Game Overview: Yooka-Laylee by Playtonic Games

Tue, 2017/04/18
Beginning as a Kickstarter campaign on May 1, 2015, "Yooka-Laylee", a game created by a group of ex-Rareware employees in the form of Playtonic Games, finally saw its release on April 11, 2017, following a couple of delays. With the aim of providing an experience nostalgically reminiscent of the 1998 "Banjo-Kazooie" and other Rareware games from the Nintendo 64 era, the game is directed at both old and young players. Without further ado, here’s an overview of Playtonic's first game, "Yooka-Laylee":

"Yooka-Laylee" was released as a spiritual successor to the 1998 "Banjo-Kazooie" and its 2000 sequel, "Banjo Tooie", with many aspects that are almost one-to-one with those games. Most notably, there are two main characters, Yooka, a chameleon, and Laylee, a bat, who are quite literally inseparable during gameplay, each with their own abilities that must be utilized and honed to progress through the game. For the most part, you control Yooka, who can do typical platforming moves such as running and jumping, gaining various new moves throughout the game such as a ground slamming technique and rolling technique. Laylee, on the other hand, can help Yooka glide to a far-away platform or use her sonar ability to reveal hidden items and other secrets. By using a combination of these abilities and many more that can be later acquired, players navigate through various worlds, collecting feathers and book pages among other things with the overall goal being to collect everything that can possibly be collected by beating bosses, helping other characters, and solving puzzles. On the note of book pages, these are collected in order to access and expand new worlds which are entered by jumping inside a book. A variety of types of worlds exist, each providing a different experience both visually and mechanically. For example, in the ice world, named Glitterglaze Glacier (pictured), players must operate around ice-based obstacles, be it slippery paths or puzzles involving melting ice. This is of course nothing new for the platforming genre, but it’s safe to say that players will enjoy the experience, perhaps finding it fresh after many years of 3D platformers that lack this game’s explorative yet highly structured nature. In addition, this game brings back unlockable content which has typically been replaced with achievements and downloadable content in more recent game releases. As such, "Yooka-Laylee" allows players to unlock new game features by simply playing the game (I know, it’s crazy) and completing various objectives such as beating the game or performing actions like defeating 100 enemies, which now would typically just earn you an achievement with your game service of choice, allowing you a potential sense of self-satisfaction and nothing more. That said, this game does feature achievements, but typically you get something of worth in return as well, so it all works out.

As for graphics, this game looks very good, featuring wonderful terrain textures and detailed particle effects, running very smoothly overall in my experience with the PC version. And while the visuals are certainly wonderful to look at, it would not be a "Banjo-Kazooie"-style game without a touch of cartoonishness. This is most notable with the enemies and collectables, who have the now iconic look to them of comically large eyes (if eyes at all, for that matter) and other features players may have come to expect.
On the matter of smoothness, the game runs at a solid 60 frames per second, never dropping in speed. However, and it may just be isolated to the PC version, the game does seem to freeze at points when transitioning between areas, which may be a problem that’s fixed in later updates to the game. Another minor issue I noticed is with rotating the game’s camera in cases where the player is navigating a very enclosed space or finds themselves hugging a wall. In addition, certain automated events, such as a race starting, will face the camera in the opposite direction that the player should go in, which can be disorienting and has been a problem for years, so I hope that Playtonic Games will attempt to fix this issue as well. Seeing as some more recently released Kickstarter games, such as the "Megaman" spiritual-successor "Mighty No. 9" by Comcept, failed to come through as strong games in terms of gameplay and visuals, I’m very happy to see "Yooka-Laylee" come through on all of its promises after a bit under two years since being put up on Kickstarter, which in itself is amazing.

Along with gameplay elements very much like "Banjo-Kazooie", "Yooka-Laylee" features a soundtrack by the former’s original composers, which includes Grant Kirkhope, famous for also composing the soundtrack for Donkey Kong 64. For those unfamiliar, Grant Kirkhope is known for composing playful and curious tracks, featuring the sounds of the xylophone, tuba, flute, and more, with this game’s main theme featuring a ukulele. As with "Banjo-Kazooie", the music changes if you go underwater, typically turning into a more subdued melody, featuring more in the way of harp or piano sounds alongside a slower tempo. On the note of changing sounds, along with the game having various types of locations, it also has music to match, providing an icier, more serene tone in a cold climate, for example. While the type of music this game features is not really in my taste, the effort is very respectable and fits perfectly with the type of game "Yooka-Laylee" is. In addition to music, the iconic “grunting” is also back in this game, with different characters' voices being represented by various grunts, such as a businessman snake making a “nyeh” sound for every word. Admittedly, the grunting in "Yooka-Laylee" feels a bit more flat than in "Banjo-Kazooie", but the good (and bad) news is that it’s just as annoying now as it was back then. While this certainly allots the game’s characters more, well, character, some of these voices drove me up the wall and through the roof, so I elected to turn them down, which to nostalgic gamers is something of a sacrilegious move, I’m sure.

There is not much to say in terms of the game’s story, so this section will be brief. The game begins with Yooka and Laylee having a conversation about how wonderful their life is, when suddenly a golden-paged book which Laylee had been keeping flies away, its pages going everywhere. This is of course the basis for the game’s book theme and the reason why collecting pages is the key to unlocking worlds and completing the game. The main villain is a giant bee who runs a major evil conglomerate and whose goal is to steal all of the world’s books and do something seemingly nondescript with them. If you were asking for a strong story, it won’t be news to you that there is essentially none in "Yooka-Laylee", but it offers enough of one to push off the game in wonderfully cliché way.

From my experience with the game so far, I can easily say that I plan to finish it as it features things that are a bit nostalgic for me in terms of 3D platforming games from my childhood. It features a world that I feel compelled to explore with a huge amount of collectibles, fun and smooth gameplay, and a fitting soundtrack. In addition, featuring unlockables gives this game a major bonus from me, as it adds replayability. Of course, this being an overview, I will not assign a rating to the game and simply tell you that it’s worth looking into and that I'm very glad I contributed to its Kickstarter campaign. "Yooka-Laylee" is available now on PC through Good Old Games and Steam (OSX, Windows, and Linux), PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch for $40.