Yooka Laylee Review
Before reading our Yooka Laylee review please be aware that the author of this review (and other members of the Pause Resume team) backed Yooka Laylee on Kickstarter
Ah, the nineties. It was a time when Friends was still airing, Bel Air had a Fresh Prince, and desktop PCs were the size of Smart Cars. In some respects, it would be nice to go back, but some things are better left in the past.
The 3D collectathon platformer is, perhaps one of those things. Sure, back in the day they were all the rage, with Mario 64 cultivating an entire subset of a genre all on its own with a game that was a revolution at the same. Soon after the Italian plumber’s 3D debut, Rare’s Banjo-Kazooie followed, and was heralded by some, as the better game.
Fast forward a few years that included dead moles, swearing squirrels, magic wrenches, and a Kickstarter, and you finally get to Yooka Laylee. A game that raised over £2 million on Kickstarter mainly thanks to the nostalgia of those 90’s titles.
Enough about the past though.
Yooka Laylee is the result of a group of those who originally worked on Banjo wanting to create a title that evoked the Banjo games and others after it. It was the type of game that many said didn’t fit in these days. But, after leaving their jobs and starting up on their own dev studio, their Yooka Laylee Kickstarter spoke directly to fans of those games – myself included.
The end result, while not perfect, is still credible. Those who want to relive the days of hunting for Jiggies will find that Yooka Laylee delivers, but it’s not without its issues.
By platforming standards the world of Yooka Laylee is big. It’s easy to lose your sense of direction or try to figure out where you’re going, in part due to the fact that there’s no map.
I regularly found myself stumbling about the world, and in most cases found something new and interesting to discover around every corner, or, at the very least, thought something was suspicious and pinned it for exploration at a later time. It’s big, but not unnecessarily so.
As you peruse the early levels for Pagies (the game’s most important collectible) you’ll unlock new worlds which can be expanded with (you’ve guessed it) more Pagies. Yooka Laylee’s worlds are connected together by Hivory Towers, Yooka Laylee’s hub world that acts as your go-between, but is also intricate and orchestrated in such a way that it’s very much its own level. Hivory has different corridors to look down, buttons to press and Pagies to collect. As a hub, it’s the most impressive I’ve ever seen and doesn’t just act as a gateway to other areas – although it does this as well.
The Pagies you collect in Hivory Towers and other levels can be used to unlock further worlds for you to explore, with their being five in total. However, after you’ve unlocked a world, you can expand them further by spending your Pagies – making the world you initially thought you had cleared bigger, badder, and chock full of new collectibles for you to gather.
It’s a different way to handle the minute-to-minute gameplay, as it sees you constantly backtracking through not just the hub world but also the levels themselves. A tower you climb in the first level will abruptly end the first time you climb it with nothing of note at its summit, but after expanding the world, the summit will extend, meaning you have to climb again to find the new area. At times, it can be monotonous, especially if you’re reentering the level for just one Pagie, but when you reenter a newly expanded world, you’re shown a short clip of the new areas immediately, which means you don’t have to find what’s changed yourself, which helps.
“Those who want to relive the days of hunting for Jiggies will find that Yooka Laylee delivers, but it’s not without its issues.”
This mechanic also means that you won’t be able to completely clear an area before moving on, partly because of your Pagie count, but also because you won’t be able to reach certain areas in world 1 without the move you get in world 3. The game forces you to collect every skill before you can realistically tackle everything. This helps you to get to know not just the levels themselves, but also Hivory Towers.
Within both the main worlds and Hivory Towers, you’ll be given moves by Trowzer – one of a cast of animals prepared to help you in return for something. Trowzer, a snake with shorts and an 80s style phone, will want Quills (the equivalent of Notes in Banjo games and fairly easy to obtain) in order to teach you new moves.
You’ll pay for moves that will allow you to jump higher, help Laylee to fly and allow Yooka to change into different forms and spit elemental powers, amongst other things. Almost all will use up your Power Bar though, which drains away quickly while doing most activities, including rolling, which is the quickest way to get around. Most of the time you won’t notice the power bar, but when you do it feels like its only purpose is to make you wait a few seconds to roll again. It seems out of place and was likely only included to stop players using Laylee’s fly mechanic to reach areas they weren’t supposed to.
Yooka Laylee’s soundtrack will be reminiscent to anyone who’s ever played a Banjo game and elicits the sounds of those games so much so, that at times I felt like I was hearing a song from those days.
The crazy noises for characters talking during dialogue moments are also back and, in truth show their age a little. While most of it was fine, some conversations between characters tended to drag on a bit too long, especially if a tutorial was involved – but a quirky British sense of humour shines through at almost every turn, and it’s the first game in a long time that genuinely made me laugh. Playtonic’s constant jabs at the free-to-play model throughout the game being a particular highlight.
Yooka Laylee has two main issues though: the framerate and the camera. The former may well be fixed through patches, (we played a version of the game that hasn’t received a launch day patch) but the camera seems to have a mind of its own. At times, you’ll be thrown into situations where the camera will be fixed, locking you into a specific perspective in order to complete a task. In level two you’ll undertake a portion of the game with the camera fixed in an isometric viewpoint, which on the whole works flawlessly; at odds though is Level 1’s boss, which sees the camera fixed behind you as you travel up a ramp. You can’t look up to see the oncoming obstacles, and moving back towards the normal level will see the camera try to get its bearings again, often causing controls to be reversed depending on where Yooka and Laylee are looking towards when the camera flips.
This happens time and time again, and for a platformer, where timing and precision is vital, is a issue that will trouble. In most situations the camera is fine, but every now and then you’ll try to move it in order to get a better look at a jump or layout and it’ll rear itself again. In a game where the overall gameplay and platforming is quite fun, it’s a real shame that this issue persists.
Its unforgiving checkpoint system also gave me some frustration, as dying close to the end of a long platforming sequence will often see you vaulted all the way back to the start of the level.
Playtonic’s spiritual Banjo successor has issues, but at its heart it evokes the fun that the collectible games of the 90s had. Yooka Laylee, at its core is fun to play. Hunting around for collectibles in a colourful, platforming world has been done better before, but not for a long time.
Yooka Laylee Review Conclusion
Yooka Laylee brings the classic 3D collectathon platformer into the modern age, although not without camera issues. Despite that, it takes what made past 3D platform games great and puts it on a larger scale with substance.
We tested the Xbox One version of Yooka Laylee after receiving a review code from the publisher. Yooka Laylee is out on April 11th for PS4, Xbox One and PC, with a Nintendo Switch version due later in the year.
You can follow Craig on Twitter where he usually talks about sport and video games
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