Yooka-Laylee was created by a team consisting of previous Rare-developers, who worked on classics like Banjo Kazooie, among others, with even composers like Grant Kirkhope joining in. It was set to be the true spiritual sequel to Banjo Kazooie and Banjo Tooie, but sadly, it got released to a massively mixed in receptions. I was in the category of not enjoying it much and rather wish it had a lot of design-choices retooled or even dismissed, though I still had some respect and admiration for their take on a new collectathon platformer. Though now that it has as it has gotten a lot of patches and a lot of technical issues have been fixed, will it be easier to recommend this title? Let us take a gander at what many hoped to be the start of a Rare-vival.
Puns, but no personality
In a magical and colourful land, Capital B and his sidekick Dr.Quack have made a plan that involves stealing all the dusty books in the world, with the ultimate goal of collecting the One Book. This single book is known to be able to rewrite the universe, and coincidentally enough, those who actually have this book, are the heroes of this tale, Yooka and Laylee. However, before either of them can or even tries to react, their book is stolen and its pages are scattered across the entire world. Laylee believing the book must be valuable due to the golden pages, gets help from Yooka to get it and the pages, so they can become rich.
This game does not provide an epic tale or anything similar, but tries to give its world some characteristic and wonder with its silly premise. I do actually really love this setup as it is not really about stopping evil villains, but to get rich and being a simple excuse for going on this treasure-hunt. This humorous setup also translates well to the characters that you will meet, with all having some cute quirk, like the skeleton-explorer named Clara and a sneaky sales-snake wearing pants named Trowzer. Though a lot of the humour does not really come from the dialogue they spout out, with a couple of exceptions, but rather from the puns the game provides. It is all self aware and I do personally love even the bad ones, such as our villain being named Capital B, and him being a capitalistic, Rextro Sixtyfourus waiting for people to come back from being on the line, or a cannon that blasted away his voice during a karaoke-night.
Unfortunately, despite some nice setups, none of the characters convey any memorable personality. Laylee might be the only one I can recall as she is a bit snarky and greedy, but Yooka seems very bland as a character despite his adorable design. Whenever characters try to convey a form of personality, it is more like a minor quirk that is expanded upon to make them seem intriguing, but falls flat. Yooka-Laylee also reuses a lot of characters in other worlds or even copy-paste the inhabitants that each world has, making this almost a forced method for being remembered. Also, while being self aware can help for some clever writing, highlighting the bad design-choices in a humorous matter, does not excuse that I still have to suffer through them. If you are a fan of puns, you will definitely find something to smile at, but the lack of anything personal or memorable hurts the experience a lot.
Story Score: 4/10
The problem with scope and variety
Similar to other platforming collectathons, you will be navigating our duo through a hubworld and different worlds for collecting specific elements in order to advance the story or to possibly gain more abilities. In each world, including your hubworld, there will be plenty of Pagies to collect. They are the source for opening new bookworlds and for eventually reaching the final boss. These will be acquired by simply exploring, doing a task for a creature or playing a minigame. You can also use a bigger amount of Pagies on the worlds you enter to make them expand and thus have more Pagies to gather. Why it could not just have the bigger worlds with more to do at first hand is beyond me, as each world are huge in scope and somewhat empty at first, and you want to collect everything in a collectathon, right?
However, this ties in with probably my biggest gripe with the game, the size of worlds. They can be incredibly spacious and I find myself dragging from one side of the map to another, which can take an unnecessarily long time. How you get the pagies though, that is a whole another story, or something. A lot of them will require simple exploration by platforming or going through loops in an obstacle course which adds to the platforming. Whenever jumping or navigating is involved, collecting Pagies can be entertaining and fun. However, due to the size of the worlds again, it can be a pain to explore when quills are not always used for cleverly showcasing where you have and have not been, as they can be hidden in the most obscure places. At least the hubworld has signs to showcase where the worlds are after the patch, but more guidance on what you can do in the worlds themselves would have helped.
Though many tasks can also be dull or tedious. There is a minecart-segment where you cannot see that far ahead of you and must act more on memorisation than skill, which is frustrating and simply unfair. The other tasks are not much better. Guiding a ball by walking into it with wonky controls, transforming the heroes into new creatures basically contain context sensitive moments between huge areas, and the “retro” minigames, are all simply forced additions to add variety. Out of all the minigames, I only thought the overhead racer was somewhat decent, due to being fast paced and having realistic controls. However, the rest are dull and uninspired as they do not convey any interesting mechanics or are far too easy. The fact that you will have to do them twice for getting pagies, even if you beat the highscore on your first try, is just awful. Though the worst might be the quiz-segments where you must answer questions about the world to get further in the hubworld as they are simply boring and a waste of time, especially since the worlds can be forgettable.
It is obvious that Yooka-Laylee does not always understand that exploration and fun platforming was what made these collectathon platformers entertaining to begin with. Adding variety outside of the core genre, can make for less entertaining experience, especially when they are not fleshed out, which is sadly the case here. The five ghosts you need to find for a Pagie in each world, are a great showcase for this: it is fun to locate them due to adding exploration and fun obstacles to jump through. However, when they need to be attacked multiple times or with a specific projectile, they can be a drag to gather.
Though controlling our duo feels great. Yooka can at first double jump, duck, swim, use a tailwhip attack and his tongue to take in health-regenerating butterflies. By collecting quills in each world, he can pay Trowzer with them for expanding his moveset with things like licking up cannonballs to become heavy, or less context sensitive ones like rolling faster. However, the active abilities, with the exception of your standard-moves and gliding, are hindered by a power-meter which must be automatically refilled after use. I honestly do not get it as most moves are not overpowered, with enemies being even immune to some attacks, and due to how spacious and huge the world’s are, you will need the rolling ability to get anywhere in a faster manner.
Besides these, you can also collect specific butterflies for upgrading Yooka’s health, power bars for expanding the power-meter, and do challenges which can yield tonics. These challenges can include beating a certain amount of enemies, collecting specific amounts of Pagies and so on, which are basically a form of achievements. While the rewards you get for doing them are presented as cheats, they are more like power ups, such as less use of a power meter for rolling, or an extra health-container. You can only activate one at the time though, which is incredibly strange as these are simply equipable upgrades that have minimal effects.
Not including the hubworld, there are 5 worlds to explore, with each being able to expand by using more Pagies. Out of all of them, I enjoyed three, with the last two being filled with minigames or way to spacious worlds, though the first two could also be a drag to venture through and all had at least 1/3 amount of Pagies I did not have fun tackling. Though there were still a handful I liked and exploration could be entertaining, it needed more hints on where you could get Pagies or where you had already explored.
I was thinking this could be enough to say it was a 5/10, but then I remembered the tedious power-meter, only having one equipable tonic, and not to mention the padding by the spacious worlds and forced variety outside of the platforming. The game does shine when you jump around, and controlling Yooka and Laylee feels good, especially since you can take some clever shortcuts if you know how to use their movesets. Sadly, due to the problems the game offers, it will be hard to keep smiling, when you will have to endure the lesser parts to get to the final boss. And trust me: you will have to. Multiple times.
Gameplay Score: 4/10
The eyes are everywhere!!!
Playtonic is obviously making this a spiritual sequel to Banjo Kazooie/Tooie, showcased already in the presentation. I want to start off by saying that I love the character designs as they are so adorable, cartoony and silly. A snake wearing pants, a skeleton girl exploring, and Dr. Quak keeping his head alive with a gumball-machine are some of the best examples of the charm this game can bring and I cannot help but smile when this creativity is afoot. However, it is not easy to give the same praise in the worlds themselves. There are still great parts, such as the forest world having temples and clouds giving you tasks, or the casino being filled with chips and a mini-golf course.
However, these areas’ cultural inhabitants consist of copy-pasted creatures, like the casino only having one arm bandits all over the place, making it lack any diverse personality. Not to mention, with how huge some of the worlds are, it can feel empty until you are at the foot of a huge construction. Nothing visually different happens either when you help someone, like a fan that needed a drink because he was so dry, and still with water in him, he did not start blowing or anything. Your efforts can then feel visually pointless. Despite that the worlds do shine with strong colours and have a lot to offer to make parts of them at least memorable, more could have been done to make them interesting and not so traditional. At least, the little variety does help.
I do love that enemies can consist of eyeballs attaching to everyday-objects. They help me forget about the mundane and uninspired monsters, which are just devil-creatures in different colours. Yooka and Laylee convey some adorable idle-animations and are cute creatures that have a colour palette that compliments each other, which I love. What might hit you even before the music, are those gibberish sounds from each character’s speaking-voice, again harkening back to Banjo Kazooie. This is a split issue, but I found them too loud and, while cute the first time after I turned the speaking-volume down, I do miss the fast-paced motion where they spoke every part of dialogue fast and high-pitched. Luckily, you can mute them or even skip dialogues, so they are there for the nostalgic ones.
What was rather my cup of tea was the music. While it is not energetic, Grant Kirkhope, David Wise and Steve Burke have created a peaceful and comfy soundtrack, giving each area a nice atmosphere with plenty of clear instruments, such as flutes and of course: ukulele. The melodies might be similar in tone, but each world has original tracks and small details like changing the quality when underwater are nice. I also love that there is an uplifting tune each time you get a Pagie, making even the worst tasks feel like a clear reward for your effort.
Presentation Score: 7/10
The essence of a collectathon?
Indeed, this is a collectathon alright, with many elements to gather. You got 5 ghosts, 200 quills, 25 Pagies, one extension for health and power, and much more in each world to collect. What is a huge problem, is how hidden they all can be or that many can be a nightmare to do, like the minecart segments. When platforming is involved, it is definitely entertaining, but usually a drag to discover everything due to how terrible the tasks or how long the streches of land in a world can be. The reward for collecting everything is also lacklustre, since it is just a minor and shameless clothing-option. The secret skulls to collect are entertaining though, as they are cleverly hidden and adds to the exploration. Besides this, there is the arcade-part, where you can play the Rextro Sixtyfourus minigames you found, both in singleplayer and in multiplayer. Seeing as these are at best mediocre and at worst garbage, I was not interested in giving them another go, and definitely not in taking any friends with me.
Extra Score: 3/10
Yooka-Laylee is a game with a lot of love put into it, but it is clear that the developers were too ambitious and made a game that could not be fixed with simple patches. The original team had to be more creative in the days of the N64 due to its limitations, but today the scope and diversity seems to be more in focus because of what you can do. This sadly makes Yooka-Laylee a mess. The charm and presentation also suffers from lack of focus and creativity, but there are some good parts in this game were I had fun, be it the great obstacle-courses or enjoyable exploration. Though these aspects were bogged down by awful minigames, spacious areas, a poor sense of direction and the terrible attempt at adding variety. Yooka-Laylee can be a decent distraction, but you need to have your expectations on a low level. Think of how Banjo Kazooie represents two instruments, while Yooka-Laylee only represents one, and you will see that you get a lesser experience. I can at least say, I do sincerely hope Playtonic Studios will make a sequel and learn from their mistakes.