Quick note, I backed this on Kickstarter. Ok, that’s out of the way. On with the proper words!
Colourful characters! Pretty animations! Jokes clearly aimed at grown-ups (such as a snake called Trowzer. Trouser Snake. PENIS JOKE!) No, it’s not the latest movie from Pixar, it’s Yooka-Laylee, the well publicised collect-a-thon revival from (most of) the people who made the genre what it is (was?), funded through Kickstarter. The team is mostly comprised of people from Rare, those clever sods behind Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong Country and Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Those games have something in common, and it’s not just that they’re very successful collect-a-thons. They’re also from around 20 years ago…
I’ll get this out of the way: Yooka-Laylee is far from perfect. But it is fun in spite of the flaws it contains. Most of those flaws are hangovers from the games that it is so clearly trying to imitate. It’s great to play a game with the same gameplay style and sense of humour as those classics, but it’s not so great to be struggling with some of the same issues that those games suffered with. It’s nostalgia without taking into account how gaming has evolved since the glory days of the genre.
Anyway, we play as Yooka and Laylee, a heroic duo like so many others before them. Their peaceful days beside their shipwreck they call home is spoiled when the local business start sucking up all the books in the area, including their special golden book they found in the shipwreck. Of course, this book is the true target of the corporations scheme, as the One Book’s pages allow the owner to rewrite the universe! During its theft however, the pages escape and are scattered throughout the business’ tower. Cue our heroes leaping into action to find the pages and save the day from the dastardly Capital B!
The story is all fluff really, although the characters in it are mostly fun to read the dialogue of. The “voice acting” though is as it was in Banjo-Kazooie et al. with silly noises rather than actual words. It made sense 20 years ago, but these days it made me want to skip all the dialogue (you can’t) just to avoid horrible sounds. The characters are all unique in design and often poke fun at one thing or another. Kartos the God of Ore (a mine kart), Shovel Knight (of Shovel Knight fame) and Trev the Tenteyecle (amongst others) all stand out as being quite different to each other and offer unique challenges in each world.
The worlds are contained in books hidden in the tower’s hub area (which is horrible to navigate due to poor signposting) and each one is quite different to the last. From the bright forests of Tribalstack Tropics to the grimy swamp of Moodymaze Marsh, everything looks very distinct and fits within its environment. The Marsh contains broken old shopping trolleys as characters whilst the casino has anthropomorphic slot machines. These characters will give you tasks to earn more pages that will allow you to access and expand further worlds. Ranging from simply completing a race against the clock to complex platforming puzzles and the occasional boss, there are plenty of different challenges to undertake, and its easy enough to find one to do in any given level. Some are a bit irritating though, such as navigating slides using you roll skill (tough and a bit annoying) or using physics to guide a ball into a hole (unbelievably frustrating). If you’re going for 100% completion, which is something a lot of people like to in collect-a-thons, be prepared to take the rough with the smooth.
Special mention must be made to the absolute ARSE of a final boss. I’ve already mentioned that relying on old fashioned gaming tropes is pretty hit and miss here, but this was certainly a miss. A multi-stage boss battle that lasts nearly 15 minutes, with easy early stages and very difficult final phases and NO CHECKPOINTS! I cannot stress how annoying this was. Unless you’re Dark Souls, put checkpoints in your multi-phase boss fights developers. Don’t make me waste another 10 minutes redoing the early parts to get to where I screwed up last attempt. Don’t waste my time!
The thing is, in spite of the silly design decisions, the often cheap humour, the final boss debacle and all the other nostalgia driven features that have been ironed out through years of progress in the industry, I still found myself having fun. Perhaps it was a return to that childlike enjoyment of a brightly coloured environment, or each mini open world having mini challenges in them to find all the items. Maybe I’m a closet kleptomaniac. whatever it is, for me this game was fun in spite of the missteps. I’d read the negative early reviews and expected utter toss, but I was pleasantly surprised to find an enjoyable experience.
Yooka-Laylee was developed by Playtonic Games and published by Team 17. I played the game on Xbox One and would recommend it if you’re feeling nostalgic and don’t mind some of those old irritations still being present. It’s far from perfect, but it’s nice to have an updated Banjo-Kazooie to play through, dodgy camera and all.