Time has not been kind to 3D platformers. Unless you’re a plumber in a red hat you don’t find 3D platformers on consoles these days, and if you do it’s probably best to avoid them like a plague. Can Yooka-Laylee finally be the game to break the mould and deliver something truly masterful for a generation that completely missed the 3D platformer craze?
[pullquote_right]As soon as you start it up you’ll have one game that pops into your head – Banjo Kazooie[/pullquote_right]If you grew up in the 90s, playing 3D platformers on the N64, Yooka-Laylee will have a distinct familiarity. As soon as you start it up you’ll have one game that pops into your head – Banjo Kazooie. Everything from the sound effects, right down to the menu layout and the way the world has been structured is a throwback to that particular game series. Other than a new set of leads – a thoughtful and calm lizard and a chirpy bat – it’s very much the same thing. If you have been dying for another Banjo Kazooie fix, you now have just that.
“You’ve been reading Yookapedia, haven’t you?”
Things kick off when Yooka and Laylee are sun tanning, minding their own business, when suddenly Laylee’s golden book takes flight towards the Hivory Towers – an evil corporation. The evil Capital B and his sidekick, Dr. Quack – a robotic duck with an attitude – are up to some nonsense and the duo are about to find out what’s going on. Once entering the Hivory Towers they find out that the evildoers are absorbing the literature of the world and converting it into a profit. It’s up to the two to find and free all the 140 pagies (pages contained in the book) to restore order.
It follows a very basic mechanic – get access to the five Grand Tomes, each represented by a book. Once you enter that world you’re tasked with solving puzzles, doing fetch quests, races and other forms of platforming all with one aim – to be rewarded with a pagie. Collect enough pagies and you can expand the world you’re in that now gives you access to battle the boss of that specific world or open new Grand Tomes. The first time you enter the first Grand Tome, Tribalstack Tropics, you’ll be filled with excitement and wonder. The colours are bright and beautiful and everything just looks so inviting. Here you’ll get to meet Karto, a mine cart that provides them with an on-rails platforming section; Trowzer, a ssssssneaky snake that sells them their various moves that include double jump, buddy smash, the ability to fly and more; Corplets, the common goons; Dr Puzz, she can transform the two in weird and wonderful shapes to overcome any challenge the level can throw at them; Shovel Knight, yes a cameo by our 8-bit hero who finds himself in the wrong dimension and game; Rextro, a dino with a love for classic arcade games and his own arcade games and many more characters. Each character comes with his or her own unique character trait. In the first world there is so much to explore and new characters to meet that it feels like somewhat of an overwhelming task as you jump, swim and glide your way across platforms… and then you move on to the second Grand Tome.
A laugh a minute, but the one who laughs last…
Laylee, like that chirpy bird in Banjo Kazooie, has a mouth and knows how to use it. I found myself laughing out loud at times with her witty humour and comments. Not for one moment does she hold back with anything that’s on her mind, even taking the time to mock the mistakes most games tend to experience when in development. The problem is that that is where the laughter comes to an abrupt end. It’s fine making fun of game development and stereotyping events that take place in the industry, but when your own game makes those very same mistakes it’s probably best to not wander down that road. Yooka-Laylee, under that bright green and purple skin, has some serious issues that prevent it from being a great platformer, and it’s a shame.
Once you move on to the second Grand Tome it becomes obvious right away that you’re about to do what you just did a few moments ago all over again. You’ll search for Karto, Trowzer, Dr Puzz, Rextro and all the other characters who you have met before, it’s just that they have been located in a different area and that they host a game with a slight tweak to what you experienced before. That feeling of wonder you felt when entering that first Grand Dome is it, you won’t get that sensation again. Yooka-Laylee simply finds itself stuck in the past, and in a world where we’ve since had Super Mario Galaxy it’s simply just not good enough anymore.
[pullquote_left]Yooka-Laylee is not an abysmal experience, but it’s a game that’s based on a prehistoric era of the gaming world. [/pullquote_left]Players will also find that the controls are very floaty, and will take some time to get used to. I also had to turn the camera sensitivity right down as it was far too twitchy. This makes boss battles quite tough too as you don’t feel like you have complete control at all times, though it should also be said that the boss battles are really forgettable. Except for the final boss battle, which was easily the highlight, there is not one single battle that stands out. You’ll also find yourself searching for a map in the pause menu that’s not there. Can’t find your bearings? Tough luck! Get guuud! And while trying to find your next Grand Tome hidden somewhere in the Hivory Towers, which is a complete headache, you’ll be jumping between sections that requires an annoying loading screen every single time, telling me that if we still used cartridges the game would have loaded by now (I’m curious to know if they’ll change that up for the Switch).
Blah bleh blah bleh blah EEEEK!
Yooka-Laylee is not an abysmal experience, but it’s a game that’s based on a prehistoric era of the gaming world. There are more collectibles than you can imagine and when Capital B tells you for the millionth time that ‘you just killed off his February employee of the month’ it gets a bit long in the tooth. The voice actors spout blehs and blahs, just like the Banjo Kazooie series, which can become very, very annoying. Of course there’s a certain part in the game where they rip off their own annoying sounds too. The soundtrack sticks to a particular theme, that seems to work for most part, but later on becomes a little tedious. The fun bits come in the form of Yooka using his tongue to grab items that add an elemental attack, such as fire, water or ice, or an effect that helps him stick to the ground, glow in the dark or that can withstand strong winds. There’s lots to play with and experiment, but whether the game holds your interest is another story altogether.
Between some areas you’ll also get to enter Dr Quack’s Quiz. Here you’re asked questions that’ll test your knowledge of the various tomes you’ve entered in your quest to pass a bridge that leads to the next undiscovered area. Answer it quickly enough and you move forward two steps (of ten), but take your time and you’ll move ahead one space. Get three answers wrong, and it’s back to the beginning. At first it’s quite fun, but then it becomes a stone in the road more than anything else. Should you have another controller you can get a second player to join in, though I honestly never had the opportunity to test that out or the 4-player arcade games.
For players who are after the Banjo Kazooie experience this is exactly what you’ll get and you’ll find much to love. It stays true to that formula and has the DNA etched over everything and anything in the game. However, if you’re accustomed to modern platformers, the likes of Jak & Daxter, Ratchet and Clank or just about any Super Mario title, then this might be embedded too far back in history for it to create a lasting impact in the modern world.