The 3D platformer genre really came into play during the 32-bit/64-bit era of consoles, with a large number of them falling under the collectathon umbrella. Rare was one of the most well known developers of these at the time with games like Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64. While the current team at Rare is working on very different ventures than the past, much of the original team came together to make a spiritual successor to those games with Yooka-Laylee.
Crowdfunding has become a viable source for smaller development teams to get resources to make a game without support from a larger publisher. This led to the original team at Rare forming Playtonic Games and using Kickstarter to fund a return to the classic 3D platformer era, the initial goal of which was reached in less than an hour.
Yooka-Laylee features a very likable cast of characters in the game, which starts off with the titular Yooka and Laylee having their book stolen by an evil corporate CEO, with the pages being scattered all across the in-game world. This story itself is pretty much nonsense, complete with a lot of meta humor, but it’s still a ton of fun to enjoy.
Yooka fills the Banjo role in the game as the more sensible of the duo, but Laylee definitely takes the Kazooie role with her wisecracking and snide remarks. The supporting character Trowzer the snake is the NPC you will interact with the most throughout the game, as he provides you with new moves throughout the game. He is a great example of the type of humor you’ll find in Yooka-Laylee, with him always being a treat to find in each world. Trowzer will give you free moves occasionally, but then you can also purchase special moves tailored to each world separately with the collectible Quills you find in the game.
The game boasts a variety of different moves for Yooka and Laylee to learn throughout the game, which extend beyond the basic attack with Yooka’s tail. Some of the aforementioned free moves that are taught by Trowzer are those that let you advance to the next world, such as giving you the ability to glide early in the game and then later learning how to fly. There are a few paid abilities for each world, with some building off of previous abilities, such as adding a spin dash to your normal rolling attack. Thankfully, these are pretty affordable as long as you are collecting Quills along the way.
Quills are found all throughout Yooka-Laylee, specifically 200 per world plus 10 in the hub world, and are the game’s equivalent of the collectible Notes. Like in previous games, groups of these are typical found at least nearby each other, which makes them a little easier to collect, though some are very well hidden. The good news is that these do not reset if you leave and re-enter a world, which gives you much more freedom to move between the worlds in the game. This is something that Rare couldn’t handle due to memory restrictions on the Nintendo 64 back in the day, so it’s great to see them choose to go with a much more modern approach here.
While Quills are just found all over the map, the game naturally has to have its equivalent of Jiggys for completing the many little quests in the game, which are known as Pagies. These are of course the scattered pages from Yooka and Laylee’s book that they are searching for and are acquired in many different ways.
Across the five worlds found in the game, each one has a different theme and 25 pagies to collect, along with 20 total in the Hivory Towers hub world. Some of the Pagies are as simple as reaching a certain platform, often due to using one of your abilities, while others can be much more complicated. Some of the most fun and challenging of these are the main boss of each world, which each provide a Pagie for defeating them. The majority of the Pagies are involved with characters exclusive to that world, but there are also recurring characters you’ll come across as well. One of these is the hilariously named Kartos, god of ore, who offers a mine cart challenge of escalating difficulty in each world in exchange for a Pagie. These were a nice callback to the old mine cart levels of the Donkey Kong Country series, making them something to look forward to in each world.
The little mini-games in Yooka-Laylee are mostly well designed, but one type that shows up a few times is very frustrating based on the controls offered in the game. There are a few that require you to move a ball from one point to another within a time limit, often with obstacles in the way. This would be fine if controlling the movement of the ball was easier, but instead it becomes more annoying than anything else. These can be skipped with plenty of extra Pagies in the game, but for the completionist, these will make you question your sanity.
One of the biggest complaints in the past of collectathon games, with Donkey Kong 64 being the worst culprit, was that they require too much backtracking and redoing a lot of the same things. However, Yooka-Laylee does a great job at avoiding this by making five larger worlds that can be expanded upon themselves by spending Pagies, rather than having more smaller worlds available. For the most part, you can play through each world subsequently with little backtracking and still have enough Pagies by the end to take on the final boss as long as you are taking playing diligently as you go along.
Since Yooka-Laylee has its own version of Jiggys and Notes, you may be wondering if the game has an equivalent to Jinjos as well. It does have something inspired by that, but this time they are much more difficult to find and require more to capture. Throughout the game’s five worlds, you find five of what are known as Ghost Writers in each of them. These come in different colors as before, but rather than simply touching them to collect them, four of the five types require a little more. For instance, the blue is invisible and you will only notice it’s around due to hearing it nearby, which will prompt you to use your Sonar Shot attack. Having these differences were a nice touch to differentiate it from the way it was handled in the past.
The different worlds also have a few other collectibles to find as well, including ones that extend your health and power meters. There are also Play Coins that allow you to play an arcade style game created exclusively for Yooka-Laylee, with a different one located in each world, which are run by the retro dinosaur Rextro. Besides Trowzer, Rextro provides some of the best comic relief in the game, largely based off of the fact that he is an outdated character in a modern game essentially. Some of these are definitely better than others, but what is really cool is that you can play them from the game’s main menu as well, even with multiplayer. A Mollycool can also be found that can be given to Dr. Puzz to be turned into a unique transformation for that world, similar to Mumbo Jumbo in the past, which will then allow you to collect Pagies that require that form.
Gameplay found in Yooka-Laylee feels incredibly retro
For the game as a whole, Yooka-Laylee also utilizes what are known as Tonics. These are little power-ups provided by the peculiar looking Vendi, with you able to equip one at a time. More of these are unlocked for you to choose from as you accomplish various tasks in the game, such as stunning 30 enemies or even a few available only after completing the game. These range from giving you an extra piece in your health bar to reducing the amount of power you use when rolling, so they can be very useful, but choose wisely.
The gameplay found in Yooka-Laylee feels incredibly retro, which definitely has its ups and its downs. Traversing the different locations in the game feels just right with excellent control of Yooka and Laylee most of the time. A number of frame rate drops can cause some issues at times, but they rarely made too much of an impact on the gameplay itself.
Yooka-Laylee’s bigger issue however was the camera, which felt like a relic of the past. There were times when it would seem to work just fine in the larger areas, but when the map got condensed down into smaller quarters, the camera often would get stuck on objects. This is a problem that was more acceptable in the past, but while it was fine to carry over much of the same style here, this really could have used an overhaul.
While much of Yooka-Laylee is strongly inspired by elements of the team’s previous efforts, it still manages to have its own identity while still being an homage to the past. The gameplay is just what anyone would want from a spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie series, complete with new abilities and unique worlds, even though it is sometimes held back by some frame rate and camera issues. The collectathon genre of 3D platformers may not be for everyone, but despite some flaws, Yooka-Laylee is the game that fans have been waiting for all these years.