Available On: PS4, Xbox One, PC, (Switch Soon)
Developer: Playtonic Games
Genre: 3D Puzzle Platformer
Official Site: http://www.playtonicgames.com/games/yooka-laylee/
Release Date: April 11, 2017
Where To Buy: PSN Store, Xbox Live Marketplace, Steam, Local Retailer
As an avid fan of Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie, I make it a point to replay the games annually and try to best my times in them. So when I heard that the developers of the N64 games I loved so dearly were spinning off from Rare studios to work on a modern day spiritual successor, I quickly put on my rose-colored glasses and prepared for another buddy-duo adventure.
Yooka-Laylee is the first game from Playtonic Games, a studio composed of ex-Rare employees who worked on the likes of Banjo and Donkey Kong 64. The game follows the chameleon and bat duo, Yooka and Laylee respectively, who infiltrate Hivory Towers after their magic book gets stolen. Hivory Towers CEO, Capital B, and his accomplice, Dr. Quack, collect all the books in the overworld in search of a single special book that has the potential to rewrite history. But in the process of doing so, the book separates into individual “Pagies” that require collecting.
The game follows a similar format to the old Rare game. The buddy duo must explore different worlds discovered through Tomes, large books that can be expanded, in search of Pagies. Along the way, they must learn different moves that are purchasable via the salesman, Trowser, a snake comically wearing a part of pants, using another collectible called Quills, which are comparable to Banjo’s Notes. Each move set you unlock helps you finish more challenges, access new areas, and obtain more collectibles.
I was surprised to find how familiar the game felt. For better or worse, Platonic lived up to their promise of giving a game that would feel like the 3D platformers of yesteryear. The different challenges in the game scale pretty drastically. Certain puzzles were as simple as jumping on a button or ground-pounding a character. Others require serious precision and practice. The one thing I will say is that none of them are impossible, even if the feel so at first try. Numerous time I found myself cursing this game for being impossible, only to try four or five more times and figure it out.
The game is also full of incredibly likable characters and dialogue. Just like I enjoyed Banjo the bear and Kazooie the bird, I immediately fell in love with the near identical character dynamic that is Yooka the chameleon and Laylee the bat. Yooka fills a more straightforward, helpful protagonist role while Laylee acts as the sarcastic backup. Their interactions with Trowser are some of the most humorous aspects of the game, as Trowser is an overly dramatized depiction of a salesman, full of all the exaggerations and lies you would expect. The game is also extremely self-aware, through load screens talking about how the game would already be ready if it was a cartridge, Laylee making fun of character names, and numerous jokes about crowdfunding.
Each world also feels unique from one another, though a few stand out as being better designed than others. The first and fourth worlds have a stellar design element to them. The worst of these worlds is easily the ice world, Glitterglaze Glacier, where each section of the map feel the same. Even still, this world has one of the best aspects of the game, the Icymetric Palace, which pushed the game fittingly into an isometric view where each room is a different puzzle, which truly feels like the first breakaway from the Banjo/Donkey Kong trend.
For all the good the game does, there are a few flaws based on its persistence to keep old mechanics. All of the movement in the game is tied to one thumbstick while the camera is tied to the other, which causes some annoying struggles navigating certain areas. It also adds to some of the challenges in puzzles, but not the kind that is enjoyable or able to be overcome through persistence. Certain areas of the map are lit poorly, which for a game that requires you to keep track of your shadows when trying to land on a platform means that you are going to miss your footing.
The worst moment in Yooka-Laylee came in the form of a transformation. Dr. Puzz, the Mumbo Jumbo of this game, is a scientist who can transform Yooka and Laylee into different forms to conquer specific challenges. Most of these are either insignificant or truly enjoyable, like the spaceship form on the last level which has one of the game’s best moments. The worst of these comes on Glitterglaze Glacier in the form of a snowplow. This was easily the biggest struggle in the game, as the control mechanics are horrendous. It was the first time in the game I felt like skipping a section entirely because of terrible controls that caused me to slip off edges continuously.
Beyond this though, I genuinely enjoyed my time in Yooka-Laylee. As someone who misses the games of old, Playtonic did an amazing job of not only reminding me of the things I loved about those games but left me with an experience I’m bound to come back to just like I go back to Banjo. Even through rose-colored glasses, I can see the game has flaws. But the character the game has, the world it creates, and the quality return to form it presents are more than enough to outweigh these issues. I hope to see more Yooka-Laylee in the future.
- Gameplay: Familiar, though sometimes archaic
- Graphics: Beautifully rendered 3D animated worlds
- Sound: Classic amazing music from Grant Kirkhope
- Presentation: A wonderful return to a long forgotten genre of games
- Excellent, humorous writing
- Characters with great personalities
- A few wonderful worlds
- Sometimes outdated controls
- Certain worlds feel much more mundane than others
- Challenges arising out of camera issues