A spiritual successor, a brightly coloured playful love letter to one of video games classic bygone era’s; whatever way you opt to look at it, and boy is there plenty to gaze lovingly upon as you roll, flutter, spring and hop your way from one diverse world to the next, for the casual gamer, Playtonic Games Yooka-Laylee will undoubtedly succeed in striking a fun and harmonious chord, like that of the Pied Piper of Hamlin and his magical pipe.
Forget for a moment the likeness with which the game shares with its late nineties N64 counterpart, the Olympic-like runner speed in which it took to be successfully crowdfunded (38 minutes), the astronomically mind-blowing £2 million it would eventually go on to rake in during that very record-breaking campaign, or its recent controversial stint in the media spotlight following the swift and just removal of an outspoken YouTube celebrity as voice actor, Yooka-Laylee has had fans clambering over themselves for a sneak peak at the platformer ever since its announcement back in 2012. 5 years on and that rainbow coloured dream has finally landed.
Yooka-Laylee: PC, Xbox One [Reviewed], PS4
Developer: Playtonic Games
Release Date: 11 April 2016
Price: £34.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
The dream of a group of ex-Rare developers, Yooka-Laylee re-introduces spritely coloured 3D worlds of the past; you know, the ones we all got caught up in as kids or young adults. Minutes, hours and days witted away, consumed by the exploration of otherworldly realms.
Full of quirky and cocky, yet lovable NPC characters to meet and interact with, each with their own woes and stories to tell, often undemanding, often complex puzzles to untangle and unravel along with a never-ending batch of story related objects to seek out and collect, to further enhance or progress through the magical journey, Yooka-Laylee serves up all of the above mentioned treats, but is it enough to rival that of its nostalgic inspiration?
The embodiment of everything that made the bear and the bird such a popular and widespread commercial success in 1998, Yooka-Laylee is a whimsical incorporation of everything you held dear or treasured about the late nineties N64 platforming adventure. The similarities between Banjo and Yooka run so deep that the closeness the pair share almost seemingly never ends, making it a tricky task to tell the two apart once you remove the chameleon and bat from the picture.
Sharing practically everything but name…and even that runs mightily close, Yooka-Laylee does have an improbable allure to it; cleverly encapsulating one of video games greatest heydeys as Yooka, a bright green and instantly likeable chameleon along with his ‘utter disregard for personal space’ companion Laylee, a sarcastic purple bat venture throughout a corporate minefield on an adventure to bring an end to the reign of the atrocious Capital B, who together with sidekick Dr Quack have villainous ambitions to absorb every last piece of literature from the world around them.
Rare games are usually extremely bewitching, especially Banjo. One could comfortably forget in the near-twenty years that have passed since Banjo-Kazooie‘s inception how unbelievably blunt, off-the-cuff and downright cheeky NPC characters could and would be towards the player. Those arrogant characters who require assistance from you but aren’t overly helpful in ensuring that you ease their outrageous woes make a triumphant return here but are met swiftly by the sarcastic sharpness and wit of Laylee.
Watching as both bat and one of Yooka-Laylee‘s large assortment of NPC’s indulge in a bit of back and forth banter opens wide the sentimental floodgates, it’s an underlying tone or running theme that served Banjo-Kazooie so well, and its approach results in the same effect here, never prolonging the rapport between characters to the point where it becomes tedious, never overselling the humour or comedy factor.
As you’d expect from a title that bears all the similarities, tropes and trademarks of nineties 3D platformers, the universe of Yooka-Laylee is a carefully drip-fed one; prompting players to explore the seedy corporate hallways of Hivory Towers in order to discover individual portals to unlocking its 5 different worlds, all of which positively bulge with NPC’s, challenges and a bounty of collectables to scout for.
From the offset, we are introduced to the child-like home of the inseparable pair. Shipwreck Creek and the games opening world Tribalstack Tropics represent all the exciting qualities that combine so brilliantly to make games such as Banjo-Kazooie and Super Mario 64 such exceptional experiences.
The sheer vibrancy that alludes from the positive colours of the surrounding areas wonderfully bounce off one another, it’s an inviting prospect to any child, teenager or young at heart adult. Blink for a second and you could easily be right back there as luscious green hills littered with golden chests meet sturdy brown wooden bridges to cross while pure, clean-to-drink blue water flows freely underneath, begging the player to dive in and explore its depths.
With friendly and not so friendly NPC’s on hand to assist or divert our heroes on/from the path of their journey, Yooka-Laylee‘s opening forays provide the player with a basic understanding of game mechanics the ex-Rare developers helped to create with Banjo-Kazooie. As you playfully move through the lush tropics of Tribalstack to meet the characters on offer, you get a real sense of the challenges that lie ahead, as well as grasping a feel for the storyline behind the world hopping.
The five worlds that combine to make up the bulk of Yooka-Laylee‘s story are separated not only by looks but by your very approach to getting the most from each one. Collecting Quill’s scattered throughout each world allows the player to purchase various moves from Trowzer, a travelling, slithering serpent of a salesman, always eager to teach Yooka and Laylee new abilities in return for a handful of your feathered friends.
These skills will have you backtracking to previous worlds to obtain items you simply could not grab before. However, to access entry to each world, players are required to gather Pagies, the game’s main source of currency.
Freeing one of many Pagies from the captivity of a cage, capturing ones that have been swept up by the wind or simply being rewarded by NPC’s for completion of a challenge or task, those pesky and often hard to obtain Pagies give players the ability to buy and unlock portals to new worlds, and even expand on those worlds to open new pathways or points of interest, including the chance to tackle the world boss.
Waltzing your way through the slippery slopes or snow filled hillsides of Glitterglaze Glacier or navigating the unforgiving swamp-meets-Halloween themed boggy environments of Moodymarsh Maze, Yooka-Laylee‘s independent worlds are satisfyingly larger than that of anything the original Banjo could offer. However, despite the undeniably playful frolics or potentially tricky moments to be had while attempting traversal of these diverse worlds, I couldn’t help but feel that the developer had opted to hug a little too close to the world design models of the very titles it draws its inspiration from, not to mention the shallow and underwhelming amount of worlds on offer.
With the vast majority of Yooka-Laylee‘s sprawling worlds consisting of fun activities, interesting and humorous NPC’s and exploration that can lead to expansion, allowing for yet more exploration, affording players the luxury of a mere 5 worlds as opposed to the 15 found in Super Mario 64, unfortunately, diminishes some of the games early appeal. The absence of a suitable amount of worlds outside of the game’s main hub is an unpleasant sight, but it remains one of Yooka-Laylee‘s few faults.
Movement and control of this unlikely pair although far from feeling polished is easy enough to master, with each newly acquired ability serving its purpose to help the player negate their surroundings. Without exploration and the collection of Quills, players will forever be stuck staring up, glancing across at or endlessly confused by an aspect they could comfortably pass through with the appropriate move.
When not bemoaning the significant lack of actual worlds, I also found problems with the games camera angles. At times while attempting to navigate an area or solve a puzzle, Yooka-Laylee‘s camera would lock, fixed in a rather unhelpful position, and at a certain angle that constantly forced me into a fight against it to gain a better view of my surroundings, it was a rare occurance but certainly one that shouldn’t happen in 2017.
Visually, you can’t fault Yooka-Laylee‘s style. The games aesthetic is colourfully gorgeous yet also dull, drab and murky when it needs to be. A theme fitting of the genre, but when you consider its inspiration or its pre-determined motives, I would have been surprised if that aspect of the game had somehow managed to fall by the wayside. The same can be said of its soundtrack, a perfect accompaniment for the platformer that feels friendly at times and daunting at others, Playtonic found the right blend of style and sound to keep the game entertaining.
Full of colour, charm and discovery, Playtonic Games set out in 2012 to revive a by-gone era genre long thought to be dead, and for the most part, this group of ex-Rare developers have succeeded. The product of a very successful crowdfunding campaign, Yooka-Laylee is enchantingly adorable with its humorous NPC’s, nods to both past and modern video game culture, whimsical worlds, enjoyable challenges and good comradery between main characters.
However, for all that it does so very well, it also succeeds in falling foul to a significant shortage of world’s, annoying fixed camera geometry and an underwhelming story; still the opportunity to embark on a ‘collectathon’ of an adventure will likely prove too much for the casual gamer in most of us to pass on.