From the start menu to the final confrontation with Capital B, Yooka-Laylee feels like a 90’s platformer remade and repackaged for 2017. The music, the worlds full of personality and things to do, all within a game with one simple purpose: collect. Collect Pagies to keep them out of Capital B’s hands, collect Play Coins to take part in Rextro’s arcade games, collect quills to unlock extra moves, and so fourth, all within 5 diverse worlds.
Add in a number of colorful characters, minigames, and boss battles, then you’ve got Yooka-Laylee. It’s a game that lacks polish in some aspects, but there’s plenty of worthy exploration and fun to keep things entertaining. Combined with the excellent soundtrack, well-established atmosphere, and all-around fun gameplay, Yooka-Laylee serves as a great throwback to the old Rare platformers that fans know and love.
This is undoubtedly Yooka‘s simplest and most straightforward aspect. In the first cutscene, you meet Capital B and his army of minions seizing all the books of the world so that he can convert it to more money for himself. However, out of all the books, it’s the sacred golden book that’s most crucial to Capital B’s plan. Just as he’s about to get it, the “Pagies” inside of the book fly out and flee from him. This allows Yooka and Laylee to seize the opportunity and collect the Pagies before Capital B can get them.
The story doesn’t get any more complicated than that, and that simplicity works perfectly. The story never gets in the way of player freedom and fun. This allows the story moments to be enjoyed rather than resented. The story develops through dialogue between Yooka and whatever NPC is present, with the standard Rare-style voice-acting consisting of random noises repeated. This style of dialogue is another reason why the story’s minimal presence is for the best. After all, if this style of V.O continued across a twenty hour story, it’d certainly become grating. In this case, the story utilizes the dialogue to add personality, but thankfully there aren’t any exposition-heavy cutscenes here. Instead, it’s a straightforward story that goes how you expect, but in a way that doesn’t detract from overall enjoyment.
The story’s true focus is in the plentiful opportunities to travel through diverse worlds and meet personable character types. The worlds and characters add a strong sense of atmosphere and personality that boosts the game to greater heights. Although I wish that there were more standout characters overall, but both Yooka and Laylee serve as strong leads deserving of future potential installments within this series.
Yooka-Laylee‘s gameplay is that of the “collect-athon” variety. For those not from the Banjo-Kazooie/Donkey Kong 64 era, collect-athons involve big open worlds and many collectibles to gather. There are the primary story collectibles (the Pagies) and then there are the other collectibles like the arcade token, ghost writers, and mollycools. Each of these contributes different things to Yooka throughout the game. The arcade tokens let you play Rextro’s arcade games, the Mollycools transform you into various forms, etc. All of it still adds up to the same primary goal: collect all 145 of the Pagies scattered across each world.
Combat is very simple in that most enemies are knocked out within a single hit. The new moves that Trowzer teaches to you help spice up combat somewhat, but enemy combat habits still remain largely predictable. The game’s 5 boss battles DO help mix things up as they require tactics unique to each boss.
Overall, the moment-to-moment gameplay remains entertaining and the flow of exploration is rarely hampered by the combat. More enemy variety would’ve been appreciated though, as the one-hit minions became overused after several worlds.
Exploration remained entertaining and enjoyable even after 20+ hours of gameplay. Certain worlds feel like they should have more to do in them, but the amount of secrets kept me exploring for hours on end.
The gameplay can falter in the moments where serious lag led to a failed time puzzle or even a death. These drops in frame rate occurred frequently enough that they did take away some enjoyment at times, especially during certain boss battles. These led to frustration, especially when it felt like you failed because that particular section lacked the polish it needed. The camera also would become an occasional nuisance as it changes at will without any player control. This led to some accidental deaths and restarts that could’ve been avoided.
The moment I walked into the first world Tribalstack Tropics was when my appreciation for Yooka-Laylee‘s art style began. The vibrant colors and inviting environments gave an immediate sense of familiarity and nostalgia. Much like Banjo-Kazooie, the use of inventive visuals and character design in colorful environments immediately hooked me. Each world offered its own visual theme and aesthetic, motivating me to see what each world had to offer. Tribalstack ended up being a personal favorite, but I enjoyed my time in each world as they all offered something unique and equally enjoyable. I only wish there were more worlds to go to as it seemed like there was still plenty of interesting directions they could’ve gone. Hopefully they explore this expansive in-game world in future installments.
Outside of the great art design though, the environments lack detail and the environmental effects look a bit dated. The flame effects in particular look decidedly last-gen and became a little distracting at some points. For any future installments, it’d probably be best for Playtonic to move away from the Unity engine and utilize something more powerful. This would help remove the numerous graphical glitches that I experienced and would help boost the visuals and environmental details.
When I heard the random assorted noises that represents Yooka-Laylee‘s voice-acting and the game’s soundtrack, a massive wave of nostalgia hit me. The fact that Banjo-Kazooie composer Grant Kirkhope, Donkey Kong Country composer David Wise, and Kameo composer Steve Burke all collaborated on the soundtrack made it really special and explained some of the familiar chimes and themes heard throughout the worlds. The music is very well-implemented and varied with each world being distinguishable thanks to the music alone. The use of various instruments allowed for individual themes that didn’t just blend together. The musical changes when going from land to underwater and other sections was a nice touch as well.
Yooka-Laylee‘s dialogue consists of a random assortment of grunts and animal noises with accompanying text. This too is directly pulled from Banjo-Kazooie and helps draw players into the less-than-serious personalities within the world. It fits in well with the tone and world established here, as standard voice-acting would’ve felt out-of-place. The voice acting may get grating for some players, but it never became bothersome.
Although you can buy new moves and unlock specific tonics based on your progress however you want, there isn’t much difference between playthroughs. You’ll be doing the same tasks and have the same total amount of Pagies to collect. Unfortunately, there isn’t a ton of replay value in that the gameplay itself doesn’t alter too much from your first time going on a Pagie hunt. However, that doesn’t mean the game’s any less fun or loses any of its entertainment value in subsequent playthroughs.
You can see my summary and overall review score for Yooka-Laylee down below!