Yooka-Laylee is one of the most successful video game Kickstarter. The project originated as a Kickstarter that originally had a smaller scope but thanks to the attention of fans and the fact that some of the ex-Rare developers – who also worked on some of the most influential platformers for Nintendo 64, were behind this project – allowed the game to exceed its original Kickstarter target expanding the scope of the game.
Yooka-Laylee was originally pitched as a classic Rare platformer and I have say, right from the opening video to the main menu screen, it practically oozes the charm and personality of a classic Rare game. The main menu and save screen brings back nostalgic memories of playing Banjo Kazooie on the Nintendo 64. Don’t expect a strong focus on story as the game is a platformer first and foremost, so while there is a basic story laid out in the opening cutscene, the actual game doesn’t really have much to offer.
The game has a fairly simple story premise. You have to collect all the pages from various magical books that were taken from you by the main villain, who goes by the nickname of Capital B. His design seems to be inspired from Guru in Despicable Me and he even has a sidekick, a robotic duck who goes by the name of Dr. Quack. These are all standard villain material in a old-school platformer although the quality of their character designs are up in the air along with other side cast of characters in the game. They aim to take all of the world’s literature and turn it into a business so it is up to Yooka and Laylee to stop their nefarious plans.
When Playtonic said that they wanted to go back to the roots of the old school platformers, they meant it literally because the game is pretty much designed around the limitations of the classic Rare platformers. There is no map available in the game and you will have to rely on your own skills and visual memory in order to progress around the world map or locate and discover the secrets. These secrets are mostly collectibles in the form of Quills, Pages or other objects. Each world in Yooka-Laylee has around 200 Quills so if you are a fan of collecting objects in a platformer, you might enjoy digging out all of them.
The two titular characters in the game are Yooka, the Chameleon, and Laylee, the Bat. These two have been inspired by the design of Banjo and Kazooie although they sadly don’t come anywhere close to their personality. While I have to give Polytonic props for creating these original characters, they also needed to put some thought in the designs of some of the side characters which often look out of place in the game’s colorful open world. One of the important character, Trowzer – who is a Snake salesman that gives the player some key abilities in each of the game’s world – is an example of such terrible character design. Playtonic has decided to go for an art style that seems to invoke memories from 90s era but it doesn’t fit in with the game’s modern environments.
Graphically, Yooka-Laylee looks really gorgeous and runs at native 1080p on the PS4. Unfortunately, at the time of writing this review, there was no official support for the PS4 Pro. There are a variety of different worlds to play around in Yooka-Laylee and while some of them might not be as visually stunning as others, they don’t look nowhere bad enough to make them stand out. The thing that surprised me more was that the performance of the game was really stable. Unlike some of the pre-release reviews, my experience with the game was without any major frame rate issues. This was surprising to see since Yooka-Laylee was developed on the Unity Game Engine, which has proven to be a troublesome engine on consoles when it comes to performance.
The main fun in Yooka-Laylee comes from exploration and discovering the hidden secrets around the world map. There is a main hub in the game which makes it similar in design to the multiple worlds of Banjo Tooie instead of something like Banjo Kazooie. Depending on your likeness to either game, you will either love or hate Yooka-Laylee. Each world has to be unlocked by collecting a specific number of pages, called ‘Pagies’ in the game. They can also be used to expand a world. These are scattered around each of the game’s world and some of are hidden in carefully crafted platforming sections. This might frustrate some of the fans because the game lacks checkpoints in the middle of the level, so if you fail a long section of platforming, you will be forced to start it again from scratch.
Yooka and Laylee start with a fairly basic moveset that is expanded as the game progress. Each new ability usually unlocks locations that can be accessed in an earlier section of the game, so you will have to backtrack a lot if you are planning to complete the game 100 percent. There is no world map so you will have to visualize each of the level design and remember any of the locations that could be accessed with your newly acquired ability, unless you resort to a walkthrough. This might prove to be troublesome for those who rely on a mini map to find collectibles although since it was a deliberate attempt at creating the 90s platformers, I can understand why it was implemented this way.
Yooka-Laylee is not really a bad game but I couldn’t help but feel that the game’s potential could have been much more if the developers not only re-used some of the old design ideas, but also dropped some of the archaic design choices. While the game is solid and a treat for those who love this genre of platformers, it also carries a difficulty curve and some frustrating moments that make it harder to recommend it to a newcomer.
Yooka-Laylee Review (PS4)
Yooka-Laylee is aimed at the revival of N64-era of Rare platformers and while it succeeds in delivering a similar experience, it also fails to improve on some of the archaic design of the past resulting in a game that is enjoyable but not without some frustrating design flaws.