It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost two years since Yooka-Laylee was announced on Kickstarter. After hitting the initial goal in less than an hour it was apparent that old school Rare fans would be getting the game they have been yearning for. After two years since its announcement, and almost twenty years since the original Banjo-Kazooie, Yooka-Laylee is indeed the spiritual successor that was promised, for better or for worse.
The obvious nods to original Rare games is apparent, and hard not to compare, but we will do our best to limit it. Everything about Yooka-Laylee screams nostalgia. Since the Yooka team consists of mainly former Rare employees, the hope of the magic returning has not been wasted. Yooka-Laylee is a continuation of the magic that many had thought disappeared as they grew older, but can now enjoy with a new generation of gamers. From the coloring of the world to the music score that is reminiscent of Viva Pinata, and the character design that only the team at Playtonic Games could pull off…it’s one of the best.
As what is probably the obvious point of the game, you play as Yooka; a very tame, and level headed chameleon. Alongside Laylee, your hot-headed bat friend, you both venture into areas to retrieve “Pagies” that are remnants of literature that have been stolen by Capital B, a very Gru looking villain, and his number two henchman, er, duck, Dr. Quack. Pagies are used to expand the map which allows the player to explore previously unexplorable areas like castles, entry ways, and world bosses.
What may turn some players off who are used to a map full of objectives in open world games is that there are no waypoints. Having said that, the maps are not overbearing in terms of size. It is relatively easy to navigate your way through the world and remember what areas you have visited, and what you haven’t which is the whole point. For example, when you start the first area, there are going to be places you can’t reach quite yet because the game wants you to explore the area as much as possible to collect “quills” that essentially serve as your currency. You will not necessarily be able to go straight to the first boss and expect to be successful. This is where the RPG element to Yooka-Laylee comes into play.
In each world you will come across the local vendor that allows you to buy new attributes that will help you traverse the worlds as well as give you an advantage to reach those hard to reach areas to collect more Pagies. There are also tonics that can be equipped after performing certain tasks that allows you to roll longer for races, or the ability to add to your life gauge just to name a few. These tonics can greatly increase your chance for success, but there are some that you won’t be able to collect until later, or after the main game is complete.
The world of Yooka-Laylee is challenging. To reach higher areas, or to solve puzzles, Yooka can ingest plants that can give him the ability to shoot fire, cannon balls, or ice pellets. The use of elements is very reminiscent of Kameo, but instead you have a short amount of time to use these abilities. With that, you can also create your own fires in areas with a fire pit to prolong your ability. Timing is key to getting to main areas, and you need to be careful and time yourself, or you may find yourself back at the beginning of the obstacle.
The greatness of Yooka-Laylee is that it can be played on your own time. If you want to simply collect all the Pagies to be able to have an easier time unlocking new worlds, you can, or you can do the bare minimum, and continue onwards. There is plenty to do, secrets to discover anytime you want, and the game doesn’t push you to go one way or another. For completion-ists, you can always go back to a world if you want, if you are willing to traverse through Hivory Tower to do so.
The mini arcade games that you can play within the main game, or from the main menu is a nice break from the actual game. If you want, you can invite up to four players for adversarial mini games to help share in the fun of Yooka-Laylee.
We should probably mention the co-op gameplay during the campaign even though it will more than likely be rarely used. The second player can control a small reticle that seems to simply pick up pink butterflies that aid in your health in which they can be placed on screen if the main player need them. This is very reminiscent of Super Mario Galaxy in a way, except Mario did it better. There is simply not enough for the second player to do for anyone to want to keep going with the main game. If there is more to do with the second player feature, we haven’t found it.
While the nostalgia is nice, it is also Yooka-Laylee’s biggest flaw. The decision to keep the character’s voices to be nothing more than random noises, that many will compare to the early Banjo series, is strange given that voice acting is normal in these types of games in the twenty first century. As a gamer that has aged along with the industry, I found that the consistent squaks, and other noises coming out the characters, alongside the dialogue text, became so monotonous that I kept skipping over it. This is a minor gripe in an otherwise great game, but it stands out none the less.
Having said that, skipping the dialogue may prove to be a mistake. A great amount of dialogue are winks and nods to the gaming industry, and other games that the developers may (or may not have) worked on in the past. There are other silly gags along the way for all ages, but older gamers will appreciate the meta nature of Yooka. Yooka-Laylee knows what it is, and is unapologetic in its presentation, and dialogue.
There is a chance that my gaming nostalgia may have had a lot to do with my positive nature towards this game. Yooka-Laylee delivers on its promises it made, which is sometimes unique for a Kickstarter project. Fans of platform gaming from the N64 era will be pleased by what the small team at Playtonic Games has produced, and there shouldn’t be another large gap in time for their next outing. If Yooka-Laylee can prove anything is that there is a certain magic that is still wanted by gamers, and that small animated creatures in big colorful lands can fulfill that void.
*Copy of Yooka-Laylee provided by the developer