Yooka-Laylee is an open world platformer in which players embark on an adventure as buddy-duo Yooka and Laylee. As a nod to the 3D platformers of yesteryear, is Yooka-Laylee worth checking out? Read our review below…
Yooka-Laylee from Playtonic Games is the spiritual successor to the brightly colored, high flying 3D platformers of yesterday. Nostalgia can be a cruel mistress, though, and trying to live up to the expectations of players who can only remember the best aspects of their favorite games can be tough even for a team of seasoned developers. Yooka-Laylee takes on this huge undertaking, and over all its fair to say that the game succeeds at being what it wants to be, with a few modern twists. The game’s setting is an enormous landscape that is as tall as it is wide, providing a near limitless playground for platforming, puzzle solving, and item collecting.
Ah yes, item collecting. ‘Lo, are there ever plenty of items to collect. Yooka and Laylee’s adventure begins when the conspicuously despicable looking, Capital B and his “henchmanager”, Dr Quack, build a vacuum like machine to suck up all of the books in the world, including Yooka and Laylee’s very own magical One Book. In order to prevent the power of the One Book falling into the wrong hands, the pages inside – known as Pagies, naturally – disperse themselves throughout the world. It is now in Yooka and Laylee’s (and the player’s) moderately capable hands to find all one hundred and fourty-five pages and put the One Book back together to stop Capital B’s nefarious plans. While there are plenty of Pagies that can be tracked down through simple jumping mechanics that players start off with, collecting the remainder of the wayward Pagies requires purchasing additional skills for Yooka and Laylee from the game’s merchant, Trowzer Snake. Trowzer is kind enough to provide some free skill upgrades to Yooka and Laylee as they progress through the worlds, but other skill upgrades come at a cost. The player will need to collect golden Quills, of which there are over one thousand scattered around the world. These quills serve as the currency that players will use to buy skills such as gliding or sitting projectiles from Trowzer. These skills can then be used to acquire even more collectibles.
There are five Grand Tomes located in Hivory Tower, the centralized hub from which Yooka and Laylee can travel between worlds. Hivory Tower serves as a world in its own right, as well, featuring its own puzzles and challenges that reward the coveted Pagies. Yooka-Laylee gives players the freedom to unlock the Tomes and travel to each world in any order they choose, so long as they have the necessary number of Pagies to grant them access. If the ridiculously vast worlds are still not large enough for player’s liking, Pagies can be used to expand upon them, opening up new areas that were previously inaccessible. In addition to being large environments, each world is scattered with a plethora of quest giving NPCs. Yooka-Laylee genuinely feels as insanely large as it is, but early game play can feel dull and monotonous as players are limited to the skills and areas available to players until they manage to collect enough Pagies and Quills to shake up the gameplay.
While the ability to open the Tomes and explore worlds at the player’s leisure is a bonus, it does mean that there’s only one difficulty level to the whole game. The platforming in some sections just feels excessively difficult to traverse, even with the added help of extra skills. To add insult to injury, the game’s camera has a mind of its own at time, moving at awkward angles or zooming in on Yooka’s back instead of allowing players the freedom to rotate it in such a way as to be able to properly see the next jump that they will be attempting. This cranks the difficulty level up even more, making what should be old hat platforming an unnecessary frustration. Should a mistake be made and the player’s attempts to traverse fail, they may find themselves falling a large distance to the bottom of a tower or collection of floating islands.
Falling and failure are par the course for a platformer, but Yooka-Laylee has one more stumbling block up its sleeve. The expansive worlds tucked inside the Tomes are a marvel to behold, but when a player falls from a platforming challenge there’s a high likelihood they will land in an area they may not have even explored yet. That’s all well and good, but what if the player wants to go back to the challenge they were attempting initially? Good luck finding it. There’s no map, even for explored areas, as part of the HUD in Yooka-Laylee, making navigating the worlds next to impossible. This is more acceptable in the early game, when stumbling upon a new section is a welcome chance to pick up more quills and Pagies, but in later game play this can be detrimental as players try to locate that one last elusive collectible in an area.
Despite Yooka-Laylee’s hiccups, Playtonic’s achievement of creating this elaborate 3D open world dedicated to platforming is no small feat. The writing is tongue in cheek, and much of the dialogue is proof that Yooka-Laylee does not take itself too seriously and neither should players. Yooka-Laylee is painfully self aware, with the game’s reliance on nostalgic cliches frequently becoming fodder for the characters’ dry wit and classic British humor that gives adults the occasional chuckle but would go over younger player’s heads. Be warned, though, that the garbled speech used during cut scenes will leave players begging for a skip button after a little while. For all of its hiccups, Yooka-Laylee is ultimately an enjoyable experience. Easy to pick up and play or walk away from when the rage gets to be just a little too much, Playtonic Games has created a 3D open world platformer that stays true to the nostalgia of the genre, and with just a little more polish (and a map!), could become a classic in its own right.