Yooka-Laylee’s Kickstarter campaign was a rousing success. Surpassing its initial funding goal of £175,000 in a matter of mere 40 minutes, the game promised to bring the classic 3D platforming of the Nintendo 64 era back to life. Developer Playtonic has stood by their promises, with cute cartoon-ish visuals, quirky characters and a vibrant, colourful world.
At its best, the game is a testament to the legacy of titles like Banjo Kazooie which I’m sure a lot of us still remember fondly. It’s fun and enthusiastic and constantly makes fun of itself in a charmingly silly way. You play as the heroic lizard, Yooka and her trusty but sarcastic bat partner Laylee. Yooka mostly does the physical work, like running and jumping and rolling, while Laylee helps in gliding and has a sonar ray that unlocks invisible objects.Together, the two adorable heroes are on a mission to save the world from the evil Captial B.
Like the N64 era 3D platformers, Yooka-Laylee has all the elements from the classics that inspire it. There’s a central hub which leads to the sprawling, colorful worlds filled with collectibles, bonuses and enemies. In the beginning you have a limited moveset, but collecting the quills scattered all over the levels allow you to buy different moves and abilities which you can then use to your advantage. The game adds some interesting twists to the platforming and puzzle elements as well. On each level, you can find a Mollycool, which transforms the player into some sort of a weird creature which enables certain dialogues and mechanics needed to access the Pagies. There are also consumable berry bushes that act like ammunition. Consuming these berries allows Yooka to spit out projectiles. The standard grey berries form standard pellets while the red ones turn the player into a flamethrower and the blue ones give you a Pokemon’s “Water Gun” ability, allowing you to dowse fire. All these elements create some really engaging mechanics and puzzles that are just a joy to behold. You can also access the retro-arcade zone and play fun mini-games either solo or with up to three friends, separately from the campaign.
Another great thing about the game is that you can access the worlds in any order, as long as you have enough Pagies to unlock it. Meaning if you get stuck at a point in a certain level, you can always go back and explore another location. The worlds are huge and open, and each one has its unique character. From ancient temple ruins to rocky, icy castles, the game offers a lot to explore. Each level can be expanded once, increasing the size and the amount of collectibles and secrets. The sad part though, is that there are only five worlds. And while every single one is filled with enough life and challenges to impress you, there are certain tasks that might prove to be a little frustrating. For instance, there’s a trivia quiz sequence that gives you three tries before you lose and need to try all over again. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Well, some of the questions include asking you the number of a certain object that you’ve collected or what your current playtime is. Now, granted, the questions do seem to designed to make you think closely about what you’ve been doing in the game, but come on, if I’m at a point in game where I’m thoroughly enjoying it, you might understand why I wasn’t paying attention to how long I’ve been playing the game.
The gameplay has a few other issues as well. The abilities that you get from the berries are all time-bound, meaning the moment you consume it, you’re on a clock. This wouldn’t be much of an issue if the game’s aiming mechanism wasn’t bad. For accurate shooting, you need to switch to a first person view, which completely prevents you from moving. This ends up resulting in a seemingly constant back and forth, especially when the puzzle or the enemies are at a longer distance from the berries.
Yooka-Laylee had problems with camera movement and rotation at launch, but these seem to be mostly fixed by now. I did run into a situation where the camera seemed to have its own mind, but that was only about a couple of times, and nothing that would ruin the game’s experience. And talking about the game’s experience, it really does stand up to what it set out to do. The Kickstarter campaign promised a 90’s 3D platformer Rare-vival, and that’s exactly what the game feels like. All the elements that made Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong such amazing titles are present here, and the game executes them quite well.
Yooka-Laylee feels like a game straight out of the 90s. From colorful worlds to silly characters to even sillier dialogues, the game is a fun-filled collectathon that harkens back to carefree days, at least for me. Although, the fact that it’s so true to its classic inspirations also means that it may feel a little dated to someone who’s not as nostalgic. One might even say that the game is a bit too old-school, but that doesn’t prevent the game from being fun and entertaining.It is definitive proof that even though the genre might not have aged that well, there is still plenty it has to offer.