A faithful love letter to collect-a-thons of the late '90s, not without its irritants.
Developer: Playtonic Games
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC (reviewed) and Switch.
Reviewed on: i7-4790k @4.0GHz, GTX 1070 8GB @1.6GHz, 16GB RAM.
I had to cast my mind back quite some way to recall the last time I played a platformer as visually striking as Yooka-Laylee. The first thing that sprung to mind was 2013's Rayman Legends; a game so fantastic that I still regard it as one of the greatest video games I have ever played, bringing a franchise that remained AWOL for so long into the modern era in impressive style, not forgetting Origins which launched two years prior. In May of 2015, a very slim selection of industry veterans, known for their work on highly-regarded titles at Rare, began a Kickstarter campaign for a game that aimed to serve as an ode to a way of design that has largely been lost in today's deluge of blockbuster shooters and early access cash-ins.
Unfortunately for Yooka-Laylee, a lot of the bugbears from the late '90s have come back to haunt Playtonic Games' cutesy homage to Banjo-Kazooie. Frustratingly clunky controls and poor minigames attempt to break up what is actually quite a fun platformer at its core.
Upon starting it up for the first time, though, I was completely taken. The first world you are thrown into is instantly captivating and charming, complete with a basic introduction to the moves and attacks you'll need to traverse the initial two or three stages. A soundtrack from esteemed composers of such games as Viva Piñata, GoldenEye 007 and Donkey Kong Country provide a beautiful touch to Yooka-Laylee's overall atmosphere and ambience - a standout aspect.
Yooka is a bright green lizard, complete with optimistic outlook and a rather adorable licking animation. Laylee is a purple bat who likes to throw shade at any old fucker with the gall to do as much as exist; something that quickly becomes apparent as she can't seem to hold off from throwing deadpan, snide remarks at the numerous NPCs you'll meet on your journey. If these lines were intended to be funny, I can't honestly say I laughed or chuckled at any point. A lot of the "humour", if you can call it that, feels way more forced given the fact that not one single character is voice acted. The two often throw shade at the business plans of the games industry as it is today, as they fire off a series of peculiar noises that serve as an alternative to spoken dialogue. It can be quite strange at first, especially listening to the same sounds repeated over and over again with only arbitrary pitch heightening and lowering to create any form of variety. And quite frankly, it's not a part of the game I would shout praise at.
Accompanying Yooka and Laylee on their quest to retrieve their magical book are a cast of not-so-memorable, ever-so-slightly horrifying characters. A vending machine who provides a selection of game-changing "tonic" upgrades like extra health and a rare items detector goes by the name of Vendi. Despite looking like a giant upright duck's beak with a sex doll's face, she was one of very few characters I don't recall Laylee ever slagging off. Trowzer the Snake, who is named after a penis, brings upgrades that are useful for accessing otherwise inaccessible areas with a few other perks on the side. I must admit that the intentionally glitchy and energetic Rextro was my favourite of the NPC roster - you'll find him in every world acting as a host to a unique arcade machine that you can interact with to score points and earn prizes. Quizmaster Dr. Quack will test your game knowledge on the fly, serving as a sidekick to the villainous villain man Capital B, who is a villain.
Combat doesn't get too much more complex after you've figured out how to press one button on your controller, although other attacks involving body slams and Laylee's sonar ability become available in due course. Most enemies in their smatterings can typically be ignored entirely, or fended off with a couple of hits or shots of whichever attack you see fit. It is at least helped along slightly by the nice addition of slapstick cartoon effects as you swiftly dispatch their small groups.
The player-tracking camera can sometimes prove a nuisance to your enjoyment of exploration if you're thinking about manipulating it whilst on the move. All's well and good if you're having a quick look around when idle, but do it in any other situation and the game does everything within its power to wrestle away and center itself at all times. I didn't suffer quite as much as others seemed to with this issue, but I wasn't lucky enough to dodge it entirely.
My main frustrations stemmed from the abhorrent minigames that rear their ugly heads in world four, for the most part. Pointless puzzles involving air-powered pinball that require Yooka to jump on a series of pressure pads and guide a sponge cube through a boring, fiddly maze was akin to a shoddy LittleBigPlanet community level. Golf sections were nothing remotely good, either.
Playtonic's unique selling point for Yooka-Laylee had to be the vast range of collectibles. Nothing really sets out to differentiate itself too heavily from 1998's Banjo-Kazooie, as a series of musical knick-knacks are compiled to unlock and expand worlds. This is not a bad thing, as it once again harkened back to my love of the recent Rayman games that played perfectly in tune with their catchy soundtracks. It took me a total of 20 hours to obtain the vast majority of these items alongside my completion of the story mode, so you can gauge for yourself as to whether the game is worth its current price tag.
Transformations allow you to dig out more of those all-important collectibles from world to world, though clunky controls get in the way of the experience. A snow plough that takes the vague appearance of Yooka and Laylee combined is a nice idea on paper, but handles like a heap of wet dog shit on a non-stick frying pan when you come to try and maneouvre the damn thing. The helicopter transformation in world four is decent enough, thankfully.
If you're looking for a platformer that succeeds in most areas to throw back to a time when characters emoted exclusively with grunts and groans, and cameras fought against you, wrapped up in a visually pleasing package, you've found your next game. A younger audience may find Yooka-Laylee hard to love, but those familiar with the formula on display here should still have a good time.