I have something to confess. I'm going into Yooka-Laylee fresh, and I've never played a Rare platformer of this type. That’s right, no Banjo-Kazooie, no Donkey Kong 64, and no Conker’s Bad Fur Day. However, I have played Mario 64 and Rayman 2, so don’t just throw me off the balcony quite yet.
Getting back on topic, the 3D platformer has been pretty comatose for the past while, hasn’t it? The 2D platforming genre is alive and well, with titles such as Shantae: Half-Genie Hero and Hollow Knight released within the past few months and becoming very successful. While this is all well and good, there is nothing that instantly springs to mind for its bigger brother. Mario, certainly, but traditional 3D platformers? Not so much.
Now while I cannot be certain about its commercial performance, I can say with some certainty that Yooka-Laylee is a blast.
Yooka-Laylee is a title that can be easily dubbed a "collectathon", where the player goes around each level searching it from top to bottom to ferret out all the secrets. While you don’t have to (complete about 60% of it and you can move on) it’s definitely an option if you want to further immerse yourself in the world.
I’m currently in the fourth world of the game but there still seems to be something new around every corner. Each world has new abilities to use, and the abilities learned within each world are featured prominently within them. For instance, in the third world, you learn an ability called ‘Lizard Lash’, which allows Yooka to stretch out his tongue and pull himself to a faraway destination.
As one can expect, this means that for each world you jump into, it becomes more difficult. Your reflexes must be sharper, and the difficulty level noticeably spikes. I would like to say it’s a particularly smooth transition, but I’ve had some frustrating bumps along the way. Right now, I’m stuck on the fourth world’s boss, to the extent where I had to walk away from it and write this First Impressions article. It’s exasperating at times, but I’ve found that it's usually my own incompetence than any fault of the game. Besides, if you run out of health, you simply reappear with full health relatively nearby. It’s quite forgiving in that way, at least.
The controls are fine. If you are playing on the PC like I am, don’t even bother playing with mouse and keyboard. My first indication that it was a controller-based game was when the main menu had Xbox prompts even when I didn’t have a controller connected, but in-game it's just stiff and unwieldy.
Playing on a controller works, although there are some quirks. It’s hard to describe, but it feels a little loose. Is it like the old Rare games? I don’t know, but it feels slightly off, like a screw not as tightly screwed as it could be. It’s not a game breaker, as is the odd crouch mechanic in the game, which doesn’t allow you to move while crouched. You have to lift your thumb off of the left control stick and then press the button that removes your crouch. Odd, but not unplayable – just irritating.
Going back to our titular characters, we have Yooka, a green lizard, and Laylee, a purple bat with a tomato for a nose, are the Banjo and Kazooie of our era. The first (and probably most important question) is quite simple: Do I like these characters?
I would say so. Yooka is well-meaning but somewhat dense straight foil, while Laylee is the sarcastic (and dare I say punny?) brains of the duo. They complement each other quite well, and their bond is understated but ever-present. These are creatures that have known each other for quite some time, but the player is always made to feel included in their comradery. You get comfortable with these characters very quickly.
As one might guess, Yooka-Laylee is the spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, whereupon a duo take on the world in order to save it… sort of.
If you are coming in expecting Yooka-Laylee to take itself seriously, don’t. The game doesn’t just break open the fourth wall: it bashes it down, burns the remains, and dances gleefully upon the ashes. Nothing is safe, ranging from comments on the gaming industry’s ludicrous DLC practices to including a mine cart called Kartos, ‘The God of Ore’, while all the while fully acknowledging (and cracking awful puns) about the fact that its, well, a game.
[gallery size="full" type="slideshow" ids="142326,142325"]
The worlds themselves are vibrant and beautiful. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but let’s just say that each world is unique and fits Yooka-Laylee. Honestly, I have no complaints about the visuals, which is something that can be mostly applied to the soundscape and soundtrack. The nonsense talking noises that characters make when they are speaking to one another was annoying at first, but I quickly adjusted to it and began to enjoy it. The worlds themselves sound great, from the whistling winds of the mountain peak to the bubbling currents of bodies of water. The cackling noises of the main enemies, the Corplets, are hilarious, especially when they manage to land a lucky hit on the duo.
Grant Hopewell’s soundtrack is superb as well. If you are in a specific area, say a jungle, you would hear gentle drums in the background overlayed with the general theme of the area. It’s simple but it works well, and most importantly it never overstays its welcome and keeps you engaged with the game. I’ll probably end up listening to the soundtrack a few times over.
Yooka-Laylee is a title that coasts on nostalgia and the sweet promise of tomorrow, and I can’t blame it for that. I have 13 hours into this game and I’m only just over halfway through the game. This seems to be an HD ‘best-of’ for the 3D platformers of the 90’s and early 2000’s, and that’s exactly what I wanted. For those that were worried, fear not, for Yooka-Laylee is as good as it could ever be.
Yooka-Laylee was previewed on PC (Affiliate) via Steam with a code provided by the publisher. It is also available DRM-Free on GOG (Affiliate) and on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. It is also coming to Nintendo Switch at a later date.