The Kickstarter success story Yooka-Laylee has finally been released, Playtonic Games’ love letter to the platformers of the 64-bit era. While it succeeds in capturing the fun-loving nature of 90s platforming adventures, it fails to bring many new ideas to the table in favor of merely reworking past successes.
The adventure begins with Capital B, an evil corporate president, stealing a book’s golden pages from our lovable duo. Yooka the chameleon and Laylee the bat figure these pages must be valuable and set off to the villainous bee’s Hivory Towers to recover the lost pagies.
This is as far as the story goes, but that’s to be expected in a platformer built on a retro framework. The real story here comes from interacting with the game’s wacky and sometimes outright hilarious characters. While a good majority of the jokes do fall flat, and the characters do come off quite one-dimensional, there is a certain charm within the game world, and interacting with these NPCs is often more fun than it seems.
Yooka-Laylee is a beautiful looking game. Expressing a cartoony style that really pops on screen, a nice change when compared to the drab, and at times depressing, games of the modern era. There isn’t a ton to say about the visuals as they aren’t impressive on a technical scale and the game still suffers from the occasional framerate drop, but what is here is perfectly suitable for an updated 3D Platformer of a different time.
In my opening hours with Yooka-Laylee, the gorgeous landscapes, charmingly sassy characters, and lovable duo launched me back into my childhood in mere seconds. The wise-cracking bat and chameleon are extremely reminiscent of the leads in Banjo-Kazooie, their personalities, and banter mimicking the classic duo almost to a tee. This dynamic is fun for a while but after the first couple of hours it wears thin and we are left with what feels like a couple of copycats.
And therein lies the real problem in Yooka-Laylee: obsessive nostalgia. First and foremost Yooka-Laylee is a game of collectibles; quills, pagies, ghosts, and more are scattered throughout the worlds. Pagies are the main collectible in your adventure, which are obtained by completed tasks for characters, playing mini-games, and platforming. Quills are the secondary form of collectible and they are found almost everywhere throughout the game worlds and are used as in-game currency, which you use to purchase upgrades or new abilities. Examples include Yooka using power-ups to breathe fire, shoot ice, or consume honey to stick to slippery surfaces.
This nostalgic feel to the gameplay comes off dated and obvious. These ideas were fresh when they were first introduced but in the modern age lack the kind of dynamic placement and thought most players are used to. On the most basic level all of these elements work. There’s a lot of fun to be had running through the five themed words, launching iceballs at minions, and collecting away to your heart’s content, but with no real risks taken the gameplay comes off as stiff and extremely dated.
The worlds are varied enough. They include a tropical paradise, gloomy marsh, icy tundra, casino, and a galaxy-like environment. Each of these locations are unique in their own right and can be expanded by spending pagies, essentially doubling the size of each world.
One of the major problems here is, even with the option to expand each level, they feel still feel lacking. The Casino level is an absolute atrocity in this regard: empty and devoid of anything that made the previous worlds enjoyable. With Yooka-Laylee only being spread out across five worlds, it’s extremely disappointing that the team would choose such a dull and lifeless theme for one fifth of the game’s entire story.
It’s also puzzling that the weaker, more frustrating elements of old platformers are still present. The camera gets in the way constantly for example; locking in unusual places or swinging around during crucial platforming sections. There were several segments I found myself unable to see the duo since the environment failed to fade out to reveal characters or move to accommodate the new locale. Another major oversight would be aiming while shooting projectiles. On several occasions you are required to shoot an iceball at a specific target, clicking down the left joystick brings up your aiming reticle and as you’d expect it’s straight out of the 90s. It’s not accurate and you will find yourself wasting time moving too far left or right. I found myself running out of time on the iceball ability due to aiming controls and running back to the power-up in order to repeat the process. It’s disappointing to see such poorly implemented first-person controls in the modern age but based on the nostalgic feel of the game as a whole it’s not surprising.
Most of the fun can be found outside of the five worlds and in the games hub, Hivory Towers. Pagies are hidden in clever locations and hunting them down to find every last one never got old. In between each world, the game is broken up into trivia segments which are interesting enough on their own and test the player’s ability to pay attention during their adventures. These quiz questions aren’t overly tough and set out to trick the player more often than not but it is a nice change of pace to break up the gameplay between worlds.
For better and for worse Yooka-Laylee accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. A throwback to a time when 3D platformers reigned supreme, but it holds on to nostalgia too closely, never quite coming into its own. The lack of new gameplay ideas, a camera that gets in the way far too often, and too much of a focus on old gameplay tropes keeps Yooka-Laylee from being great.