Yooka-Laylee is the definition of a kickstarter success, and unlike Mighty No. 9, the developers have made good on their promise and unleashed a game that’s fun, lengthy, and packed with content. Playtonic Games have not only spent the development process hand in hand with their backers, but have also offered up a neat Toy Box demo to give fans just a taste of what’s to come. Now that Yooka-Laylee is upon us, how exactly does a 90’s (Banjo-Kazooie) inspired platformer sit in modern times? Surprisingly well.
I wont unearth too many story plots here because us lot over at Xbox Tavern believe that dishing out spoilers, well, it’s deserving of a special place in hell. The story begins with our main characters sitting at a picnic. Yooka the chameleon and Laylee the bat are catching a spot of sunshine over in Shipwreck Creek, when all of a sudden their nearby magical book gets whisked into the air and sucked into a giant vacuum. This theft comes from no other than Capital B, the antagonist of the adventure. He’s set out to steal every book that he can get his grubby hands on and before long, Yooka and Laylee are off on an adventure to put a stop to Capital B’s evil plan.
How exactly will they be doing this? Playing as this unique and cute duo, you’ll be seeking out and obtaining the magical “Pagies” that have been scattered all around Capital B’s headquarters, as well as throughout several mystical tomes within. It’s clear from the get-go that replay value plays a large part in this game, hell, you can see from the menu alone that there’s over 1000 collectables to nab. That’s not including all of the power-ups and abilities that you can pick up along the way, and also the local multiplayer mini games you can dive on. Safe to say, there’s more than enough content in Yooka-Laylee to justify the price tag. With that being said content means nothing unless it’s fun and engaging, and Yooka-Laylee has that nailed down too.
When you’ve spent the first 30 minutes of play getting a handle on the controls and a feel for the game, you’ll eventually be greeted with your first of many grand tomes. These are huge books that you dive into, much like how Mario could jump into paintings in Mario 64. Each of the grand tomes offer distinct worlds that are rich, colourful, and full of fun tasks to overcome. Gameplay consists of controlling Yooka and Laylee as a single unit, and by that I mean that Laylee is sat on Yookas head and you control them in unity. Each of these characters can utilise a wide range of abilities that you’ll typically receive from Trowzer. When you’re in the hub world (Hivory Towers or Shipwreck Creek) you will be given select abilities for free. However when you’re in one of the grand tomes, you’ll need to pay Trowzer with Quills.
Quills are the most common collectable that you will come across, and they’re scattered everywhere. Other collectables include the aforementioned Pagies, which are used to enter new worlds or expand currently unlocked worlds. There’s also five ghosts in each of the grand tomes that you can seek out, these are really tough to find and each ghost can only be caught in a specific way. On top of this there’s health extenders and energy extenders, which are fairly self explanatory, rounded off with play coins that can be used to gain access to arcade mini games, and finally mollycools. Mollycools can be used to grant you the ability to transform into a range of different forms, something that’s especially useful for accessing secret areas or interacting with certain characters. Needless to say, there’s plenty to do.
Yooka-Laylee can be played however you like. You can quite literally go into each world and goof around to your hearts content. Sure, there’s some on-rail progression tucked away behind the main portions of play, but for the most part you’re free to come and go how you please. I found it useful to collect as many quills as possible so that I could purchase all of the moves from Trowzer as soon as can be. This prevents you from being incapable of reaching high heights and solving select puzzles, for example, going invisible to hide from turrets or digesting elemental plants to momentarily house different elemental powers. There’s much more on offer and with powers you can obtain in later worlds, there’s almost always a reason to backtrack and revisit previously unlocked worlds to test out your new powers and use them to further traverse areas you couldn’t trek beforehand.
Yooka-Laylee is gorgeous in both design and presentation. I was constantly impressed with every world that I entered and although there’s no denying that some worlds are much better than others, the overall delivery is one that stuck with me long after I put the pad down. With each new environment comes a vast collection of new challenges to overcome. You can race other characters, jump in a mine cart and collect a set amount of gems, take on a range of boss battles, fetch quests, shooting ranges, and much much more. Although many of these challenges are ridiculously fun, there’s a handful in there that really pushed the limits of my patience, but in the grand scheme of things there’s little to complain about.
Another layer of progression goes to the tonics that you can unlock and apply to the duo. These don’t tend to be game changing functionalities, but if you’re looking to buff up the characters a little, you can do just that. Buffs include increased health bars, extended use of special abilities, and more. You earn these via one of the vendors once you have unlocked whatever requirement is necessary, such as stunning some enemies, or beating a certain band of foes. It’s a shame really that something as jam packed and well thought out as Yooka-Laylee comes with some pretty unforgiving issues, yes camera, I’m looking right at you.
The camera has a tendency of shifting perspective at the worst of times. You witness this during the first five minutes of play, and although it’s not intrusive at this point, it’s more than headache inducing elsewhere. The first boss you face off against in Tribalstack Tropics is where it becomes more than apparent. The way to defeat this boss is to roll up-hill and avoid incoming wooden logs, however if you so much as touch a log you get sent back down to the bottom. The problem is the camera doesn’t align itself well enough on the way down, meaning nine times out of ten, you’re going to hit each and every log you’ve avoided on the way up. It isn’t just isolated to this one area of the game, I found several sections in which the camera wanted to ruin my day, fingers crossed the folks over at Playtonic get this sorted swiftly.
Yooka-Laylee is one hell of an addictive platforming adventure. Those that invest can look forward to at least 25 hours worth of gameplay, and several hours more for seeking out each and every collectable. Visually the game is magnificent and shows off a wide band of differently themed worlds for fans to enjoy, each of which are full of wonderful tasks to take on. Sadly some worlds are weaker in design than others, and the wonky camera is undoubtedly the biggest hindrance within, but with those problems to the side there’s an excellent journey waiting for you to pick up, and one that’s been well worth the wait.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.