Yooka-Laylee (Xbox One Review)
When we look back at the days of old where 3D platforming was starting to make its debut, people were enamoured by the thought of finally escaping their 2D confines in hopes of double jumping to something better, grander, and more sublime. For many, it was Banjo-Kazooie that was a stand-out hit: a defining moment in the platforming genre with its fluid controls and a wealth of content that gamers adored. And of course the lovable duo themselves. Fast-forward almost 20 years and you’d be hard pressed to find a more compelling duo than the two comical caricatures of the late 90s, until now.
Playtonic Games was founded for the sole reason of bringing Yooka-Laylee to the light of day. Established by former Rare employees, the team set out to create a much-needed spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie and with roughly 80,000 backers to kickstart the project, it was a most welcomed venture. I feel like I need to state for the record that I have never had the pleasure of playing a Banjo-Kazooie game, gotten lost in its rapturing appeal, or felt like a wayward explorer in its landscapes. Essentially, I went in blind.
From the offset, Yooka-Laylee draws its players in with its bright and vibrant colour palette, starting with the energetic green reptilian protagonist Yooka and his trusty purple avian rodent sidekick Laylee. This lizard and bat combo will prove to be a most adversarius pair when trying to take down the corporate Hivory Towers run by Capital B, the big bad. Capital B has been busy stealing all the knowledge there is in the world of Yooka-Laylee by nabbing books from all over the land and of course it’s up to our newly fledged heroes to do something about it.
Yooka-Laylee’s adventures will take players scouring across five very unique Book Worlds in search of missing Pagies and Golden Quills. The hub world Hivory Towers is where players will jump back and forth between worlds, continually unlocking more rooms as they progress until they manage to confront Capital B, ending his entrepreneurial regime.
In essence, Yooka-Laylee is a collectathon of items and abilities that will continually get more complex and challenging as you unlock more Book Worlds. To unlock each world, players will need to attain a predetermined amount of Pagies, and even more to expand upon it. These open worlds act as playgrounds for players to do as they wish in, offering up several objectives at once for players to undertake in whichever order they see fit. Well, I mean “objectives” in a less literal sense, as they act more like mini-games for the player to compete in, ranging from simple platforming to races, memory puzzles, and silly little detours that wallow in the simplicity of exploration.
The worlds themselves look vastly different from one another, but all together function as the same elaborate playground for players to lose themselves in, with a few added tricks and obstacles that only certain abilities will overcome. Each world even has its own transformative ability unique to it, giving Yooka and Laylee the option of metamorphosing into something completely new, be it a plant, fish, snowplough, helicopter and boat: all of which open up new avenues of exploration.
Once players deem that they achieved enough Pagies to continue onto another world, they can simply do so; nothing ties players to a world except the amount of collectables they have left to uncover. You aren’t forced to clear the stage 100%, and you don’t even have to defeat the stage boss. Hell, you don’t even have to play the stage if you don’t wish too. Granted you have enough Paiges, you are free to skip in all together.
And that’s what I like most about Yooka-Laylee: it doesn’t hold your hand and point you in the direction that it wants you to go. If you want to do things you’re own way then so be it. You can choose which trials to undertake and if any of them give you bother,simply walk on by. Some unavoidable scenarios are in place that require special abilities to move forward, but that’s largely to be expected to keep the appeal of platforming fresh–you have to mix it up a bit and keep players invested. Most of these world traversing abilities are free of charge, most of the time. Others will require the expenditure of your hard earned Quills to unlock them. Quills are Yooka-Laylee’s equivalent of Wompa Fruit or Golden Rings; you get the picture. A cumulative collectable used for currency numbering in the thousands, more than enough to nab every powerup in the game from you’re not-so-trusty snake pal named Trowzer, a salesman looking to extend his ability-selling business to new worlds.
Trowzer is one of many whimsical characters that you’ll meet canvassing the worlds of Yooka-Laylee, the next more endearing than the last. Some offer helpful tips while others will task you with a quest to complete. And it’s the characters that bring the life into the large playground like environments of Yooka-Laylee. A few will bust out a rhyme or two, some will break the fourth wall, and others will bombard you with puns. The combined effects of all these colorful characters will leave a lasting impression on any player that spends enough time getting to know them.
Yooka-Laylee’s Adventure mode can last a fair amount of time depending on your own skill within the platforming genre, but collecting everything can easily take up to 30 hours in total. Vast amounts of content will keep you busy for some time. And even once you finally mastered all Yooka-Laylee has to offer, there’s still Amazing Rextro’s Software Entertainment, or when abbreviated spells “ARSE”, which I’m now just becoming aware of…..
This arcade cabinet offers up several mini-games in the style of popular retro games in the form of Glaciators, Kartos Karting and Up ‘N’ Nova–Yooka-Laylee’s Flappy Bird imitator. Nothing overly compelling lies within in this controversially named arcade cabinet, but it’s a nice detour from the normality of platforming and can even be undertaken with up to four friends, guaranteeing a good couple of laughs for an hour or so.
I didn’t know what to expect before I started playing Yooka-Laylee. Not having played it’s spiritual predecessor, I felt unprepared; not able to appreciate it to its fullest. Regardless, I fell in love with it. Managing to cram a whole 10 hours of it within one day and not even notice the time pass me by. If comparisons have to be made–and everyone loves a good comparison–Yooka-Laylee reminded me of the days of Spyro The Dragon or the underappreciated Bugs Bunny and Taz: Time Busters. I can’t speak for how Yooka-Laylee compares to what veteran fans would expect, but as some who loved his fair share of older generation of platformers, Yooka-Laylee is the game the genre needs.