Disclaimer: This game was provided to me by a PR company for the purposes of a review. This will not affect my review in any way, and is being explained for the purposes of transparency with our audience.
There has been a lot of buzz around Yooka-Laylee, and understandably so. The developers behind the game, Playtonic Games, are a team headed by Rare veterans who worked on (or in one case even created) Banjo-Kazooie so these guys know their stuff. The game raised a lot of buzz on KickStarter raising £2 million, with 73, 000 people supporting it. Again, understandably so. Yooka-Laylee follows the adventures of Yooka (the green chameleon) and Laylee (the purple bat) as they adventure through the world attempting to stop Capital B’s plan to own every book in the world and then sell them for an enormous profit.
The game is a return to a genre of gaming that many, myself included, thought was dead. Platformers such as Banjo-Kazooie, Crash Bandicoot and the like have all fallen to the wayside to make room for shooters and open-world exploration games. Could Yooka-Laylee be the reviver of the genre? Its KickStarter certainly seems to point to a demand for this style of gaming, but has the hype-train ruined Yooka-Laylee before it could ever become a thing? Let’s break the game down.
The story behind Yooka-Laylee is very simple. Capital B, the game’s main antagonist, has captured all of the books in the world and plans to sell them at ridiculously high prices seeing as his corporation is now the only one in the world who can sell books. He did this by essentially turning on a very powerful vacuum that sucked up every book in the world. The camera then changes to show Yooka and Laylee laying on a rock, with a very nice and expensive looking book laying next to them. Laylee explains she found the book in her and Yooka’s new home. The book is then sucked up by the earlier mentioned giant vacuum and so begins Yooka and Laylee’s journey to get back their book.
What’s so special about this book? Well this book is The One Book; a book of immense power with the potential to allow its user to re-write the universe as they see fit. Add to this the fact that the pages of the book are made of gold and you start to see why Capital B wants the book so badly. The price of gold has never been higher!
The pages of The One Book rip themselves out of the book and scatter themselves around the world in various places. Some in Hivory Towers (Capital B’s corporate lair), with the rest being spread through the worlds that Yooka and Laylee can explore. Yooka and Laylee explore the worlds collecting the Pagies (that’s the name of each individual page of the book), restoring those that have been ripped in half and setting free those that have been caged. These Pagies are used as the games main currency and then are used to obtain abilities and open/expand worlds in the game. Expanding the worlds opens more areas for Yooka and Laylee to explore and more Pagies to collect.
The gameplay of Yooka-Laylee is fairly simple. The game is an open-world platformer. The controls are easy to understand and haven’t confused me in the time I’ve been playing the game. Players enter Hivory Towers and from there are introduced to the worlds they can explore. You use the few Pagies you’ve collected to open the first world, and off you go. From here you collect more Pagies and buy abilities from Trowzer, or expand the world you are already in. Trowzer is this game’s salesman, and a stereotypical one at that. He promises to help Yooka and Laylee if they help him, but from the get-go you can see he has some tricks up his sleeve. He promises you a free ability for opening the first world, but of course there is an unspoken catch and you receive the free ability on route to opening the second world.
If you decide to take the game on world by world, as I did, you will find yourself exploring the first world and completing the missions as they become available. As I collected Pagies I started visiting Trowzer and buying the abilities he was selling. Now you can buy these in any order, but I found that in order to complete all of the areas in World 1 I needed all of the abilities Trowzer was selling, and even one from World 2. You may find yourself doing that from time to time; heading off to another area to buy an ability ,or to collect more quills, and coming back to the task you were stuck on. World 1 offers some crucial abilities. Here players will receive Yooka’s ability to eat berries which then grants extra temporary abilities. Orange berries allow Yooka to breath fire, blue berries allow him to squirt water and silver/icey berries allow Yooka to shoot snow balls. There is also the ability to roll which, not only allows for faster travel, but also is needed to traverse slops in the game that cannot be run up. Then there’s Laylee’s ability to produce a sonic sound that wakes up totems to reveal invisible platforms to reach new areas.
Using certain abilities, such as the roll, drains the power meter and so can only be used for small amounts of time. This isn’t too much of an issue though. Around the world, and sometimes when you defeat the enemies within worlds, you will come across butterflies. These butterflies can be used to do one of two things. Pressing O (on PS4) when close to them will cause Yooka to eat them with his tongue and each one eaten recovers one of the butterflies that make up Yooka and Laylee’s life bar. Alternatively you can collide into them to instantly refill your power meter. The power meter refills itself a few seconds after you stop using whichever ability it is that’s draining it, but the butterflies are useful in instances when you need to get back into a task quickly such as racing Nimble or when facing The Great Rampo. Then there’s Vendi. Vendi, who as you may of guessed is a vending machine, allows the player to attach one Play Tonic (get it?) to Yooka and Laylee which modifies them in some way. Some examples include; a tonic to add an extra butterfly onto Yooka and Laylee’s health bar, a tonic that decreases the amount of power the rolling ability uses and a tonic that removes fall damage.
In terms of losing life in the game, it honestly doesn’t matter all that much. If you do lose all of your life all that happens is you restart from whatever the last entrance was that you entered. So if you enter a world, do not enter any buildings and then die you will just simply respawn at the beginning of the level. There is no life system in Yooka-Laylee, which led to me developing a “Eh, f*** it” attitude while playing. You may find yourself with one butterfly left in your health bar, but you will not find yourself stressed. This is both a pro and a con. While it makes for a relaxing experience running around in the game’s colourful world, the lack of a life system removes the worry of dying which I feel takes something away from the game just a small amount. It was one thing that the old platformers did well as it stopped you rushing in recklessly. However in Yooka-Laylee all you do is simply enter a nearby building, exit and then when you die you’ll just respawn nearby. It kind of defeats the point of a platformer in my opinion. To me the best part of a platformer was the feeling of being near the end of a level with just one life left, and knowing that one wrong move meant starting all over again. That edge of the seat gaming is something I feel is missing from the game, but again that’s just my opinion. Some of you may prefer a more chilled out platforming experience.
While exploring the worlds you may come across a chirpy, retro looking T-Rex standing by an arcade machine. This is Rextro Siztyfourus, a medallion wearing T-Rex who is guardian of the arcade machines. While journeying around Yooka-Laylee you may find a Play Coin. These coins can be redeemed at Rex’s arcade which allows you to play on his arcade machine. These machines feature little mini games that are also accessible on the main menu and playable with up to 3 friends or can be played again from the main menu solo. The majority of the games aren’t anything to write home about, however for me personally there were 3 standout games: Glaciators, Kartos Karting and Blag The Flag. These three are great fun and to me were the best, but I do suggest trying them all.
You can’t talk about this game without talking about its appearance. The graphics are what you would expect of Rare veterans. The world Playtonic have created is a vibrant, colourful beautifully textured world that makes you want to explore. In my time playing Yooka-Laylee I never once looked at the world I was in and get bored of its appearance. Honestly, I don’t have much more to say about the graphics. Playtonic did a perfect job, I genuinely cannot fault it. It’s everything I expected from a platformer that was made to run on today’s consoles. The audio of the game just adds to the experience. The music while you’re journeying through the worlds perfectly matches the vibrant world you are in and again, in terms of background music of the game, cannot be faulted. I did just have one small audio complaint though.
The noises characters make when speaking. I understand that in Banjo-Kazooie, the game most of the headers of this team are known for, the characters made sounds instead of having speech. That isn’t my issue. It’s the actual sounds they make when talking. Yooka sounds like someone held down A on a keyboard and put it into a text-to-speech programme. At first it’s somewhat charming, but after a while it begins to ring through you. I found myself growing to hate interactions with Trowzer, or any other character, as I knew Yooka would talk. Dr. Quack, Capital B’s underling, is just as bad. With the cutscenes being unskippable, mainly as they hold crucial story, you just have to sit there and get used to the noises the characters make. Pressing X does nothing in cutscenes, it doesn’t skip to the end of the speech bubble as it does out of cutscenes, so you will eventually get used to the noises the characters make. However I haven’t as of yet.
In conclusion, I love Yooka-Laylee. What Playtonic have created here is a return to a genre that I thought was long gone, and a bloody good one at that. The colours, the music, the gameplay; it’s perfect. Yes there is the issue I personally have with the characters voices, but seriously I can look past it. It’s a minor issue compared to what Yooka-Laylee is; a true return to old-school platformers. It’s a game I highly recommend to anyone who misses those classics like Banjo-Kazzoie and Crash Bandicoot. Even if you’re unsure about buying it, just play it however you can. At a show, at a friend’s house, or watch a stream. If you’re a fan of old school-platformers, you cannot miss this game.
Yooka-Laylee is a charming return to the platforming genre. The story is generic, but all platformer stories tend to be. The gameplay is almost exactly what I was looking for, I must admit I do miss not having a life system. The graphics are beautiful, as is the audio. The character’s speech does drag the audio down a tad for me personally, but it is something I can look past. A must play for platformer fans.