Yooka-Laylee: Return of the old-school?

When I was younger, I played a lot of Donkey Kong Country, Gex: Deep Cover Gecko, Spyro the Dragon and dabbled in Banjo-Kazooie. So many hours spent running around these highly enjoyable platformers collecting things and solving puzzles when I should have been doing homework. Fast forward a decade (or two) and the creative minds behind two of my childhood games have had a very successful Kickstarter campaign to bring us Yooka-Laylee! So, let’s dive in and acquainted with the dynamic duo who I’ve been spending some time with!

First off, it’s best to meet the characters of this little tale from Playtonic Games! First there’s Yooka, the lizard with the sticky tongue and tail whipping attacks. And then there’s Laylee, a cheeky, wisecracking bat who comes in handy when you need a lift or the sonar! Together they need to defeat the bad guy, Captial B as he carries out his evil plan of stealing all of the books in the world, including a valuable book that Laylee was using as a drinks coaster which is sucked away from them and the golden pages scatter across the different worlds of the game. These characters bounce off each other well with the added bonus of being cute and colourful. It’s well worth reading the subtitles of their little back and forth conversations with each other and the characters they meet along the way as they can be highly entertaining at times.

There is a lot to do in the game if you choose to. The game will give you as much as you put in as there are 5 worlds along the way which can all be expanded to open up more areas which offer up boss battles, additional puzzles and challenges along with the extra hours of gameplay. If you enjoy the game, then you’re more likely to expand these areas and keep on playing. The objective is to collect Pagies from your book and thwart Capital B’s plan.  You’ll need to complete puzzles, challenges or just explore the world in order to get your hands on them. Sometimes these can be really easy or horrifically difficult and require all of the moves you’ll learn along the way to get through. Only once or twice have I found myself giving up on a Pagie entirely to come back to it another time. The worlds also provide different obstacles that you’ll have to pay attention to, for example, the water in the swamp world will hurt you so you’ll need to avoid falling in or in the snowy world you may start taking damage if you get too cold. I love that the worlds can be expanded in this game as you’re almost a little sad when you’ve done as much as you can with the limited abilities you may have at the time only to realise you can go back and do more!

Let’s revisit our buddy-duo, Yooka and Laylee. They don’t have all of the skills required to take on these challenges at the start of the game so they will need to do businesssss with Trowser…. The snake. Yes, that’s right, Trowser Snake! You’ll have to collect Quills that are dotted around the worlds in exchange for extra moves such as a higher jump, extended tongue length, rolling with your homie or an area of effect sonar explosion. Laylee loves to give Trowser a hard time but he is a business man and provides some good snake related puns. Note that some moves will drain your power bar for Laylee meaning you’ll have to find some nearby butterflies to eat to replenish. The variety of moves available is actually great. I played two different demos of the games before release at events and never really got to appreciate how many there were. You’ll suddenly remember that you do have a move that will help you with a task and everything just falls into place. Occasionally though, you may find that you fail challenges through the misjudged timing of your ability or move so there is a slight amount of trial and error. There is still an area in the Ice world that I haven’t beaten yet because I can’t seem to get the timing right on the roll to get around a series of slippery surfaces with gaps between them. Every time I fell off I had to go back to the start of the area and after 15-20 attempts, I gave up and haven’t really been back since.

There are a lot of characters in the game that provide some additional laughs like Kartos the mine kart (God of Ore?!), Rextro the Retro Gaming T-Rex and even the depressed shopping kart outside a maze who won’t win any prizes for motivational speaking. Their challenges can vary in difficulty and the skills required to win but all in all, you’ll need to master all your moves for some of them! The worlds provide tools to help you get through the puzzles or challenges too, this might be in the form of cannonballs which you can lick with your tongue and you’ll become heavy enough to get by the wind machines that would usually blow you off the level or there are plants to eat that provide ice, fire and water allowing you to use that element to fight baddies or get through areas. My personal favourite is the bee hives that you lick allowing you to stick to the ice so you can roll up slopes in the ice world. My only issues with the overall gameplay were that vehicles are not the easiest to control and can cause some frustration when logically, there isn’t really a reason for the controls not to work properly. But I also found that the boss fights were a little samey with the dodging of attacks, hitting them 3 times then rinse and repeat until they give up. While yes, back in the day this would be the main method, there may have been opportunities to mix it up a bit at times to add some more variety.

Graphically, the game is colourful, bright and really takes me back to the 90s. My only graphical gripe was that the loading screen would freeze a lot causing me to think the game had crashed but I think it was just down to there being a lot going on and my PS4 may be showing signs of falling apart if it can’t cope with loading the game up while lots of Pagies and Quills dance on the screen. The animations and world designs are cracking and everything flows really well without anything looking out of place. The games music also feels like a blast from the past as it reminds me a lot of the late 90s and coupled with the various noises the characters make instead of forming words while ‘speaking’, it takes you back to the old-school platformers that we loved so long ago.

While most the time, Yooka-Laylee is an absolute joy to play, the one thing that I just didn’t get the feel for was the Casino world. With a lot of luck based tasks which can hit the pace hard unless you are the luckiest person in the real world, it’s difficult to get sucked in to this area as much as the others. It isn’t dreadful, but it didn’t wow me. Other players may disagree and really enjoy the change to the puzzles and challenge styles in the alternative worlds but it left me just wanting this world out of the way a little. However, the rest of the game is great and thoroughly enjoyable so I’m not going to complain as there’s a lot to do in the other areas of the game that make up for it.

Overall, Yooka-Laylee has started to rekindle the fire that could bring this genre back to life and while there are some aspects that I had little issues with, it is still good fun. It’s a game that can be enjoyed by adults and kids a like although the younger audience may not entirely get the adult humour in plain sight such as the name of the ship at the beginning being called ‘Bat Ship Crazy’, they will still enjoy solving the puzzles and will probably do them better than you too. There are lots of little nods to other games and franchises and this title doesn’t take itself too seriously as it’s just about having fun. Outside of the campaign, there is a 1 player arcade mode and a 2-4 local multiplayer mode too so you can play some of the Rextro arcade games with your buddies. Yooka-Laylee offers fun, laughter, crazy characters and some challenges along the way. While it is currently available now for PC, Xbox One and PS4, it will be available on the Switch at some point later this year.

Yooka-Laylee was reviewed on PS4. Review copy provided by Team 17.

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