Yooka-Laylee PC Review
I’m seriously worried that this first quarter of 2017 has used up all the good games for the next few years. We’ve had a stream of simply incredible triple-A titles blowing us away left and right, and now there’s Yooka-Laylee, which is a perfect example of how the indie devs are swinging for the fences too. Back in 2015 Platonic promised what so many have failed to do – to bring an experience that would tickle our nostalgia glands and send us back to our childhoods. A game to take us back to the days of Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64, and maybe even the likes of Spyro the Dragon – all remnants of the dying (if not dead) ‘platformer’ genre. The gaming world responded loudly by donating over £2million to Yooka-Laylee’s Kickstarter campaign. Well, it’s 2 years later and it’s safe to say they delivered spectacularly on all fronts with a swift development cycle, timely updates, demos, and most importantly – a great game. This is crowdfunding done right.
We start off with Yooka the chameleon and Laylee the bat relaxing in the sun until an evil corporation, run by the business-savvy Capital B, starts sucking up all the books in the world, including Laylee’s prized possession that is apparently worth a fortune. Although, being a special book, the magical pages fly out all over the land, setting up the next 30 hours of gameplay. And so, the adventure begins – not a heroic quest to save the world but getting back an expensive book in order to become filthy rich. Bang, boom, under 2 minutes and we’re in the game, just the way it used to be. The game continues to get through everything quickly by almost immediately, introducing Trowzer the snake (you read that right), the teacher of new moves/abilities. Then, a little further through the hub world we’ve been taught the basic controls and have been introduced to the collectibles and tomes, each of which transport the duo to a different world. Besides a few hilariously self aware cutscenes and copious 4th wall breaking the game is opened to the player in a timely fashion and it feels great to be given that freedom to learn by doing. There’s no babying, just here’s the world, here’s what you need to do, go have fun – brilliant.
So, after the player has done their exploration in the hub area it’s time to travel to the first world – Tribal Tropics. On arrival it’s instantly made clear how beautiful and quirky the design of the game is. Everything from the colourful characters, playful animations, and catchy old school beats just scream ‘welcome back’. It’s an absorbing nostalgia trip that pulled me in and wouldn’t let me go. Everywhere there’s stuff to collect and creatures to meet, which presents the type of exploration that only the recent The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has managed to capture in some time. It’s the power to completely distract a player from whatever they were doing because they’ve spotted something else in the distance, only for them to then leave that track before the destination was met because yet another need item or interesting area was discovered. A collect-a-thon in all the best ways.
In total there are 5 worlds of varying themes, each containing 25 Pagies, 200 Quills, 5 ghosts, a health boost, an energy boost, a play coin/retro mini game, and a Mollycool/transformation, wow! That’s not even including the hidden extras in the hub world, which can be some of the tricker to find. Pagies are dopey little characters and the main goal of the game. In essence they are similar to Jiggies from Banjo-Kazooie and are usually rewards for helping an NPC, or can be found by doing certain trials such as platforming through a bunch of rings or solving a puzzle. There are 145 in all and are used as a means of progression, as it costs so many to open a new tome, or to reach the final boss, or expand a tome which basically opens up a bunch of new areas inside of a world that has already been visited. It’s a unique concept to explore a world and get to know it, only to then expand it and realise you were only seeing half of the picture. It may sound like a strange idea but it’s incredibly helpful so as not to feel overwhelmed by being able to explore a smaller version of the world and then increase it once you’ve got your bearings.
As for the other collectibles, Quills are strewn about everywhere and collecting all of them in each area rewards one of the local Pagies. The same thing is true of the 5 ghosts too, but they are a little more unique in how they are collected. For example, one of ghosts is invisible and the player only knows it’s nearby by the giggling sound it makes as you get closer, like a little game of hot and cold. Besides them there’s also the aforementioned health and energy boosters, energy being a stamina bar that drains when using certain abilities, and the Mollycool and Play coin collectibles, which are simply used as keys to unlock the area’s transformation and arcade game respectively. A scientist uses the Mollycool to transform Yooka and Laylee into all manner of things, my favourite possibly being the snow plough, thus allowing them to reach yet more areas and collect even more stuff, whereas the arcade games reward just the one Pagie, as long as the player can get the high score in the presented mini-game. The arcade games are also available in a multiplayer mode which, whilst shallow, can pass some time well. Phew!
It may sound mind-boggling but it’s quickly understood that all you have to do is collect everything you see, help everyone you meet, explore the whole game and have a damn good time doing it. The amount of collectibles is perfect, allowing for a lengthy experience without overstaying its welcome and the continuous new abilities help keep things interesting and are so satisfying to unlock, which is done by paying in Quills. There’s everything from stealth camouflage to Sonic-style spin-dashing to ‘creating’ a bubble to breathe underwater. Yooka-Laylee truly is a total homage to the golden years of gaming in almost every respect. Unfortunately though, it does fall completely flat in the boss department by replacing what should have been challenging tests of skill with questionnaires. It does this 3 times and after the first, which I admit I found funny, it became a total annoyance to know that I wasn’t getting my big boss blowout because of a joke.
Still, there’s simply a ton of things to do, whether it be rolling around a racetrack, exploring a seemingly never ending ice castle full of puzzles, or flying around looking for those final few collectibles and just taking in the sights and sounds. The humour is cheerful and silly, which is only made even more comical by the lack of voice acting, instead being replaced by grunts and nonsense sounds Banjo-Kazooie style. It really does just have that classic, magical touch that many games these days are too serious for.
I found it a ton of fun and terribly addicting to the point where I just consumed it in about 2 days and I hope many others enjoy it just as much because I believe the best outcome from its release is that Yooka-Laylee facilitates the second coming of the ‘platformer’. Not only does it show off the familiar mechanics we love but it plays off of them in both the gameplay and story, making jokes about the established traits of old-school games by having Yooka’s humoring of the NPCs and Laylee’s dry sarcasm almost be the voices of the player as they comment on the fact that the Pagies could just slips out of their cages and so on. Still, I am curious to see how the game will be received by the younger generation, if it will entrance them like its predecessors did us in the past, but either way I can guarantee that classic platformer fans will be taken with the experience and I’m just upset that it might be a good while before I get another fix.
Oh, and as for the people who hid the single token in the Casino stage and that one Pagie in the hub world (you know the one) that took me almost 3 hours alone to find – I’m coming for you.