Yooka-Laylee Review (PS4/X1) – “Return to a Golden Era of Platformers”

Yooka-Laylee is a three-dimensional platform game developed by Playtonic Games and published by Team 17. It’s essentially the spiritual successor to a popular Nintendo 64 game called Banjo-Kazooie, since it shares many elements from its audio and gameplay. In fact, a few of the original members from Rare who helped design Banjo are reprising their roles to bring Yooka-Laylee to a new generation of gamers. The title of Yooka-Laylee is a word play with the ukulele instrument, in much the same way as Banjo-Kazooie was a play from the musical instruments of a Banjo and Kazoo. If you were a fan of N64 titles such as Banjo, or even Super Mario 64, then you’re going to really enjoy what Yooka-Laylee has to offer. That’s not to say that today’s gamers won’t have plenty to enjoy as well, but Yooka-Laylee is a nostalgic trip down memory lane when open-world collectibles such as this were very popular back in the 90’s.

The story of Yooka-Laylee begins when a businessman known as Capital B, and his first-hand scientist, Dr. Quack, search for a rare magical book that will bring about total destruction and aid them in their global corporate takeover. They unleash a giant device that sucks up all types of literature in order to find the magical book, which so happens to be in the possession of our heroes, Yooka and Laylee. As the magical book begins to get sucked through the air however, pages from the book, called ‘Pagies’, begin to rip free from the book and scatter around the vast area that incorporates Yooka-Laylee’s world. Yooka and Laylee now venture out from their Shipwreck Creek home and enter Hivory Towers to locate the missing golden ‘Pagies’ before they fall into the hands of Capital B.

Gameplay: 4/5

There is much to do in Yooka-Laylee, but you’ll quickly learn that not everything is available to you from the start. Many of the Hivory Tower areas are locked away, and much of your move sets are unavailable at the beginning. As you progress though the campaign however (which took me approximately 20 hours), you’ll find that there is much to explore and unlock during your playtime. There are five separate worlds located within Hivory Towers: Tribalstack Tropics, Glitterglaze Glacier, MoodyMaze Marsh, Capital Cashino, and Galleon Galaxy. Each one focuses on a specific theme, and can be entered by locating a Grand Tome hidden somewhere within Hivory Towers, which is the hub portion of the game.

Once you locate the Grand Tome, you’ll need to unlock it by having a certain number of Pagies.  As you reach newer Tomes (worlds), the amount needed to enter the world increases. What’s interesting in Yooka-Laylee is that there are two modes to each world. For instance, you can unlock the first world with only three Pagies, which opens a small portion of the level. If you spend 7 additional Pagies, you expand the world to its full extent, giving you every option to explore and locate each collectible item. I normally would expand each world from the start, but towards the end only had enough to unlock the basic fifth world. What was nice about this was that it slowly introduced you to the world without it being overwhelming, as the expanded version felt too large at times. These worlds are huge, so having a small portion to peruse actually helped me to understand the level structure a bit more and make it feel more manageable in the long run.

The main goal of each world is to locate and collect Pagies, which range from easy to obtain, to incredibly challenging at times. Still, this gives players a nice balance of how they’d like to achieve their goal, as there are 145 Pagies in all. However, you only need 100 Pagies to reach the final boss. One of the gripes I had with the game, is actually about the boss encounters in each level. Unlike traditional video game bosses, the bosses in Yooka-Laylee can be found at any point during your play time. The five world bosses are all hidden at different locations, and as you search for ways to free the Pagies, you sometimes come across a boss battle. While I didn’t mind the bosses, I didn’t like how all you received from them was another Pagie. After feeling as if the boss of each world was a big deal, I thought that the reward of just getting one Pagie felt ungratifying. After all, you can acquire Pagies in numerous ways throughout your adventure, so getting another one after a boss was kind of a letdown. I would have preferred if the boss gave you something else of importance in return. But this is a minor gripe I had regarding boss battles. There is also a minor boss battle that appears three times in the Hub world of Hivory towers as well, as Dr. Quack makes you play a Quiz game before you can proceed. Very similar to Banjo-Kazooie, you’ll need to answer 10 questions correctly before you can win, so pay extra attention to the levels and characters within the game. If you answer correctly, you actually move up two spaces so you can shorten your Quiz, but you can only have three incorrect answers before being sent back to the beginning of the Quiz. Originally I thought this would be annoying, but it was an enjoyable break in-between levels. I will say though, that the final boss is quite challenging, so make sure to collect as many items and moves as possible before reaching Capital B.

There are many other items in Yooka-Laylee to collect in addition to Pagies. Quills are a basic feathery item that are scattered all around each location. The more you collect, the better the chance you’ll have at acquiring each upgraded move ability, which are needed to progress further throughout the game. The move sets can be purchased by a slithery character known as Trowzer, who can be found in each world. There are 200 Quills in each world. There are also five ghosts known as Ghost Writers in each world as well. Each one has a unique way to capture them, such as feeding them with some of the various projectiles, or using your sonar move to make them visible after hearing their laugh. The Ghost Writers are hidden very well around each world, so you’ll definitely need to keep your eyes and ears open. If you collect all five, you’ll receive a Pagie in return. Another interesting collectable in Yooka-Laylee is the Mollycool. If you locate this item (one in each world), you can then bring it to Dr. Puzz who uses her D.N. Ray to transform you into different vehicles, such as a snowplow, helicopter, or ship. This opens up the gameplay in a diverse way to offer you new ways to explore areas. One other item you can find are Play Coins, which after locating them, are handed to an 8-bit inspired character named Rextro, who then lets you play various arcade style mini-games to earn more Pagies. Finally, there are Play Tonics, which are game modifiers that help you enhance certain stats or abilities, such as giving you an extra Butterfly icon (which is the health item for Yooka and Laylee) or the ability to warn you when you are close to an item. Only one Tonic can be selected at a time, so you need to choose wisely.

As I stated earlier, there is much to do in Yooka-Laylee, and I found myself easily playing for hours without realizing how much time passed by, or wanting to come back to the game when I was away from it. But while I enjoyed the various exploration objectives of the game, there were some problematic areas as well. The camera for instance would fight you for control at times. It’s as if you had free reign of the camera but then if you neared a certain corner or obstacle, the camera would adjust itself to a fixed position. This became frustrating at times as I couldn’t see where I was going, and would get harmed or lose a Pagie challenge unnecessarily. More freedom from the camera would have been nice. I also found myself lost in the large worlds without knowing where to go, or how to reach a certain location I had found earlier. I know that Yooka-Laylee is supposed to be a throwback to earlier 90’s open-world games, but having a map of some sort would have definitely helped. Still, these are minor issues that can hopefully be ironed out if there were ever a sequel, and won’t deter you from enjoying the game itself.

Graphics: 3/5

For a Kickstarter game such as this, I’m actually impressed with the graphics. Each world is well designed, and the lighting effects definitely create the mood that each world calls for. Yooka-Laylee is a colorful and vibrant looking game, and the character designs all look great. There are some areas that affect it from achieving a higher score however. I noticed some areas with draw distance issues, and in today’s gaming world, that’s not something you see much of anymore. From far away, it was difficult to see where I was headed or which items were visible. This made collecting a bit more challenging. The water effects also looked a bit last gen as well, as they didn’t display much movement and seemed flat. At times, I couldn’t tell if something was water, or actual land. Again, this didn’t keep me from enjoying the game, but there were some graphical areas that could have been improved.

Sound: 5/5

The sound design in Yooka-Laylee really excels. It has the same charm as Banjo-Kazooie did, and I found myself humming to some of the melodies in the game even when I wasn’t playing. The soundtrack is catchy and the sound effects are perfect for this type of game. You can easily tell that Grant Kirkhope, the composer of Banjo, tried his best to mimic the same orchestral score that they had achieved with their previous iteration on the N64. The characters themselves don’t speak, but instead have a strange mumbling sound during their conversations. This was popular with Banjo and they continued that sound design option here as well. While some may find it annoying, you can skip most of it by pressing X and just read what the characters are saying instead, which are often humorous. Overall though, I really enjoyed the various music styles of each world. Each level has a fitting musical theme that matches the environment, and sound effects for each item and character are distinguishable from each other.

Replay Value: 5/5

Yooka-Laylee is a game that you’ll think about even when you’re not playing it, and you’ll look forward to visiting the world once more to see if you can find that collectable you were looking for, or realizing you may have found a way to collect that Pagie you couldn’t originally get to. There are so many collectibles to find and areas to explore that you’ll want to come back again and again. The game can sometimes be challenging, but I appreciate the fact that Yooka-Laylee didn’t hold your hand as many games today do. You need to learn how to complete objectives on your own, explore locations by visiting every possible area, and solve puzzles with little help from any on-screen tips. There’s also a hidden character from another indie game that shows up to lend you a hand, but I’ll leave that to you to find (if you haven’t already read about it online, that is).

Overall Score: 17/20 = 8.5/10

Overall, Yooka-Laylee is a great game, and despite some minor flaws, I really enjoyed playing an original IP that reminded me of games like Banjo-Kazooie or Conker’s Bad Fur Day from the Nintendo 64 days. Games like Yooka Laylee are few and far between, so I’m hopeful that there’ll be a Yooka-Tooie one day in the future!

Pros:

+ Nails the Banjo vibe

+ Outstanding soundtrack

+ Addictive gameplay

Cons:

– Camera takes control at times

– Graphics, while nice, could be more refined

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Yooka-Laylee! Copy reviewed on PlayStation 4.

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