Yooka-Laylee: review

 photo Yooka Laylee 1_zpsts2v06sk.jpg

  • Format: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbox One, PC, Mac, Switch
  • Unleashed: TBC (Switch), 11th April (all others)
  • Publisher:Team 17
  • Developer: Playtonic Games
  • Players: 1-4 (offline only, max 2 main adventure)
  • Site: http://www.playtonicgames.com/games/yooka-laylee/
  • Game code provided by the publisher

3D platformers. They don’t make ’em like they used to, do they? Well, actually, now they do; because Playtonic Games – stuffed full of people who worked at Rare during its golden Nintendo era – sought to change that via Kickstarter (and Team 17). The result is Yooka-Laylee, a game that – both for better and for worse – could easily be an N64 game running on a supercharged emulator.

Anybody with memories of Rare’s N64 platformers (especially Banjo-Kazoozie) will experience a rush of nostalgia-fuelled endorphins within seconds of the game proper beginning, which will only increase once the introductory cutscene is over. The cheery, multi-layered soundtrack has a few composers behind it, but the dominant mark by far is the distinctive sound of the legendary Grant Kirkhope. This complements perfectly the art design, as bright as it is varied. Rare by any other name, it looks better than ever in Space Year 2017 high definition, anthropomorphised vehicles and all.

The dialogue is a real treat, never taking itself seriously and drawing from a script full of deliciously terrible puns. Oldies like us may not be too surprised to learn that dialogue is accompanied by a series of nonsense sounds for speech like, yes, Banjo-Kazooie. Yet more nostalgia fuel, though it’s hard to deny that this can get annoying on occasion.

Kinda disconcerting to have a checkpoint look back at you.

The general design will be largely familiar to those who have played… wait for it… Banjo-Kazooie (last time we mention this, we promise). Levels are split across five different worlds, the entrances to which are spread across an interconnected hub. Unlocking and expanding new worlds requires ‘Pagies’, sentient pages from a magic book that you find hidden in corners or, 90% of the time, that you earn by completing certain tasks or challenges. Think jigsaw pieces in… um, another certain game. There are 145 to be had in total, but only 100 are needed to unlock the final boss fight.

The in-game currency is quills, which you ‘spend’ by speaking with Trowzer the snake (geddit?) for new moves. Initially you might find yourself working hard to scrape enough quills together; but with well over a thousand to find and relatively few moves to be had, you’ll actually have a full moveset fairly early on in the game. These include the platform classic bum-slam, a bubble that allows you to move as though you were on land while underwater, and (eventually) the ability to fly around wherever you like for as long as your stamina lasts… which, to be honest, is a bit of an odd decision. This move essentially allows you to break the game during certain challenges, reaping the Pagie reward without playing the game ‘properly’. It’s hard to imagine this was entirely intentional.

Still, that’s the exception rather than the rule, and there’s some fantastic inventiveness on display here. There are the sorts of things that you’d expect from a platformer. Races, assault-course type affairs, object hunts, boss fights (and you don’t actually have to do a boss fight to move on to the next world), etc. However, perhaps you’ll find yourself going through a mini-castle played entirely from a retro isometric perspective; or maybe you’ll get transformed into a shoal of piranhas; you could find yourself answering a series of randomly-generated questions before moving on to the next world to test how much you’ve explored, and how much attention you paid while exploring; then there’s the casino world where you earn chips to cash in for Pagies via activities including (but most certainly not limited to) giant slot machines, giant pachinko machines, and acting as a flying taxi for Arthurian pigs. At its best, Yooka-Laylee surprises and delights in a way that very few games are capable of.

At its worst, though, Yooka-Laylee serves as a strong reminder of how frustrating many nineties games could be.

The minecart sections (side-scrolling, nothing like this PR shot) will likely prove to be gaming Marmite.

This is in no small part due to the camera. Most of the time, thank the gaming gods, it behaves itself. When it misbehaves though, it really misbehaves, usually because it’s far too close and panics about where to look like a prudish aunt walking in on her nephew doing something private. Even worse, this tends to happen during sections that demand precise movement and well-timed jumps which, incidentally, the controls themselves aren’t quite up to the task for. Again, most of the time things are just fine, but the ability to tweak the sensitivity of the left stick would be most welcome. Then there are the retro styled games-within-a-game which, while a neat idea, are pretty dull and drag on far too long.

Talking of things that drag on far too long, the final boss fight is absolutely terrible. A multi-stage battle that requires you to land a total of over two dozen hits, it’s the worst kind of boss encounter that rewards trial and error above all else, and can at times feel just plain unfair. We shudder to think how many attempts we needed to finally claim victory, but we know it’s only our pig-headed stubbornness that prevented us from walking away and never trying again.

Putting our gripes into words is cathartic but, on balance, the good definitely outweighs the bad in Yooka-Laylee. Reaching and (hopefully) defeating the final boss will probably take you 18-20 hours or so, with 100% completion – if you’re prepared to fight through the minority of frustrations – probably taking anything from 28 to 35 hours. This is a game where the shine slowly fades over time, but the vast majority of those hours will be full of the joy and daft grins that long-time Nintendo fans are all too familiar with.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

One comment

  1. Nice post, Luke K.
    Thanks for your review! I’ll visit your website more often!

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