The long-awaited platformer Yooka-Laylee is now available for sale on Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC – with a Nintendo Switch version still on the way.
Whatever might be said about Yooka-Laylee in terms of how it’s built on the nostalgia that gamers have for platforming titles that are fondly remembered from the nineties – Yooka-Laylee is most definitely a product of our time. Kickstarter and other crowdfunding initiatives have fueled a tremendous resurgence of sometimes long-forgotten games (and developers). Some are successful in getting made, while others sadly stay far from their intended goals – the Dizzy and James Pond kickstarters come to mind for me personally. However, not every game that’s made actually meets the expectations of their backers – as Mighty No. 9 showed. Oft criticized for a lack of innovation and inspiration, it’s a game too much stuck in the past for even the fanbase that supported the game because of that very same past.
That’s a bit of a lengthy intro, but it’s meant to illustrate that these retro-inspired projects walk a fine line. Yooka-Laylee navigates this tightrope gracefully, despite a few wobbly moments here and there. It may not innovate the genre in any way, but it’s inspired by the past rather than just trying to copy it.
The plot of the game is largely forgettable, but its characters and sense of humor definitely aren’t. The chameleon Yooka and bat Laylee form a duo that plays off each other nicely – both in terms of controls and gameplay and in terms of the banter that goes on between them. There’s a fair bit of meta-humor here as well, with jokes about videogame development and genre stereotypes being especially plentiful.
Gameplay-wise, Yooka-Laylee draws most from the Banjo-Kazooie titles – which isn’t surprising considering that many veterans from that series have been working hard on Yooka-Laylee. As is the case with games from that era, collectibles are a big part of the game. These days I mostly associate them with the LEGO titles, but Yooka-Laylee definitely goes above and beyond in this regard. Magic pages of a book, special items, butterflies – the game world is littered with items for you to collect.
To help you do this, there’s a wide range of abilities and moves to unlock – often related to special traits associated with your character’s animal but sometimes downright silly in nature. You’ll also come across a host of mini games and special level sections, ranging from mine cart scenes to arcade games that are hosted by Rextro Sixtyfourus, a T-Rex personification of the era that these arcade games stem from.
Yooka-Laylee is an incredibly feature-rich and diverse package, and oozes fun at every corner. Gameplay is instantly familiar, the many characters in the game are colorful and full of witty dialogue, and the audiovisual presentation is exactly what you’d expect from a 2017 version of a classic 3D platformer. There even are (local) multiplayer modes available, to extend the fun during and beyond the single player campaign.
Not everything is that delightful though – some of the frustrations that came with those classic games also made the journey to 2017. Camera issues crop up from time to time, and sometimes the controls feel a tad too ‘loose’ during certain sections – causing mild frustration for a few minutes here and there. Nothing that’s not easily forgiven though, as Yooka-Laylee is a must-have for those who fondly remember the titles that inspired it. In that sense, this is a kickstarter that should leave many of its backers very happy.