Yooka-Laylee (PC) - ReviewDan Carreras , posted on 14 April 2017 / 9,279 Views
Full disclosure - Dan originally backed Yooka-Laylee on Kickstarter. This review is based on a digital copy of the game received as a result of his funding contribution.
I’ve been harping on about indie studios going back to gaming’s roots for a while now. There's perhaps no better example of this in recent years than Playtonic Games - a group of former Rare employees who wanted to revisit that company's glory years and revitalise the 3D platformer genre.
After being Kickstarted to the tune of over £2 million, this crew of developers were able to spend the last three years bringing our childhood memories back to life with a brand new set of characters, a semi-new setting, and a new generation of consoles that promised to allow them to show off their ambitions like never before. So with the restrictions of publishers and console specs lifted, have Playtonic Games managed to craft a memorable experience capable of rejuvenating the once-famous 3D platformer genre?
While I’d love to say that they have, unfortunately they most certainly have not.
The premise of Yooka-Laylee, at least, doesn’t stray too far from Rare's N64 glory years with Banjo-Kazooie. Yooka (the lizard) and Laylee (the bat) are lazing around in their new home when, suddenly, their prized possession, a golden book, is dragged away towards Capital B’s factory. Pages start to fall out across the land, and it’s up to the dynamic duo to collect them all and put a stop to Capital B’s dastardly plan to collect all of the world's books and re-write the universe.
So far so good - the groundwork is quickly laid down for the title's main collectibles and its primary villain. You then quickly happen across multiple characters that introduce you to the game world and explain how to go about doing things. Trowzer (the trouser snake) for example gives you new moves which he’s created himself, and with these new moves you’re able to traverse the terrain in novel and wonderful ways, enabling Yooka and Laylee to play through new levels and partake in extra challenges.
But the cracks soon start to show through. The open world you get to navigate between levels is large, but also very confusing, even towards the end of the campaign when you'd expect to be familiar with it. There are no hints as to which direction you should be heading in, and as a result it's easy to find yourself spending ages walking around in circles just trying to find the stages themselves.
When you do happen across a stage you're teleport inside of it and transported to one of a number of themed lands that aren't too dissimilar to those found in Banjo-Kazooie back in the day. The first stage, for example, is a tropical land that is perhaps not coincidentally one of the best areas in the game; there's plenty of terrain to jump around and explore, and numerous different objectives to complete. Later levels look more basic and challenges are soon recycled, so it's safe to say that Yooka-Laylee plays its best cards first.
NPCs are similarly entertaining at first but quickly begin to feel shallow. Learning a character's name is always fun, for example, but repetitive dialog quickly becomes an issue, especially in subsequent encounters. So NPCs are great to look at, and they certainly have charming and original designs, but don’t expect any depth of character.
Abilities, on the other hand, are plentiful but quickly feel under-utilised. It's as if a whole tranche of intended challenges have been cut from levels in order to ensure that the game released on time. For example, I only had to use a newly-acquired invisibility skill once, in order to bypass security cameras. Thereafter there are no additional stealth segments or anything else that would require you to use this new addition to your repertoire - just that one rather predictable section.
All platformers are ultimately only as good as their gameplay and controls. In Yooka-Laylee the jumping gameplay fortunately feels precise, but many other abilities, such as the rolling ability, are incredibly unwieldy, with that particular one feeling like you're on ice. What should be a simple task, like manoeuvring a ball into a hole, ends up being incredibly frustrating as a result. Yooka-Laylee is almost a tale of two halves as a result of this. The first half is refreshing and enjoyable, the second frustrating and disheartening - so much so that there were many collectibles I decided not to collect simply because the duo were too annoying to control.
Graphically, however, Yooka-Laylee holds up well and it's a genuine delight to view in motion. Early stages are rich in detail, while textures and character models look fantastic throughout. Eventually things begin to deteriorate, with later levels employing less stage presence and instead relying on large bodies of water to fill the gaps and make stages feel bigger, but it at least still looks great.
Above all else the main issue I have with Yooka-Laylee is its failure to modernise the 3D platformer genre. Throughout the whole game I felt like I was playing an N64 title that had received a graphical facelift. From the challenges you take part in, to the dialogue you witness between characters, it's as if everything has been ripped straight from 20 years ago, all, it seems, without any effort being made to add something new. Games are not sold in a vacuum - they evolve with time, being influenced by consumers' wants and needs, which themselves change based on other games that have been released. Yooka-Laylee ignores the progress other franchises and games have made on specific areas of the genre, and as such it ends up feeling like a HD remaster rather than a new concept.
It's not all bad. There were times when playing Yooka-Laylee that I zoned out and played it for several hours straight, ignoring the frustrations and just generally absorbing the world the game offers up. But Yooka-Laylee doesn’t bring much new to the table and the nostalgia factor will only keep you engaged for so long. If you’re looking for a complete recreation of a by-gone era, you may well enjoy Yooka-Laylee, especially at the start, but in the long run it's a bit of a disappointment.
This review is based on a digital copy of Yooka-Laylee for the PC