General game information
Game name: Yooka-Laylee
Release date: April 11, 2017
Price: US$ 39.99
Genre: 3D Platformer
Developer: Playtonic Games
Publisher: Team 17 Digital Limited
Ever wished for a modern Banjo-Kazooie? Playtonic Games is here to help, delivering a spiritual successor to Rare‘s excellent 3D platformer thanks to the support of thousands of fans who helped fund the title on Kickstarter back in 2015.
Controlling Yooka (a well mannered green skinned chameleon) and Laylee (a no-nonsense purple bat who can carry a lot more weight that one would suspect) we will have to explore a labyrinthine hub world as well as five “book worlds” which can be unlocked and expanded once we have acquired enough Pagies (the game’s main collectible, golden pages torn from a mysterious book). Every book world is different from the others, and they offer big, open playgrounds with puzzles to solve, enemies to defeat and collectibles to be found.
As expected from a 3D platformer with its roots firmly planted in the 1990s, the story never takes itself seriously (a big baddie named Capital B is trying to steal all the world’s literature and it’s up to our heroes to put an end to his mischief), and we’ll meet all sorts of wacky characters. Almost every situation will be used as the setup for a joke, and even though not all of them may be funny in this day and age, I never felt like the game’s writing became too obnoxious. Of course, this will not be the case for every player, and others may have lower tolerance for pop culture references and game design inspired jokes than I do.
Aside from a short tutorial at the beginning of the game, we can decide how to tackle each section, and the game never forces us to follow a GPS arrow or anything of the sort. Growing our Pagie collection should always be our main objective, and Yooka-Laylee is usually smart enough to hint at the location of the collectibles we need without holding the player’s hand or becoming frustrating. Most puzzles can be solved in more than one way, and the ones that require specific moves will outright tell us that we shouldn’t attempt them because we need an upgrade.
A common criticism for collect-a-thon platformers is that they make us collect things that don’t have any practical use ingame. Luckily, Playtonic seems to have been aware of this issue, so every collectible is useful for something, and not just a shiny trophy to be hanged in our virtual walls.
Yooka-Laylee‘s basic gameplay loop will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s ever played a 3D platform game. We control the title characters with the left analog stick, and the right stick moves the camera (some puzzles will force us to view the game from a particular perspective, taking away control of the camera). Fighting, jumping, running and special moves are all handled by the face buttons and the triggers/bumpers, with advanced abilities requiring a combination of keys in order to perform them. Levels are littered with enemies and other dangers, so we should always be on the lookout for tasty butterflies that can be consumed in order to recharge our health or fuel our heroes’ moves. The jumping physics are quite forgiving, and we can scale most objects provided we get close enough (this is extremely useful in the early game, since we don’t have many abilities unlocked).
While I wasn’t a big fan of the way in which Playtonic handles the hub section (the player can get lost fairly easily, and a fast travel system letting us select every available level would make things far more dynamic than the current implementation), I loved the different book worlds due to their variety and design philosophy.
As we advance through the hub world, we’ll meet Trowzer, a sharp tongued, pants-wearing snake who will teach us free moves if we unlock book worlds for him, and once we enter those worlds, will also sell us even more moves in exchange for Quills (the game’s most common collectible type). Trowzer’s moves can be used to access places that were out of reach previously, solve puzzles or deal with pesky enemies in inventive ways.
Trowzer isn’t the only supporting character that we’ll meet as we travel Yooka-Laylee‘s world though. Other important NPCs include, but are not limited to, Dr. Puzz, a half octopus/half human scientist who can transform our heroes into something else (depends on the book world being visited), Vendi, a talking vending machine who lets us equip Tonics (gameplay altering items which must be unlocked with ingame actions), Rextro, a fun loving dinosaur who lets us play retro minigames in exchange for special items (the same minigames can be played in a local co-op mode if we have a few buddies in hand), and the always annoying Dr. Quack, an evil mastermind who will stop us at certain points in the game and force us to complete his Quack-Fire Quiz, a multiple choice questionnaire which includes different questions about the worlds we’ve visited or the collectibles we have gathered so far.
Yooka-Laylee‘s art style was obviously inspired by the type of graphics produced by the Nintendo 64 console, but spruced up a million times. The bright, colorful models feel like the mental image we may have created when playing classic games on Nintendo’s beloved machine, and the texture work is detailed but extremely simplistic, creating highly recognizable environments that will probably look as beautiful as they do today ten years from now. Performance wasn’t an issue for me on PC, and I had no troubles getting a locked sixty frames per second on a relatively old machine (i5 3570k, 16GB RAM and a GTX 970).
The game’s audio department fares in an equally excellent way. Every move produces a distinct sound, voiced characters talk in a garbled style reminiscent of Banjo-Kazooie, and the soundtrack blasts catchy tunes as we explore new book worlds, collect Pagies or fight bosses.
So far, I’ve focused on Yooka-Laylee‘s many upsides. Sadly, even the best games ever released have flaws, and in Playtonic‘s debut title I was able to identify a number of annoying details. The first, and probably most important, is the way the camera reorients itself as we come near certain objects or enter a new scene after a loading screen. Instead of following the player, it seems that the camera has a mind of its own, so exiting level transitions actually places us in front of them, and coming in contact with an obstacle that is on top of the player or at their sides will also move the camera around, generating frustrating situations as we fall through holes that we were never able to see. Other annoying issues include:
- Dr. Quack’s Quack-Fire Quiz is a questionnaire that can be fun the first time we take it, but quickly becomes annoying, since three incorrect answers will force us to replay it from the beginning.
- Most of the game’s dialogues can be skipped at the press of a button.. but others can’t. This inconsistency becomes increasingly annoying as we take the Quack-Fire Quiz, as the same button that can be used to skip dialogues is also used to select quiz answers.
- The menu system is needlessly convoluted, hiding the “Quit Game” prompt inside the Options menu, and making key remapping a nightmare that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemies.
- And last but not least, since the game doesn’t support manual saves, we may end up losing progress because we decided to quit before reaching an autosave point or gathering an important collectible.
Thankfully, most of the issues I’ve listed above can be fixed through post release updates, and the development team seems to be on the case regarding the spotty camera reorientation.
To sum up, Yooka-Laylee is an excellent 3D platformer, featuring open levels that reward skill and exploration, tight gameplay mechanics and a killer soundtrack. A few technical issues prevent it from reaching the heights achieved by classics such as Banjo-Kazooie, but gamers looking for a collect-a-thon in 2017 should definitely consider picking up Playtonic Games‘ debut title.
8.5/10 – Great.