- Developer: Playtonic
- Publisher: Team 17 LTD
- Release Date: April 11, 2017
- Platform: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Windows
- Playtime: 10 hours
- Acquisition: Publisher-provided Review Copy
Video games today provide players with amazing scenarios and technology. Elements unachievable a decade ago are now possible, as are things that weren’t even fathomable in the mid-1990s. Tech advances aside, there can be a feeling within players of wanting a taste of the past.
Despite whatever new-fangled aspects developers create today, a feeling of nostalgia may wash over players who want the focused gameplay that older games provided. Lovers of old 3D platformers like Banjo-Kazooie haven’t had much to play lately other than the occasional 3D Mario game. That changes now with Yooka-Laylee, a prideful old-school inspired game which may surprise even the most ardent platforming fans with its overall quality and execution.
OLD-SCHOOL TO THE CORE
Putting players in explorable 3D worlds with hidden nooks and crannies filled with collectible objects, Yooka-Laylee feels like a classic Rare game updated to run on modern hardware. For some players, this may be a joyous occasion since pure platforming games are a rarity today.
At the start, Yooka-Laylee is an enjoyable game. The art is vibrant, and the heroes, the lizard Yooka and the bat Laylee, are likable despite not having voices. The levels are surprisingly large with various things to explore and characters to meet that provide quests for upgrades or sought after items.
Despite this set-up, the game falls into a rut where the initial wave of heart-warming nostalgia melts away to leave nothing but a tedious experience. Answering what causes Yooka-Laylee’s tedium is simple – the game is too old-school.
Such a statement may come across as hypocritical since that’s what the game strives for, but the design of Yooka-Laylee mirrors those of the late 1990s to the core. This is right down to the life-sucking mini-games, hard challenges, and twitchy controls that make basic things harder than they need to be. Thanks to the plot MacGuffin of a magical book, players can expand levels after collecting a certain number of Paiges. That wasn’t a typo as Paiges are the pieces of the magical book players are hunting down as their primary quest.
Thanks to the plot MacGuffin of a magical book, players can expand levels after collecting a certain number of Paiges. That wasn’t a typo as Paiges are the pieces of the magical book players are hunting down as their primary quest.
Expanding a level, which is mandatory, adds new sections with additional quests. Despite this, Yooka-Laylee maintains unengaging platforming hampered by an annoyingly close camera and a continuous push of collection quests.
A DISAPPOINTING DIRECTION
Even with the vibrancy and depth the worlds provide, Yooka-Laylee feels the same throughout despite the occasional gimmicks thrown in. For every enjoyable aspect, there’s at least two which prove to be distracting. Design issues in the timed collection quests and mini-games, like unrefined controls, leads to immediate frustration. Such a problem is due to the gameplay variety not being great, and the same goal being pushed non-stop.
Making matters worse, Yooka-Laylee doesn’t provide a map for any of the levels or quest logs. So players will need to memorize the location of certain things or clues left by quest givers. In a rare case, players need to have pen and paper nearby to leave themselves notes ala 1998.
The map oversight may not be an egregious error, but it’s reflective of the core problem with Yooka Laylee; it’s a 100% old-school game. Nothing feels unique or special, nor does it take advantage of modern design elements to take the genre in unique directions. It’s literally a design copy & paste from the mid-90s in 2017. Even then it struggles to do the basics right. For players who were born in the early 2000s, it may be a struggle to get through Yooka-Laylee since classic 3D platformers don’t have the same immediate longevity as Metroidvania games.
Going on collection quests non-stop with mini-games thrown in will only appeal to the core fans who enjoyed Rare’s work or classics like Spyro. For everyone else, it’s hard to find something gripping in Yooka-Laylee if your fandom isn’t steeped immensely in the genre.
The downsides are Yooka-Laylee are that much disappointing since it has an enjoyable amount of character. Despite the ear-bleeding sounds present when characters talk, the atmosphere is one which is light and airy. The biting dialog is surprising, as is the referential tone it has about video games in general.
While never edgy or deep, the writing is at least steps above kid-friendly drek such as that found in Skylanders. More importantly, it feels like it belongs in the stable of past classics from Rare. The plot is nothing to boast about and is almost non-sensical. The villains are an odd pair though consisting of a Despicable Me reject, and a disembodied duck head in a candy jar. Yes, Yooka-Laylee kinda ventures into weird territory design wise.
Far from a blunder of Mighty N0. 9 proportions, Yooka-Laylee will be decisive to the core. For some, it’ll be a bastion of gaming’s glory days for a genre that has since evolved. Other players will have a sullied sense of nostalgia that’ll prove as a reminder that some things are best left unexplored. Yooka-Laylee serves is an example of the weaknesses 3D platforming games once had, and how the eventual genre evolution was for the best.