Both a love letter to and spiritual successor of late 1990s 3D platformers such as Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, Yooka-Laylee is a whimsical, mischievous open world platformer that manages to delight and surprise from the first minute.
Yooka-Laylee is one of those games where you just want to grab a friend and pull them over in order to share the journey together: its cartoonish, vibrant landscapes and suitably daft characters never fail to elicit smiles (alongside the odd groan from the bad puns).
Just like the good old days
Yooka-Laylee has a simple premise — bad guy Capital B and his corporation are attempting to capture a book powerful enough to recreate the world, its pages (“pagies”) scattered across multiple worlds, and it’s up to lizard Yooka and bat friend Laylee to hunt down and recover them.
Those who remember playing titles like Super Mario 64 will immediately feel right at home here: tight controls, expansive spaces to explore, and plenty of puzzles to overcome. Hivory Towers serves as a hub from which you can gradually reach and unlock the main five worlds to explore, each of which can also be expanded once enough pagies have been collected — substantially increasing the size and content of the worlds.
Each world features a diverse variety of places to explore and people to meet, and look deceptively simple. On your first time jumping into a world, you’ll probably feel like it seems easily managed and that you’ll breeze through in an hour or two; trigger the world’s expansion and suddenly the place seems twice as large. Furthermore, you’ll often revisit a world ten or twenty hours later — armed with new abilities and ideas about how to reach various nooks and crannies — and you’ll find yet more secrets and goodies that you never knew were there.
Speaking of collectibles, there are a whole bucketload. Alongside doing quests and searching around for pagies, you’ll want to be grabbing quills — a currency used for buying essential new abilities — as well keeping an eye out for health and power bar upgrades, coins used to access Rextro’s arcade games, mollycools in order to unlock new transformations, and more. There’s not just plenty to collect, but the good stuff is well hidden, and you’ll really need to work for it if you’re going for 100% completion.
Each world also has five ghost writers scattered about who need to be collected, though it’s no mean feat — each spirit has its own quirk, whether they’re always trapped somewhere obscure, require smart ability use, or are willing to fight (or run away) to avoid capture.
Gameplay manages to stay fresh throughout your adventures as you gradually unlock further abilities — some mobility based, others more tactical — opening up previously inaccessible regions and new powers to assault enemies with. Earning pagies varies widely, with some locked away in hard to reach places and others given as rewards for helping out the various peculiar characters you’ll bump into.
Each character has their own straightforward requests; sometimes you’ll get clues about where to meet someone else, othertimes it’ll be a fetch quest or a test of your combat skill. None of them are too difficult, though there are a number of objectives in Yooka-Laylee which are really tough, whether it’s trying to figure out how to proceed or simply mechanical skill in learning how the boss battles work.
The game mixes up the usual exploration with a bunch of gameplay changes, such as minecart runs with Kartos, zooming sideways along hazardous tracks collecting gems and avoiding hazards. You’ll find him in each world, as well as polygonal dino Rextro, who seems to be stuck in the late ’90s and has a different minigame on offer once you’ve collected that world’s respective coin.
The minigames are pretty straightforward, ranging from top-down racing to infinite runner style games, and as an unexpected bonus can also be played from the main menu either solo, or with up to four people with local multiplayer.
Burps and Hiccups
Yooka-Laylee prides itself on essentially being a ’90s platformer in all but the shinier, modern HD graphics, and that’s where it can get a little divisive. Characters all speak in the same manner as Banjo-Kazooie, with odd grunts, “huh!”s and the occasional belch instead of full voice-overs. It’ll hit nostalgic notes with fans of the Banjo games, though it may be grating for younger players accustomed to more modern titles.
Classic camera issues that were prevalent with early 3D platformers also make an appearance here and there in Yooka-Laylee, though the worlds have been fairly well designed in order to minimise the impact.
Bugs are mostly non-existent, though I would always have a strange, persistent bunch of flying bees on my screen for a short time after unpausing, which is certainly a glitch of some kind — perhaps the game doesn’t like PlayStation controllers being used on the PC. I wish the game had either recognised or had the option of displaying gamepad controls in PlayStation format too, as not everyone uses XBox controllers; mentally converting on-screen inputs to actual buttons was a minor nuisance, but nothing gamebreaking.
Playtonic peg Yooka-Laylee with about thirty hours of play time, though in our experience that’s rather conservative and likely due to their testers knowing the game inside-out; we’d put a standard playthrough at around 35-40 hours, with a considerably lengthier play time if you’re a completionist and going for every collectible and secret in the game.