Nostalgic 3D platforming.
Nostalgia is a funny thing. It plays tricks on the mind, offering memories of great times through Summers that seemed to last forever, all the while conveniently forgetting moments of frustration and irritation. When it comes to the world of videogames, older gamers can often be heard lamenting the mechanics or designs of modern games. “Games just aren’t what they used to be”.
When Playtonic Games, a developer that included former members of Rare, began a KickStarter campaign for a 3D platforming game that would serve as the spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, a game that holds fond memories in the minds of many older gamers, nostalgia was the currency. Yooka-Laylee promised a shout back to the 3D platformers that were so prevalent some 20 years ago, and have all but disappeared in modern gaming. Yooka-Laylee would bring back the classic platforming action with a modern coat of paint for current platforms, and the public, fueled by nostalgia, jumped on the idea. The KickStarter campaign was obviously very successful.
Now that Yooka-Laylee is out in the wild, available across most platforms, and those very same gamers who yearned for gaming of old are able to actually play the full game, the reality of what they wished for becomes very real. Yooka-Laylee is very much the spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, warts and all. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it may not be quite what people expected.
The similarities between the two are very obvious, from the animal duo heroes to the sheer mass of collectibles that the player will have to collect. The story in Yooka-Laylee is exactly as nonsensical as nostalgia would expect, with Capital B and Dr Quack basically sucking up all of the literature in the world so that they can make money. Yooka, a chameleon, and Laylee, a bat, must then set off on a quest to gather magical book pages, known as Pagies, across a selection of differently themed worlds in order to put a stop to these nefarious plans.
From the hub world, Pagies are used to unlock new worlds to explore, along with unlocking new areas of any worlds that have already been opened up, so these collectibles are required for progression. Pagies tend to be given as rewards in many areas, for completing various tasks. These tasks are quite varied, but can be hit or miss, as the player will find themselves defeating enemies, racing, platforming, solving puzzles, or even completing quizzes to get their rewards.
There are plenty of other collectibles to be found in the game, but Quills are the other important one. These act as the currency in the game, but fortunately can be picked up pretty much everywhere. In each area, players will find a snake called Trowzer, who just so happens to sell character upgrades in exchange for Quills. These upgrades give Yooka or Laylee new abilities that can further open up levels, allowing players to reach areas that were previously unavailable, giving reason to go back and forth between previous worlds.
The worlds themselves are incredibly colourful and pretty to look at, and are packed with detail and things to do. They are also fairly large, offering plenty of play. Throughout the worlds, players will come across an interesting cast of characters, many of which make multiple appearances in the different worlds. While the characters are a lot of fun and the puns run thick and fast, there is a lack of voicework in the game. This is no big deal in itself, but the fact that speech has been replaced with a really annoying squeaking noise, something akin to hamster being slowly drowned in a fish tank, does suggest that turning off the sound throughout the game would be a good idea. However, doing this would mean missing out on the brilliant soundtrack, so it raises mixed emotions.
For a 3D platformer, the controls are of utmost importance. In Yooka-Laylee the controls are not as precise as one would hope, adding extra difficulty to some platforming sections. Making matters worse, the camera has plenty of problems of its own, from moving at the most awkward moment, to struggling in small areas. Falling down a cliff and having to work through a massive section of the area again as a result of a janky camera really does get old quickly.
Yooka-Laylee is pure nostalgia, both good and bad. Gamers who were around when the original Banjo-Kazooie was the height of fun gameplay will find plenty of good memories here, and perhaps more than a few bad. I am not sure how much patience the younger gamers would have with this throwback 3D platformer, what older gamers would describe as quirky may be thought of as annoying by the younger generation. But they are not the target audience – Yooka-Laylee is a game for those who miss the age of the 3D platformer and yearn for masses of collectibles and imprecise controls in equal measure.