In my initial 6 hours with Yooka-Laylee, I’m reminded why the character platformer fell out of favour. In a world in which most games use collectables are a side distraction in order to extend the time a player spends with a game, basing an entire game around the concept feels incredibly dated. However obviously, that opinion is not widely shared. If it was then this new project from Playtonic (a developed consisting mostly of ex-Rare employees) would not have been one of Kickstarter's biggest success stories and in that sense, it’s great to see people that yearn for the days of collectathons being catered to. However, it’s hard to see players outside of those with nostalgia for some of the late 1990's most cherished titles getting much from it.
The initial set up for the game is that a green chameleon; Yooka and his purple bat friend Laylee are forced to leave their home of Shipwreck creek in order to rescue “Pagies” that have been scattered throughout the world as a result of the nefarious villains Capitol B and Dr Quack's scheme to absorb all books and convert them to profit. The more “Pagies” the player collects, they are able to travel to new worlds, or instead, a player can spend their "Pagies" on a level they’ve already visited in order to expand it. This is an interesting concept and is necessary for finding all of a level's hidden features and side objectives.
Yooka Laylee is an action platformer that stands on the shoulders of Banjo-Kazooie by having the player control two characters in order to pull off various offensive, traversal and projectile manoeuvres. While the game offers some interesting platforming puzzles in its early stages, I faced some extremely frustrating input latency that causes some challenges to become virtually impassable. The game’s poor checkpointing in certain early areas does little to alleviate this.
The main thing you will find yourself doing in Yooka-Laylee is collecting things. Levels feature around 25 “Pagies”, which are hidden around the levels as well as being rewards for quests that take place in the level. Players also collect “quills” which are scattered much more liberally around the environment. These quills are also used in order to purchase moves and abilities that will allow the player to reach previously inaccessible areas in worlds and reach further “Pagies”. Abilities purchased in later levels can also be used to come back to a previous world and access puzzles that were previously unsolvable.
Aesthetically, the game uses a vibrant colour palette in order to update the style of the late 90s into the current generation. This element is extremely well done and rather striking upon the game's opening. Few games are as colourful as Yooka Laylee. The two main characters are well designed and likeable, but the writing leaves a lot to be desired. The self-referential humour is less winks and nudges and more dropping an anvil across your skull labelled “Video Game reference” and while a few of these knowing quips are funny, the over-reliance on them in lieu of any real sense of story is draining. That’s not all that is disheartening about the opening of the game. From the moment the game starts I was immediately struck by how annoying the lack of voice acting in the game is. Instead of voice acting, each character delivers a series of emotive grunts as text is displayed across the bottom of the screen. These noises are loud and jarring, and with the game's seemingly random allowance for skipping dialogue, sitting through this unending series of noises was excruciating.
I have no doubt that those who crowdfunded this game will be satisfied, but as someone who was worried that the time for this style of game had passed, the opening areas do little to quell that fear.
Join us closer to release for a full review of Yooka-Laylee.
Yooka-Laylee is available from Tuesday 11th of April for Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC. A version of the game for Nintendo Switch has also been confirmed to release at a later date.