Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Apple Mac, PC, Microsoft Xbox One and Linux
From the developers of Nintendo 64’s Banjo-Kazooie, Yooka-Laylee comes to PC, Linux, Mac, PS4 and Xbox One this month as a new 3D adventure for those that crave a hearty dose of nostalgia. Much like the platformers that Yooka-Laylee has been made in the image of, anthropomorphised animals serve as the perfect companions for navigating a vibrant, expansive and characterful world. This is a game that big kids will love just as much as real kids. But, those who see themselves as neither may not be so thrilled.
The game takes us across six distinctive worlds in the hunt for a magical book that has been ruthlessly stolen. The evil Capital B, Despicable Me’s Gru in a bee costume, has created a machine that sucks up all the books in the world, in order to turn them into pure profit. When Capital B’s book-stealing machine snaps up Yooka and Laylee’s special book, it scatters the pages (or pagies, as they’re adorably called) across the land. Yooka and Laylee have to do some serious rolling, jumping and tail twirling to get them back.
Our adventure starts at Hivory Towers, Capital B’s hub, and the base location of all the explorable worlds. Hivory Towers is itself littered with pagies, as well as different challenges to complete before you can snatch them up. The pagies aren’t just for the trophy cupboard, but are necessary to unlock each world and to expand them. As well as pagies, in each world there are power-ups, ghost writers and quills to spend your hours addictively collecting.
The first world, Tribalstack Tropics, is a great introduction to the story and all its recurring characters. A new character is around every corner. We meet a retro arcade-loving dinosaur and a cloud with the need for speed, amongst many others. Some characters have real personality, and others are easier to skip past. Thankfully Laylee is there to indiscriminately insult all the characters so you don’t have to. The game’s open world platform also means that you can tailor whose challenges you complete and who you can leave hanging, so if races aren’t your thing, it’s very easy to avoid them altogether.
Aside from our villains, Mr Trowzer and Vendi are the only essential characters in the piece. With enough quills, Mr Trowzer will teach you all you need to know to complete that world’s challenges. Though he’s a literal trouser snake, he won’t deceive you, and his prices are actually quite reasonable. Vendi, the bright yellow fridge, holds tonics that alter the game to suit your playing style, which are unlocked depending on what milestones you have completed. For example, with the Hunter tonic activated, you will hear a whistling sound whenever you are near a rare collectable. The tonic’s alterations don’t make a significant impact, but can be really useful additions for certain challenges.
In order to access each of the six worlds the characters must jump through big books just as Super Mario once had to jump through paintings. Finding them in Hivory Towers is a challenge, but getting past Capital B’s henchman Dr Quack's quiz is quite another. Dr Quack confronts you with quizzes at certain points in the game as an obstacle to your progression to the next set of worlds. These are a good test to see how well you've been paying attention to the previous worlds, but as they are multiple choice, they are quite easy to get past regardless. By the third, these were just a chore.
As you explore later worlds the comfortably compact feeling of Tribalstack Tropics and Glitterglaze Glacier falls away. Moody Maze Marsh and Capital Cashino in particular feel far too large. These worlds slow the progression of the story considerably, as exploring each one is a challenge in itself. Some puzzles are more difficult, but mostly they were just a challenge to find.
Though they may be too large, trotting around each world for the first time is really quite lovely. Each is a spectacle; they are immersive in their 3D glory, without ever losing their cartoony charm. The music is also perfectly suited to each environment and the little shifts in tone as Yooka and Laylee go from moving on land to swimming are nice touches. Yooka and Laylee’s sound effects are also well done, particularly in flight, where Laylee really sounds like he’s labouring to get the heavy cameleon ashore.
Towards the later stages of the game, the game reveals that in order to progress further in the story you must collect 100 pagies out of 145. All the worlds are easy to access with limited pagies, and so after playing diligently for the best part of 20 hours this was an unwelcome surprise. Though this target sets an incentive for the player to go back and sweep up the pagies they may have been too lazy to grab first time round, it felt like a further chore to trudge back over previously trodden ground in search of more collectables. The surprise may be unwelcome, but it was at least a target to work towards in an otherwise aimless story.
Galleon Galaxy, the last unlockable world, was the only world that improved on the first, bringing something genuinely different to the table. The world and its characters felt tangibly weird and futuristic, with fun new methods of getting around the world introduced in the form of big teleportation machines. This world also held the most amusing boss fight, with our duo transformed into a spaceship; it’s worth the wait. This world seemed to save the day, but it does not always feel that the expansive worlds and small challenges live together harmoniously.
If you do need a bit of a break from the main story, there are also eight of Rextro’s arcade games available from the main menu to play on local co-op, or as single player. All of the games can also be discovered within the main story, unlocked with the collection of a play coin. In these compact games you can beat up enemies for quills in the arena brawler Glaciators, or chase down your friends in Kartos Karting, Mario Kart in miniature. These are great to play against friends, but not nearly big enough to enjoy playing them on your own for a huge amount of time.
Despite its tendency to get a little dull, Yooka-Laylee is certainly a cheerful game, with lots of entertaining challenges to discover, and some dark humour simmering beneath the surface. The majority of the gameplay is a delight, and the worlds are a joy to discover and explore. However, it may lend itself to shorter bursts of gameplay rather than extended periods of play – roaming for an hour before dinner, or with the kids before they go to bed.
Overall, for those that miss the glory days of N64, Yooka-Laylee is a worthwhile decoy, but for those of us joining this generation with fresh eyes, we might get tired quite quickly.