and Kazooie, with lizard Yooka doing most of the legwork while his bat companion Laylee helps him glide across platforms along with being capable of pulling off a few ranged attacks, such as a sonar beam that disorientates enemies or a glass-shattering screech. The duo have been tasked with collecting sentient golden pages referred to as Pagies, stolen by the nefarious Capital B who is, as his name suggests, a giant bee. These Pagies are scattered throughout each world, and can be obtained by solving puzzles or helping out one of the various friendly characters inhabiting each world.
Yooka-Laylee has a promising introduction. The tutorial world of Shipwreck Creek is vibrant and colorful, while Hivory Towers is its sprawling, industrialist HUB world that grows substantially as you unlock new abilities to access new areas. The first world, Tribalstack Tropics, is a floating archipelago begging to have all of its nooks and crannies explored, with secrets tucked away in hard-to-reach areas and an impressive variety of activities to complete. I spent a great deal of time happily trying to uncover everything it had to offer, with it evoking Rare’s Nintendo 64-era platformers as a result of actually making me want to collect the items littered around the world, rather than me feeling obliged to do so in order to unlock the next location or a new PSN trophy. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt compelled to be a completionist in a platformer, but Tribalstack Tropics exemplifies everything I appreciated about Rare’s 3D classics.
Pagies can be used to either unlock a new world or expand an existing one, with these expansions either opening up each world’s most enjoyable quests or, in some cases, changing their gameplay altogether. The amount of variety on offer here is impressive, with some Pagies requiring you to collect gems while hurtling around on a mine cart, play a spot of golf or sail a ship while blowing up asteroids. Playtonic has clearly made a concerted effort to keep a hold of the player’s attention, and for the most part it works. Though some of these objectives can be frustrating — the camera can be erratic at times, which can prove to be awkward when attempting to make precise movements — for the most part they are enjoyable and rewarding.
Unfortunately, Yooka-Laylee began to lose steam as I progressed through the game, with Playtonic struggling to match the level of quality on display in its opening stages. The cracks begin to show in its third world, Moodymaze Marsh, a desolate swamp area coated in turgid greens and browns that is no fun to traverse through, its dreary surroundings matched by dull objectives that feel worlds apart (pun intended) from the game’s first sprawling level. The following world, Capital Cashino, has a selection of more unique activities such as slot machines and other casino-related tasks, but it is sparsely decorated and desolate in comparison with the game’s opening stages. It’s by no means a bad level, but it doesn’t live up to the bar set by the game’s opening hour.
But despite the game stuttering towards its conclusion, there’s still a lot to enjoy about it. Yooka and Laylee control effortlessly, with the majority of their abilities providing useful ways of traversing throughout its worlds and tackling their challenges. I found myself returning to its earlier stages after unlocking certain abilities and finding new areas I previously hadn’t even spotted, ensuring that there’s a great deal of replayability tucked away here.
While it may only boast five worlds in total, I clocked in at least 15 hours trying to unlock everything and still have a long way to go if I want to achieve my goal. Alongside the Pagies, there are other collectables such as quills, atoms that can be used to transform Yooka and Laylee into anything from a snow plough to a giant plant, and coins used to play one of several short arcade-y mini-games. There’s a lot of diversity here, and despite its later stages appearing empty, there’s plenty to do for those willing to explore.
Yooka-Laylee may not live up to my memories of Rare’s old 3D platformers, but it’s still a worthwhile new venture from Playtonic and provides a good, if inconsistent, new collectathon to enliven the hibernating genre. Those familiar with Playtonic’s previous output when working with Rare will appreciate the tight platforming, witty dialogue, colorful cast of characters and array of hidden secrets, and for everyone else this is a platformer brimming with ideas that unfortunately struggles to maintain its momentum.