Yooka-Laylee Review

Dom Peppiatt

The problem with making a game that’s inspired heavily by the golden age of 3D puzzle platformers is that those games were inherently a bit shoddy: they were plagued with camera issues, they were riddled with bugs, they were fun but - let’s be honest - often a bit clumsy. Yooka-Laylee has taken its inspiration to heart in every way, from the cartoon cast of characters and its lo-fi art direction to the clunky, awkward controls and the dodgy camera.

Yooka-Laylee wanted to fill the hole of the open world 3D platformer, deviating from the likes of Mario (course-based) Ratchet & Clank (zone-based) and Crash Bandicoot (level-based) to fit into its own niche in the market.

Even the colourful cast of characters become annoying eventually

When you’re building a collect-a-thon game in an open world environment, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of becoming boring: the first level of Yooka-Laylee is flush with things to do, it looks interesting, there’s stuff going off, there are characters everywhere and it’s dense. But as the game progresses and you unlock and expand more worlds, it gets diluted.

Every level seems longer and more arduous to get through, the gimmicks each world is built around fall flat. The tropical setup of the first world is nice, it undercuts the general bland environment that is the game’s hub world, but then as the ice realm opens up and you start to think… hang on, there’s just less to do here. The level is bigger, there are the same tokens and collectibles to unearth and sniff through… but largely it just takes longer. It never gets any more enjoyable or any more fun.

What doesn’t help is the game’s awkward controls: if you persevere through some of the more tedious mini-games and occasionally badly-designed tasks you have to do, you may end up getting put off by just how annoying some of the platforming can be when navigating from one place to another.

In later levels, where pitfalls and obstacles become more common, the clunky controls can really impact the rhythm of the game - you want the gameplay loop to be satisfying, to be rewarding in a rhythmic way, but instead you find your exploration hampered by stupid errors that really shouldn’t be happening. When the controls become more ingrained in you, it’s the camera that starts to get in your way.

It’s like the whole game is being filmed by a kid with ADD; the second you stop attacking stuff and start trying to navigate, the camera wanders off, thinking you’re interested in seeing this or that, losing focus on your protagonist pair. It’s sometimes irritating, often infuriating.

The game’s setup when it comes to unlocking worlds and dealing with new moves leaves a lot to be desired, too: Trowser the Snake will exchange the game’s most prominent currency - Quills - for moves, and the selection available to you varies from level to level. Thing is, the visual language used to determine exactly what moves you need to use where is unclear, and the result is a game that takes all the worst elements of Metroidvania-style levels and shoves them down your throat.

It wouldn't be a retro-inspired platformer without an ice level.

This wouldn’t be so bad if navigation was better, but as it happens, it’s a mess. The hub world is a hodge-podge of ideas, none of which feel fully formed, and there are some infuriating audio cues triggering every minute you spend in the God-forsaken place. When you think back to games like Spyro the Dragon or Crash Bandicoot that manage to deal with hubs so cleanly and effectively, you wonder how Playtonic could have gotten it so wrong here. The inspiration of Super Mario 64 is clear, but the execution comes off foggily. Which is a shame, because the core idea behind jumping into new worlds and expanding them is really neat.

That’s Yooka-Laylee’s problem overall, really: there are so many nice genuine ideas buried underneath its mechanics and systems that hobble it and prevent it from ever really finding its feet. The mini-games are great on paper, but once you’ve got the pad in your hand and you’re playing them, they just come off as underwhelming, unfinished. The same is true of the levels - the design of them, the assets in them, the placement of collectibles and characters… you can see how they all work so well together on paper, but once they’re put into the shonky Unity engine and given life within Yooka-Laylee’s disappointing world, they just seem a bit lifeless, a bit drab, a bit ‘meh’.

I have faith that Playtonic knows how to make an interesting and playable 3D platformer - all the ideas exist within Yooka-Laylee - it’s just such a shame that the first project from the fledgling studio ended up being so wishy-washy, so vague. Frankly, parts of the game feel unfinished: it’s like Playtonic built a monument to Rare and from a distance it stands tall and shows a lot of respect, but once you get in close you realise that so many of the screws haven’t been tightened and so many of the surfaces remain unpolished.

Some of the music is interesting and a few tracks are even outright enjoyable, but the choice of voicing characters with various sound effects and garbled nonsense wears real thin, real fast. Add a selection of obnoxious SFX and a really peculiar audio mix into the pot and you’re left with a soundtrack that we ended up turning down quite a lot.

A strong art style is let down by some graphical bugs here and there and a camera that apparently does as it pleases, against your best wishes. You’ll find yourself eternally thankful for the shadow underneath Yooka when orientating yourself.

The collect-a-thon nature of the game definitely helps keep you interested, even if your attachment to the core gameplay loop occasionally wanes. I was not invested in the ‘story’ at all, however, and certain aspects of each world (hunting ghosts, doing races) eventually ground on my nerves.

There are issues with the code we played, but the game will be receiving a day one patch to smooth things over, apparently. Graphical bugs, glitches, falling through the world, floaty nonsense camera complaints… there’s a lot of tightening up this game needs if it wants to be effortlessly playable.

Thanks once again to its nature as a collect-a-thon and thanks to the various hidden or disguised bonus areas and missions, the achievement/trophy list for the game is actually quite satisfying. It shouldn’t be too hard to get everything, but you might feel pretty pressured en route.

Yooka-Laylee is not a bad game, but by God does it have its problems. If you’re hankering for a 3D platformer in the vein of Banjo-Kazooie, Spyro, Mario or Crash, I’d still say this is worth a bit of your time if you’re willing to chew on the game in short sections. But if you want to marathon the game, or don’t mind waiting until later in the year to have your genre itch scratched, you’re probably better off passing on this.

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