As I wander through the lush undergrowth of Shipwreck creek, chasing after my stolen literature that frankly was only used as a drinks coaster before now I realise that I have in fact been transported back to 1998, only the good kind of going back where Wi-Fi, smartphones and being able to wiki games without the use of Dial up connections are still possible. Now I know this game has been given a LOT of attention lately and from far better reviews than my own but as a long-standing fan of Banjo Kazooie how could I not take a crack at this one. Now Banjo Kazooie is a platformer developed by the then gaming giants Rare for the Nintendo 64. Now the original game saw huge popularity among players and critics in the late 1990s so I wanted to see if that old-school style can cut it in the modern day among games like Nier: Automata and Battlefield 1. Yooka Laylee as stated by even the developers themselves is a ‘spiritual successor’ to the mighty banjo Kazooie. I must admit before this I hadn’t really heard of the developers playtonic games but I had most certainly and I feel almost any gamer of the late 90s to the early 2000s would know the publishers behind this title. TEAM17, I haven’t heard that name in a long time to be honest. Possibly through ignorance or being dense but TEAM17 are the masters behind the immortal WORMS franchise. So many years lost in those games. When I saw that they were attached to this project and it was taking pages from the book of Banjo. Easy purchase.
The basis for the game can be surmised as the bad guys stole our thing and we want it back. It’s that simple. Then again, this is the kind of game where a deep and winding story or any tale more complex than that which you’d find in a children’s book would only result in feeling out of place and plain weird. You start your adventure tanning yourselves on a sun kissed rock in Shipwreck creek. The game then proceeds to introduce the plot which is that an evil corporation named Hivory Towers and its leader Capital B (a clever use of words as he is an actual Bumble bee). The evil capital B is using his dastardly machine to steal all the books in the world in hopes of attaining ‘the one book’. I wish it had a better name but in the spirit of keeping it simple it works for me. The one book happens to be in the possession of the games hero duo Yooka and Laylee who up until now had been using the mystical item as a drinks coaster while they admired their greatness in the sun. after some assistance from your new friend Trowzer the snake (I wish I was joking here. I’m all for a good laugh but that’s just painful) who agrees to help the heroes in exchange for the games currency Quills (this being a tale all about books I kind of like this aspect). After some help from Trowzer the hero duo learnt that the one book is similar to the one ring of Sauron and has the power to control the universe. Fortunately, the books pages which are alive have managed to escape and hide and thus begins your harrowing adventure to rescue the pages before the evil Capital B can complete his nefarious plans! As an overall standpoint, the story is fairly weak in this game but then again, the story was never the appeal of the late 90s platformers so I do have to cut it some slack here. For a younger audience, I feel it’s more than enough to get them into the game. Hell after a few beers I was semi into it in my first play session. The story may lack detail and depth but it has charm and for this game that’s what it’s all about
Looking at the flimsy story to this tale one might be put off. But I encourage patience for this game just like its forbearers is all about the gameplay! Just like the late 90s the games excels in the region of giving you a truckload to do. As you progress through the game Yooka and Laylee will adventure in five distinct worlds and the hub worlds of Hivory towers, battle unique Bosses and encounter more challenges than the last hitman game I played. Starting with the basics the games core mechanics are solid. Movement and platforming feel very nice with the occasional misstep made but I’m putting that down to player error more than a game issue. Jumping around and interacting with things in the worlds you visit all feels like it has weight (well Until you get the high jump then it just gets easy) and there is a lot to interact with in each world. Within the first world alone you’ll have no shorter than 7 characters outside of your main objective that will be able to grant you missions and rewards but back to the mechanics. I did notice that you turn slightly faster if you go clockwise than anti clockwise when turning around from facing away from the camera and that the ability with your tongue sometimes didn’t register when right in front of something that you were clearly in range to grab on to. Aside from some slight niggles like that the game plays very strongly. Looking at the more advanced stuff the game manages to retain that nothing better than a niggle status despite introducing a vast variety of new mechanics rapidly into the game. Along with the basics platforming controls the game will award you with over 10 different new moves, the ability to use fire, ice and water as projectile/ breath ability. there is even a grenade variation which if I’m honest I had to take a minute to register that id actually seen that one because despite being quirky and fitting with the game after though at first it wasn’t something I expected to see while playing this. Add to this the periodic introduction of a new way to use your abilities and the gameplay more than easily manages to stay feeling new and exciting.
To go with the ever-increasing array of tricks that Yooka and Laylee can pull of the game also tries its best to change up the enemies you face in each Tome world and to on occasion introduce new ones. This for me is where the game starts to suffer as the enemies themselves despite getting reskins for each world are very similar in each instance you see them; the tropical ones are purple and the ice world ones are snowy but they’re the same enemy. They move the same and fight the same and it just takes away from it for me to be have a new place to explore that comes with some rather nice environment mechanics and to have it all to fight the same losers I fought in the last world. Maybe I’m being too harsh. Repetition is after all a core aspect of the platformer series and enemies do at least get a new model introduced every new are you go into. I particularly like the flying enemies despite their appearance they can be truly annoying little buggers and on the ice world were used very well on the slide sections because movement is severely hampered while you slide. The next best was the introduction of the beefed up heavy enemy that takes a few hits to drop in the hub before world 4. The first time I saw him he burst out from hiding and I think I wet myself a little and for me that’s the sign of a good enemy in a game. When you haven’t even fought them and you’re thinking to yourself “this is going to end so badly”. Overall though the enemies are not that tough. They can be more annoying than tough purely based on their position in the world or in a few cases their abilities (looking at you jellyfish and your crap). I really didn’t like the underwater enemies. The game is badly missing some form of good attack against them because coming up against them felt more like a chore than a victory if I beat them. There is a great gameplay mechanic that once you have collected a mollycool (warned you it was going to be like this) that you can get a free transformation into something else. Now this I liked. You can tell the developers just went mad with a few of these because being transformed into a snow plow is way more fun than it sounds! the most notable aside the only real time I felt good fighting the underwater enemies was when using one of these transformations to become a shoal of ravenous piranha fish which again is way more fun than you’d think. This new form shreds the jellyfish like enemies so badly you can’t help but feel that you could really use this ability all the time in some areas. Not to the overpowered degree of the fish but something actually useful against the things. But. Aside from that the combat in the game is enjoyable if not a little underwhelming. It almost feels like a feature that outside of boss battles and later enemies doesn’t really get a lot of effort in it. You spin your tail and most things die in a single hit. They hit you and you lose a health segment (they drop a butterfly for you to eat if your down anyway so it doesn’t make a difference) you essentially have three attacks. Tail spin, sonic bubble which acts as a kind of stun and jumping attack which is like the Ronseal (not sure if anyone outside the UK will get that) of attacks and does exactly what it says on the tin.
Thankfully… and probably most importantly in a platformer with these Samish enemies all over the place the boss battles have some great variety to them both in how they look and how they play and even in personality I might add. The first boss Rampo (you get to take a guess at his design work) was a little bit of a challenge for me. I’d been playing for about an hour and unlocked the extension to the first world (you’ll need these to access the boss battles, destroys any chance of speed running this game) his dialogue seemed rather odd to me because unlike a boss in every other game I’ve played in the last five years he had no idea who I was or what I wanted. It reminded me of some old man standing with memory issues. Anyway, Rampo the mighty angular square block proceeds to mistake the heroes Yooka and Laylee for door to door windows salesmen and demands they leave his castle. Which I didn’t. instead I was forced to play a minigame styled ascent to his position. (you can’t run up inclines you must roll) while rolling my way to victory or so I thought I encountered the issue that you can’t roll and jump at the same time over the logs that Rampo throws at you. You have to stop, jump, and then move forward. This neat trick was not made aware to me until after four attempts and a google search. After ascending to the top and knocking out Rampos teeth a few times, literally knocking them out, he is defeated and you are awarded a page for the book. The boss battles proceed every time in this outlandish fashion each with their own gimmicks and ways to be defeated. Trevor the tentacle was a bit rubbish gameplay wise but I liked his dialogue so he scrapes a pass for me on that alone. The final showdown with Capitol B at the end I don’t really want to say a lot for because I quite enjoyed it and felt it was a good roundoff for the gameplay even if he wasn’t my favourite boss. Looking at you Blokko you annoying little git.
To round off the gameplay coverage I feel we need to talk a little about the collectables the game has to offer. This being a platformer there are quite a few on offer. Unlike most titles ive played lately Yooka Laylee gets the award for me for having the best collectables. Not because they are all that memorable or inventive. No. because they actually do something. Everything you collect in this adventure serves a purpose. the collectibles for this game are as follows:
Pages for the one book (kiddies first ring of power). The one book seems to just be overflowing with power as its pages have spread across the Tome worlds and need collecting. These are big golden book pages and pretty hard to miss unless they are a reward for a challenge or quest. There are just over 100 of these in the game to collect and are required to open new worlds and expand them. Conveniently it gets pricier as the game advances.
Health butterflies and Power buttons are probably the most bog standard collectable in the history of gaming. These are again the Ronseal of the game and do exactly what you’d expect from them. There are one of both to be collected in each world.
Play coins are the most enjoyable for me in the games collecting fest. The game has five little minigames to play for pages which are all nostalgia fest games but to play you need to bring the play coin from each level to the arcade machine and its t-rex master.
Moolycules. Easily one of the game’s best puns. These are required for the transformations that I mentioned earlier and should be sought out for the sheer enjoyment factor. Because let’s be honest who doesn’t want to be made into a snow plow …
Accompanying this buffet of gameplay is the games audio work. Now I wouldn’t really have taken this into too much attention had steam not asked if I wanted the soundtrack for the game as well. This is a big thing for me. I LOVE video game soundtracks if they are done well and to have yours on sale with the game at release means one of two things. You’re confident that you spent good time and effort on it and that I’d want it in my playlist or…. You’re pulling an EA and I need to tell you my eyes are not in my wallet. Another big thing to take into consideration is the game has zero voice acting. The characters will all make weird noises as they communicate in text but I’ll address that shortly. Now without the voices you’re going to be hearing the games soundtrack and general sounds a lot more than you normally would, this is where It gets tricky. The soundtrack is good. Its enjoyable as you play along, it varies depending on the world you’re in and the boss you’re fighting BUT and it’s a big but for me personally. None of it ever strikes me as being something I’d buy the cd for (I’m old and still buy CD’s I know) and that’s got two primary points attached to it. Firstly, the soundtrack to the game is good and reminds me of the 90s platformers it’s taken inspiration from and that makes me enjoy it more in the game, well done guys! Secondly though I discourage the purchase of the soundtracks a standalone unless you’re super into it, for me it just didn’t seem necessary.
Okay so… the main gripes I’ve got with Yooka Laylee (Disclaimer – these are just things that bugged me or things I felt could have been improved not major game ruining faults). For starters why is the games quit option hidden under options in the main menu? That just strikes me as a bit dumb. No other game has that, even bajo kazooie didn’t have that. Next on the target list is the lack of any real PC key bindings that I could find. The whole game is coded in the layout for the Xbox pad which I used (sorry purist I’m not playing a platformer with a mouse that’s never going to work) but still for a pc copy it needs PC control mapping. The toggle feature for the crouch. Now this one bugged me because I always play toggled for convenience but for some reason on PC when you toggle the crouch it gets stuck and you have to jump out of it which was made all the more annoying when the option to untoggled crouch isn’t an option that’s found in the games in play options menus. You must change that from the main menu, why? As much as I do love shovel knight… why is he there, makes zero sense and has the flimsiest excuse ever other than “look we have another games character”. Quizzes, now I love a good quiz but these are so obscure that I failed it five times the second Dr Quack Quiz before I stumbled my way to victory and that quiz for the page in the dark room of world two can stay there 😃 ! if they were less vague and obscure then they would be good knowledge testers for the game. Finally, I thought in the later stages of the games the self-aware, fourth wall moments were getting a little stale. I laughed at the start but it wears thing after the few dozen times characters will do it.
I guess I should sum this up before we all die of old age here. I just want to say I REALLY enjoyed this game, on a level that I haven’t enjoyed a game for its pure simple fun in a long, long time. The appeal of this game is just 100% nostalgia for me. A simple and fun platformer from the days when not every game had to have assault rifles and air strikes. The games appeal is its gameplay. It has that 90s platformer feel down to the bone and the diversity of the characters and the collectibles coupled with the missions the game always feels like you have something fun to do. It does have pitfalls in a very simple story and some simple combat mechanics but the pros very much outweigh he cons of this game. The soundtrack is great too. It has the right amount of diversity in levels and even compensates those grating dialogue noises. For the fifteen ish hours that I gave this game it was a wonderful experience even if it played on nostalgia it did it so well that I didn’t care… except in those small frame drops… I have been PC for too long. These things cannot be unseen 😃. If you have the time and you’re into a little trip to back when games were simple and fun then this is by far the game for you! Also if you fancy something new genre wise from the ocean of shooters and ‘horror’ games on offer right now then give this a crack too