Yooka-Laylee (Switch) Review
There was a time when the 3D platformer was everywhere, then they just kind of went away and all that has remained is Mario. Now a bunch of ex-Rareware developers have dared to dream, to bring back to the 90’s platformer collectathons that we all loved and adored. They just might have brought back too much.
You only need to play just a minute of Yooka-Laylee to realise just how inspired this is by 90’s platformers – Banjo-Kazooie, in particular. The game looks the same, plays the same, sounds the same and even has a hyphenated name. Yooka-Laylee’s story is a simple one but told through fun exposition and humour just like the good old days. The game is full of classic British innuendo and it’s not afraid to take a knock at itself and of the gaming industry in general. Some of the jokes don’t always land, but it’s fun overall.
Capital B has stolen all of the world’s books, including Laylee’s special tome. That tome was filled with Pagies which unlock and expand worlds across Hivory Towers. While a lot of Yooka-Laylee is exactly the same as the games that have come before it, there are some new tricks here including expanding worlds. The game has just the five worlds in total, but after you’ve collected enough Pagies from each one the world can expand and open up for more collecting and exploring opportunities.
There’s just one problem, the worlds are big – too big. While in modern times it’s considered something special to brag about how big your world is, this time having a big world isn’t necessarily a good thing. The worlds themselves aren’t just big, the majority of them are largely empty with enemies sparsely spread around, and not much to see in between. Super Mario Odyssey rewarded players by hiding places that you could reach only with advanced moves; Yooka-Laylee features little-to-none of this. Some sections of the world feel so empty to the point where you’re not sure if the level is meant to expand or it’s just a dead spot. That said, each of the worlds are unique and offer a different and well-thought out theme, it’s just that while the wide open spaces suit the Aztec-styled first world or the ice world, it translates poorly to the casino world, it feels like Yooka and Laylee have been shrunken down and are exploring a world that feels out of place. The Hub World (like Banjo-Kazooie’s Spiral Mountain) is filled with more secrets and unlockables than some of the actual worlds, plus some of the puzzles are better too. Worryingly, the hub feels way more alive than the worlds combined.
Exploration is slow to begin; like Banjo-Kazooie, you have to unlock moves as the game progresses. It won’t take long to get them all, but I felt lost, like maybe I was meant to explore an area later, or solve a series of puzzles in a particular order, but I was never really sure. The moves you unlock include a high-jump, aiming and shooting projectiles, and fluttering through the sky thanks to Laylee’s super strong bat wings. Luckily for us, there are fewer consumables to collect in Yooka-Laylee than in Banjo-Koozie, projectiles and health are in abundance and instead of being feathers you collect that wear down you can collect orbs to power-up Yooka as well as butterflies for the duo’s health and power bar. This power bar also refills automatically so you can use their abilities without having to dig around the world for items.
Controlling Yooka and Laylee overall is very 90’s; the platforming action is let down by imprecise controls and a general loose feeling for moving the duo around. The game’s camera has been improved since the initial release and there’s an option to take complete manual control of the camera, but neither of them is perfect. It’s better than it was on release on the other consoles but you’ll find yourself getting frustrated with the camera, no matter what setting you choose.
After a lengthy porting process, it’s good news on the Switch port front for Yooka-Laylee. The game runs perfectly fine in both handheld and docked modes with only a few bouts of slowness here and there. The game itself looks a little flat with lower resolution textures and the daylight-set worlds suffer the most. However, the worlds that are set at night, indoors and where there’s spooky lighting look great and side-by-side next to the other consoles it is hard to notice the difference.
The game’s soundtrack is one part of the 90’s that has been brought back in spectacular fashion and is the child of Grant Kirkhope, David Wise, and Steve Burke. At times the game’s tunes go so close to being Banjo it’s a little uncomfortable, but seeing as we haven’t heard that in nearly 15 years we’re going to allow it. The game’s tunes will take you back in time.
While the music is an absolute joy to listen to, the characters voices in the game aren’t. The characters all speak the game gibberish like Banjo and Kazooie and in Yooka-Laylee there’s a lot of talking. You can turn off the mumbling and have it cut down but the text on the screen still rolls out as if they were, it would have been great to skip pages of dialogue or speed up the text but you end up missing it and there’s a lot of instruction in the text too.
There are just a couple of really just horrible things with Yooka-Laylee and they don’t really drag down the game, but certainly slows it down. The ‘retro’ mini-games in the game are just boring, and some of them are just horrible. Rextro is such a great character too, but his game selection is extremely meagre. Another retro throwback is the two quiz sections in the game where Captial B’s sidekick Dr Quack will stop you between levels in Hivory Towers to quiz you on what you’ve seen in the game so far. These quiz sections serve nothing more than to drag out the game and while one might have been nice as a joke – they’re just annoying now.
It would be remiss to not mention the game’s ‘co-op’ mode. The second player controls a group of bees that fly over the screen to pick up items and that’s about it. It’s a complete waste of time and anyone who isn’t five or younger won’t enjoy it.
Yooka-Laylee has a ton of heart put into it. The team at Playtonic know how to make 90’s platformers and they’ve done it here. The problem is that not everything in those games was great then and they’re not great now. The game’s world is filled with a wonderful and funny cast, it’s just spread a bit thin in huge but empty worlds. The nostalgic soundtrack luckily fills those vast spaces. Yooka-Laylee is a terrific throwback to an era long dead. Let’s just have more of the good parts and keep the bad parts in the past.
Rating: 3.5 / 5
- Brilliantly nostalgic
- Soundtrack makes you feel at home
- Camera and controls are classic 90's
- Mini-games are poor
- Co-op mode isn't worth the ink on the (theoretical) box
- Large, empty worlds