I’m really not sure how to go about reviewing Yooka-Laylee: on one hand, Playtonic was made up of a fantastic set of developers that made some of my favourite childhood games and so I backed this project on Kickstarter; on the other, I feel like the desire to create an authentic replica of that era of gaming, in hindsight, was short-sighted and ignoring key developments in game design since that era.
In terms of story, Yooka-Laylee is a daft, but charming affair set in a colourful, pun-filled world. The basic premise is that the big bad of the piece, Capital B, is trying to find a magical golden book that will give him the ability to rewrite the Universe for … reasons. This book happens to be in the hands of our titular duo and is stolen from them using a huge book vacuum cleaner contraption, dropping the pages from it everywhere and setting the whole game into motion.
Here is where the experience really begins to fall apart … the gameplay. To its credit, Yooka-Laylee is an incredible recreation of the character platformers of the late 90s/early 00s. However, this is encapsulating both the negative and the positive sides of that coin. On the positive, you have a charming romp with (mostly) solid controls through five expansive themed worlds and a hub world. In these worlds there are a tonne of collectibles and “fun” mechanics to explore, but the Pagies are the key one you need to collect as they’re used to unlock worlds and progress through the main chunk of the game.
The negatives, however, are quite depressingly substantial: the camera is a constant bane of the player’s existence; the rolling and flying controls are terrifyingly awful to control; some of the mini-quests are mechanically frustrating to complete; quite a lot of the enemies are a total pain to dispatch (those little bees for instance) and don’t even get me started on how goddamn irritating the final boss is. The end result of this constant head-to-wall exercise was that, by the end, I just wanted it finished and out of my life. Also, the less said about the utter tripe that is the Rextro Arcade machines and the stupid Quiz thing the better.
Aesthetically, this game is incredible. All the environments are beautifully well designed and completely distinct from one another; especially the third world, which was a genuine joy to explore. The music, from beginning to end, is absolutely wonderful. The very evident love and care that went into the soundtrack is very apparent and the end result is a very catchy set of tunes that almost guarantee endless humming. If only the music wasn’t marred by the excessive (and mostly unskippable) dialogue.
Yooka-Laylee is hard to recommend, but hard to deny it’s charms either. A fair chunk of it is thoroughly enjoyable, but ultimately it is held back by the mindset of an era of gaming that is most definitely better left in the past. Hopefully the patch that’s incoming will improve a lot of this game’s shortcomings, but we will have to see.