A Kickstarter launched in May of 2015, promising the return of 3D platforming the likes we haven't seen since the 90s. It was obviously an idea that resonated because while only £175,000 was asked for, over £2,000,000 was pledged. We all want to experience the nostalgia of falling off a ledge because we misjudged our flight ability.
Playtonic boasts an experienced set of employees, mostly from Rare. These guys know 3D platformers, having worked on the Banjo-Kazooie series – and you can see that influence in Yooka-Laylee. Yooka, the polite and helpful lizard teams up with his best friend Laylee, the money hungry and sarcastic bat who spends most of her time insulting people.
It’s these two that propel the story. Laylee is motivated to stop Capital B from stealing all the books in the world because he stole her expensive book – I’m not going to lie, it would motivate me too, Yooka on the other hand agrees to help Laylee because they’re friends. I kind of want a game about how they became friends because I don’t know what they see in each other.
Despite their odd friendship, watching Yooka and Laylee interact with each other and the cast is quite charming – whether it’s Laylee’s sarcastic commentary, or Yooka’s heartfelt offers of help. While Yooka-Laylee has a G rating, it’s also full of innuendo and adult references that older players are sure to have a good time with.
Yooka and Laylee aren’t the only likeable characters though. Think Crash Bandicoot or Sly Raccoon; colourful animals wearing various items of clothing (except Yooka, who goes completely pantsless, much to Capital B’s disgust) each with their own distinct personalities.
Most of the story comes down to the Capital B being a Bad Guy™, and you being the Underdog Hero. Each world offers a selection of platforming puzzles and side quests that have you searching for each new area just to make sure you’ve found every secret. You probably haven’t though, because there is a huge amount of things to collect in Yooka-Laylee.
Surprisingly, there’s actually very little to hate about the sheer amount of collectibles. We all know that old 3D platformers had heaps of them – it was part of the charm, right alongside animals wearing clothes. While Playtonic is certainly trying for a nostalgia kick, they also seem to have realised that no one likes to collect 100 feathers just for your mother’s thanks. Every single collectable in Yooky-Laylee is used for something. Quills buy abilities, Pagies unlock and expand the magical tomes that make up levels, and Play Coins unlock Rextro’s Arcade games.
If you’re a perfectionist and want to collect everything, then great! If you’re not, then you don’t really have too much to worry about. You won’t be forced to seek out Pagies for hours on end, as you tend to stumble upon new areas that house them pretty frequently. It wasn't until I needed to unlock later areas that I needed to seek out a few more of them.
My main complaint with the Pagies however, is that while it’s obvious that your reward for traversing an icy trail is going to be one, it can feel like it’s more trouble than it was worth.
Of course picking up Pagies becomes much harder if you hate a level. I loved the very first one I ventured into. It was a combination of a jungle, Aztec ruins, and a grass field. It had big open spaces with little nooks and crannies and lots of towers and high vertical platforming. You're not trying hard enough if you don't fall to your death at least once in a 3D platformer.
But the second level was ice themed, and we all know that no one actually likes those. The colour palette was limited, relying mostly on white, which compared to the rest of the game, was disappointing to see. Some parts of the level’s design were great though, like a random isy-metric (you read that right) dungeon.
While picking up the basics of the game is pretty easy – even learning new moves doesn’t cause much in the way of stress – I was constantly figuring out new ways to use the abilities I already had. I am ashamed at how long it took me to figure out that I didn’t have to go full tilt when Yooka rolled up into a ball. Part of that is my love-hate relationship with platformers, but it’s also down to very sensitive analogue movement which couldn’t be toned down.
The thing about nostalgia is that it often glosses over the really annoying bits and leaves us remembering the amazing. With older platformers no one had figured out analogue controls, or how to make a camera not feel like a clunky monstrosity. You can see what I'm getting at.
The camera controls were annoying, and took some getting used to. Trying to look around and move the viewport snaps it away quickly to give you the “best” angle. In the end you just have to leave it and let it do its thing. There's even a “look mode,” something I haven't seen since Ratchet and Clank – and I don't mean the reboot.
There are other campy things too: loading screens with awkwardly dancing Pagies and quills, three save slots in the main menu that show your progress, and an interactive hub world. But the nostalgia really kicks in during the mini games littered throughout the levels. In particular, during the first tome you get to race a cloud through a track he made – reminding me of pretty much every race and time trial I came across in my many years of PS2 gaming.
If you’re like me, you may have spent your younger years constantly arguing with your siblings as to who got to play. Thankfully Yookay-Laylee has single screen co-op play. Sadly it’s not every good. Player two gets to play as a small swarm of bees that don’t do much but point out hard to reach treasures. It’s not a selling point for me, but children might appreciate the feature.
What is awesome is the multiplayer arcade, which allows you to play eight retro styled mini games with up to four people. Some of the games are awesome, but are only good once or twice. My biggest piece of advice is to read the controls before starting.
My absolute favourite thing about Yooka-Laylee is the sound track. Veterans from Donkey Kong Country, Banjo-Kazooie, Kameo, and GoldenEye 007 come together to create an amazing experience. The music is always on point, escalating in battle and reverting to a happy, upbeat tune when you’re just wandering around. Sound effects are awesome and noises used for the character’s speech was great, despite the occasional annoying voice.
Overall, Yooka-Laylee was exactly what I had hoped it would be. Campy, platforming fun that had me both excited and frustrated, often at the same time. The bright colours of the characters and most of the worlds makes for a great experience, but a little more polish in the controls would’ve been great. There’s a reason certain camera controls became the norm in gaming today and nostalgia is not a good enough reason to go back.
Bronwyn received a digital copy of Yooka-Laylee from Team 17 for review.