During the partnership with Nintendo, Rare’s gaming output reached legendary status, producing such gems as Donkey Kong Country, and Banjo-Kazooie. Since then, their released titles have been met with harsh criticism, although Viva Piñata certainly had its fan base on the Xbox 360. Veteran members at the studio have since left the company, forming Playtonic Games and turning to Kickstarter to fund development of their very first game.
A spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie franchise, Yooka-Laylee initially reached its goal in under an hour and blew through countless stretch goals. Fans that were let down by the third game in the series, Nuts & Bolts, were elated to see the creators return to bright and charming worlds to collect countless items, even if it’s not a Banjo-Kazooie game. Although the Wii U version was canceled and development moved to the Nintendo Switch, as well as PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, the game hits all the high notes that you’d want from a classic 3D platformer.
Much like its predecessors, Yooka-Laylee’s concept involves collecting hundreds of items across multiple worlds leading up to a final confrontation. Capital B and his bumbling assistant Dr. Quack have stolen all of the world’s books, but one magical book, in particular, scattered its pages across each of the five distinct worlds. It’s a similar premise to Banjo-Kazooie, almost down to the letter. Yooka, the charming and reasonable chameleon, resembles Banjo; and Laylee, a colorful, and loudmouth bat that rides on top of Yooka is the new Kazooie. The five worlds are located inside mysterious Grand Tomes, allowing the duo to venture away from their home in Shipwreck Creek and explore the hidden worlds trapped inside Hivory Towers.
The worlds themselves are massive in size, and although they have plenty of hidden collectibles, objectives and items to collect, they tend to feel barren or empty. There are two main items to collect, Pagies and Quills. Pagies are the most valuable resource, as they are used to open new worlds, expand existing ones, and you must have a certain amount before you are allowed to finish the game. Of course, Pagies won’t be found out in the open, and you must complete various minigames, puzzles, and other tasks. In the first world, for example, you have to race a charismatic cloud with big eyes and a racing helmet across a dirt track that will take you across most of the environment to earn one of your first Pagies in the game. There are characters in each world that need your assistance and offer Pagies as a reward, but there are others locked away in treasure chests that you can earn by completing puzzles. Some are pretty straightforward, but others will leave you scratching your head due to the lack of directions. They can be spent expanding worlds, adding, even more, Pagies and Quills to collect, introducing boss battles, and opening up additional areas of the map. There are 145 Pagies to collect in total spread across the five worlds, but there are a handful located in the hub area.
There are 200 Quills to collect in each world, and only ten to collect in the hub location, but they serve a different purpose than the Pagies. With so many to collect, you’ll come across them in just about every place you go. Most of the time you’ll find them out in the open, serving as a useful marker for areas you haven’t visited yet, but there are times where you’ll find one or two tucked away in a corner. Quills allow you to expand your abilities by purchasing new moves in every world. Since you won’t have every possible move until you reach the fifth world, you will have to do some backtracking to 100% all of the worlds.
The actual platforming in the game is hampered by an unreliable camera that not only gets stuck in the environment but also has the tendency to change your view without warning. While not an overly complicated game, trying to manage the camera while hopping across moving platforms during a timed puzzle task can be frustrating. You’ll likely have to re-try many sections in the game, wasting valuable time around this tricky situations. As you are wondering around the tribal themed first world, the snow covered second world, and the remaining three, you’ll need to use all of your acquired moves to reach certain areas. Some of these require precise jumping or timing, but others use moves that are limited to your stamina bar. Slippy slopes require you to roll Yooka into a ball to get across, while others you’ll need to glide across a gap to reach a new platform. In wide open areas, this is the fastest way to traverse the levels, but a lot of times you must use the rolling ability in tight corridors or along with a jumping section that doesn't feel right. To make it across, you must feather the thumbstick while rolling to make subtle changes to your momentum; otherwise you risk failing to you're doom. To make matters worse, rolling drains your stamina bar, so unless you have found all of the upgrades, you aren’t able to take your time, but if you rush, you most likely won’t survive.
Even with the added minigames, and the sheer number of fourth-wall breaking references, Yooka-Laylee would have benefited from the bare minimum of modernization. As you explore the worlds, there is nothing to indicate any objectives you have yet to complete, where the NPC was that gave you a task or any inclusion of a map. While includes all of even some of these may have made the game easier, it would have also stopped players from running in circles looking for the last remaining collectibles. All of the game’s characters make grunting noises that you’ll either find endearing, or unappealing. I found myself wanting to turn them off, or even just lower the volume, without having to turn off all sound effects in the game.
Yooka-Laylee is exactly the type of game that Playtonic Games set out to create when they initially launched the Kickstarter for the game. It is in every sense of the word a spiritual; successor to the Banjo-Kazooie franchise. It’s a true return to the collect-a-thon games that were great back on the Nintendo 64, but many of the game’s core mechanics feel archaic on today’s platforms.
Note: The Yooka-Laylee review is based on a digital PlayStation 4 copy of the game, provided by the publisher.