Crowdfunding darlings, despite their auspicious beginnings, tend to be a bit of a gamble. On the one hand you’ve got solid products like FTL and the recent Torment: Tides of Numenera, while on the other you’ve got stinkers like Mighty No. 9. It’s almost like the reputation of the people who make a game and the method by which it’s funded have little to no bearing on the eventual quality of the product!
Shocking, I know. So here’s something a bit less shocking: Playtonic Games’ Yooka-Laylee, a crowdfunded darling in its own right, is a pretty standard platforming collect-a-thon that hearkens back to the glory days of the Nintendo64…pretty much exactly like it said it would be.
When the evil Capital B, a capitalist who is also a bee, decides to steal all of the world’s books with a book-stealing machine, it’s up to chameleon Yooka and his bat pal Laylee to save the literary day! This mostly means running around and collecting Pagies, pages of the One Book that controls reality. With enough Pagies, it’s possible to unlock new worlds and expand existing worlds, creating new places to explore.
It’s pretty easy to describe Yooka-Laylee’s gameplay since pretty much anyone of a certain age will have played something similar before. This one was billed as the next coming of the N64-style collect-a-thon genre and it delivers exactly what it claimed it would.
You’ll run, jump, double-jump and perform a variety of other moves as you grab everything that isn’t nailed down. Collecting stuff earns you new moves, unlocks new areas and generally provides new ways to collect stuff. Eventually you’ll have collected either everything or a sizable percentage of everything, at which point you fight the final boss and the game will be over. In other words, it’s a pretty exact approximation of games like Super Mario 64, Donkey Kong 64 and in particular Banjo-Kazooie and its sequel, which many of the talent responsible for Yooka-Laylee had their own hands in.
How you feel about this will probably relate to how you feel about those games, especially over a decade after they came out. It turns out that running around picking stuff up in a fully explorable 3D world loses some of its charm when most games consist of fully explorable 3D worlds. That doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong with Yooka-Laylee; it’s just kind of par for the course. These games died out for a reason, after all, and if publishers were lining up to make more collect-a-thons then there wouldn’t have needed to be a Kickstarter for this one.
In other words, a lot of the “hook” of this sort of game lies in the ability to run around in three dimensions and, frankly, you probably won’t think that’s all that impressive anymore. For what it is, though, Yooka-Laylee works. Collecting stuff and unlocking new areas is a good time, and many of the Pagies require at least a smidgen of brainpower to grab. Expanding the duo’s repertoire of moves with the help of Trowzer the snake (yes, seriously) is also a pretty good time, though the game really loves to hide things early in the game behind moves that you won’t get for many stages afterwards. You end up able to eat stuff, spit stuff, breathe fire, fly, shoot sonar beams and all manner of other techniques, most of which are used for solving specific puzzles.
The physics feel pretty solid, which is key to the platforming experience. Gravity is just lenient enough to let you catch some air when jumping while still ensuring that it feels great when you’re able to fly later on. One major complaint that, hilariously, appears to have been imported from the classic 3D platformers that Yooka-Laylee styles itself after is that it can be a giant pain in the butt to determine where certain collectibles are. Sprite-based objects are difficult to get a bead on in 3D space, so expect to have trouble grabbing stuff that’s hanging in the air in front of you. Other than that, though, running and jumping feel pretty good and getting around the environment isn’t a problem.
Running and jumping: that’s pretty much what this one boils down to. There aren’t any RPG elements here, no XP to gain, no gear to collect…just running, jumping and picking up more stuff. If you go into Yooka-Laylee expecting it to be exactly what it says it is, you won’t be disappointed. There isn’t a lot of modernization here, and this one doesn’t spend much time catering to contemporary gameplay sensibilities.
That goes for the graphics and sound as well. This isn’t exactly a graphical tour-de-force, but Yooka-Laylee at least lands avoids the Nintendo 64 era to land firmly in the Xbox 360 generation. As for the music, it’s exactly the sort of cartoon-inspired fare you’d expect from this kind of game. Yooka-Laylee is nothing if not accurate to its source material. If you’re playing this for the nostalgia factor, you’ll probably be right at home.
And that’s all she wrote, really. In an age where we’ve got games like Horizon: Zero Dawn that offer both a huge 3D world to explore and tons of interesting things to do in it, Yooka-Laylee and its predecessors definitely show their age. If you’re after that nice, warm coming-home feeling, though, this game’s got you covered.