Warning. The following review may contain disgustingly high levels of bias.
I loved Yooka-Laylee. I’m just going to put it out there straight away so we’re clear on that. If I could thank Playtonic personally, I would, but I’ll just say it here. Thanks, Playtonic!
Now enough with all that gushing (I say that now, but I am sure there is more to come), let’s have a look at Yooka-Laylee and why I thought it was so enjoyable as I try my best to review a game properly for the first time.
Yooka-Laylee has been on my radar for quite some time and I’m a big fan of Banjo Kazooie, to whom this duo liberally pays homage. I love the characters and I love the games. When Banjo and Kazooie were announced for Super Smash Bros., I’m pretty sure my reaction was something on a par with these guys:
That jiggie made me literally jig.
I am still bitter to this day that Nintendo didn’t buy up Rare instead of Microsoft, as the characters and games that Rare produced were so in line with what Nintendo was dishing out at that time, they truly looked a match made in heaven. You’d be forgiven to think that they were Nintendo characters. I’m sure in some alternate universe, they’re probably playing through Banjo Sixie right now alongside Super Mario Odyssey. I, unfortunately, do not belong to that other blissful reality.
While the original developers and programmers ultimately left Rare to move onto other projects and form different companies with varying success, the characters of these classic entries into the N64’s library lived on in Microsoft Xbox consoles, never seeming to quite match the quality or meritoriousness of their low-res ancestors, from which Yooka-Laylee really lays its roots. With the majority of the team of Playtonic comprising of the old Rare crew that worked on these games, it is unsurprising that they have been able to do a good job at digging up those roots and creating the stars of their newest characters.
And that of course it was makes this game as charming as it is. Yooka-Laylee has been criticised by some for being too much like Banjo-Kazooie in nearly every aspect, but I personally find that the reason why I liked it so much. It really brought back that feeling of playing an N64 collect-a-thon, while sprucing it up with some shiny graphics and expanding the worlds to a much larger size.
The premise of the game is extremely simple. Laughable to many, I am sure, but it follows the pattern of many other platformers that have very little in the way of story. This is no The Last of Us and that’s for sure! Not every game has to be rich in story-telling to be enjoyable and that’s fine. The game opens with introducing our antagonist, the mighty Capital B (a rotund bee that looks a weird combination of a minion and Robert Gru) and his assistant/vice president Dr Quack (a body-less duck that rolls around in what looks like a sweet dispenser on wheels), who is making preparations at his newly completed factory, Hivory Towers. Outside, we meet with the heroes of the story, Yooka and Layee, who are sunbathing and discussing a book that Laylee found inside the nearby shipwreck. As we see other books starting to be sucked in towards Hivory Towers by a huge funnel, their special golden book is also taken and the highlighted golden pages that inhabit the book are stripped away and fall in various parts of their world. It is now Yooka and Laylee’s mission to get their golden book back, which they think is a valuable asset perfect for flogging.
In order to retrieve these pages – sorry, pagies, the duo must venture into a total of five worlds that can be found within magical books inside the Hivory Towers. While the number of worlds is disappointingly few, as you gain more pagies you can spend them on each world to expand them and open up new areas and give access to more pagies, characters, and bosses. Each world has 25 pagies that can be obtained by completing certain goals, whether it’s assisting a character from one of these worlds, hunting down the five ghosts in each level or collecting all 200 of those pesky quills.
I enjoyed most of the worlds in this game, with the exception of Royal Cashino (world 4), which was rather empty and didn’t have the same level of challenge in how you obtain pagies in it. I liked the idea of mixing things up a bit by having to do various things to get tokens to trade in for pagies, but the challenges themselves did not require much skill, some of which were more luck based. Fitting for a casino theme world, of course. Many of the challenges in the game, however, do require a certain level of skill to a frustrating level in some cases. The level of difficulty really is all over the place, but does keep you on your toes. The enemies in the game are a bit of a pushover and could have done with a little more variety in more than skin alone.
When I first started this game, I had a very odd setup which I was thankfully able to fix, but initially the controls were awful, confusing and made the game a chore to play. I’ve seen a few people complain about the controls and camera in general, completely unrelated to the unique issues that I had, but once I sorted it out, I didn’t really have any problems with it at all. Sure, I think certain aspects such as its first-person mode could have been done much better and sometimes the flying was a little frustrating, but overall they did the job.
I made the mistake of trying to collect as many of the items as I could before moving onto the next world, but as certain parts of each world cannot be accessed until you get a particular move, it’s better to move onto the next worlds as soon as you can, and then return to the older worlds later to use your new moves to access parts of the worlds you couldn’t before. This is where we are introduced to Trowzer. A snake wearing a pair of trousers (get it?) who is portrayed as a very dodgy dealer with his massive 90’s mobile phone and wily ‘voice’. I say ‘voice’, because as with its predecessor, the game uses weird vocals instead of actual voice acting. Grating to some, but an absolute must for others, including myself!
While Trowzer the dodgy dealer is one of the characters that stuck out for me, the other characters in Yooka-Laylee certainly have their own charm. From the octopus lady Dr Puzz, who will transform you into various entities in each world, to the Knights of Hamalot whom you must aid throughout the game, there is a variety of colourful characters throughout, and boy do they like a good pun.
The writing in this game, to me, is top notch. It’s very tongue-in-cheek and there is a lot witty dialogue in there with the occasional innuendo thrown in to boot. You can’t have a British video game without them, right? The only negative thing I would say is that they do break the fourth wall a little too often for my liking and they don’t hold back on poking fun at the very video game tropes and mechanics that they have implemented into Yooka-Laylee. The comedy is quirky and enjoyable and I did snigger a lot throughout the whole game.
The music in this game is also great. I found myself humming many of the world themes when not playing the game, let alone humming along to the tune while playing it. I’m not so musically inclined to really talk a lot about it, but each of the world’s soundtracks are very fitting to the themes and for the most part are jolly and catchy, matching the bright cartoon style of the game itself.
Graphically I wouldn’t say Yooka-Laylee really stands out, but the models and worlds are solid, vibrant and clean. It suffers from that weird thing that happens when a model that is in the forefront of a body of water and gets wrapped up in the water’s ripple effect around the edges, but that was the only thing I noticed that kind of bothered me. Otherwise, a very satisfying game to look at! It also has a retro mode, which makes the game look like an N64 game, which while enjoyable at first, really does hurt the eyes after a while.
Most of the games I had been playing until picking up Yooka-Laylee easily passed 100 hours of gameplay and I decided that I would take a break from those epics and concentrate on shorter and more games to get through my backlog. Yooka-Laylee was first on the list, and what a place to start! I have a terrible habit of starting a game, not playing it for weeks if not months, and then completely forgetting where I was, what I was doing, and how to control the damn thing. Well, this time I was able to stick with it and complete it within the month, which I think says something about the game itself for me personally. It took me approximately 30 hours to complete 100% (although the actual play time was probably less) and I’ll admit I did use a guide for some of those more hard-to-find collectibles that had me pulling my hair out.
If you’re looking for a fun, relatively challenging and simple game that won’t eat up too much of your time, this is a good choice to go with. If you like ‘old-school’ platforming and Banjo-Kazooie in particular, then that is just a little added bonus to a game that will guide you down memory lane to those hours spent searching for jiggies in Click Clock Woods with the original bear and bird duo, but this time with a new animal partnership that I think are able to hold their own and provide equally as excellent company.
The ending credits were also something special to behold, as you see the sheer number of people who contributed to the kickstarter, you see how special this game meant to many gamers out there. Hopefully Playtonic were able to meet the expectations of those who helped get this game off the ground. They certainly met mine.