There’s a traditional simplicity and silliness to Yooka-Laylee’s story, as our two heroes venture forth from the safety of their home in Shipwreck Creek after having had an enchanted book of theirs sucked away by one of Dr. Quack’s inventions. It’s not very long at all before you’re exploring deep inside the suitably “punny” Hivory Towers to try and get back what’s theirs.
One thing that’s made abundantly clear right from the very beginning is the importance of collectibles, with finding and collecting the book’s pages the aim of the game. These are called “pagies,” which makes sense given the story leans towards a plotline for trying to save literature. Yooka and Laylee start to wonder whether there’s more to the book itself and set off on their adventure to collect these lost pages.
Throughout the initial parts of the game, you’ll be taught new signature moves by a character called Trowzer, who just so happens to be a snake – yes, I giggled like at that too – and soon after this, you’re having to perform relatively intricate feats of platforming. There are lots of additional collectibles like Ghost Writers and much more to find, giving you various reasons to reach higher grounds and find hidden areas. Plus with certain ghosts that you have find, the game doesn’t exactly tell you how to acquire them, meaning a lot of exploring and earning powers.
By also collecting common collectibles called “Squills,” players can access more moves for Yooka and Laylee from Trowzer, which tie into how you can get some of these Ghostly creatures. There’s obviously a fair cast of other characters to meet and one in particularly polygonal dinosaur pokes fun at the pointed character models from the 90’s.
The platforming in the game is great, but because Yooka-Laylee is inspired by a fair share of early 3D platformers, the game‘s movements feel like an homage to those days. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it certainly feels like the spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie that piqued people’s interest in the game to start with. Because of that, the game also offers a challenge much like the library of Nintendo 64 platformers that it takes inspiration from, especially with the sensitivity of the character movements when platforming and the level design itself.
Surprisingly, the game doesn’t feel like a rip-off of Banjo-Kazooie, despite these similarities and clear inspirations. Part of that is down to the gorgeous graphics, with colourful and inviting environments and very nicely detailed and animated models for Yooka and Laylee. All of their moves and animations mesh well together and feel original – the duo can even celebrate and sulk at the press of the D-Pad. I could go on and on, but there’s honestly so much to love about Yooka-Laylee, but the gameplay definitely speaks for itself. Platformer games of that high standard are second to none.
With rather open worlds to explore – the above video showing off Glitterglaze Glacier, which I didn’t manage to reach and explore in my playtime – there’s plenty to do besides platforming and collecting things, such as competing in the quite frustratingly hard races against a speedy cloud. For the most part, this involves building up enough momentum while rolling with Yooka and looking out for butterflies that replenish your rolling cooldown and keep your slim lead in a race. At time, Yooka-Laylee challenged me just as classic platformers did many years ago, which is perfectly fine by me when modern platformers have often been too easy for my tastes, but it doesn’t end up being frustrating despite my failures.
The whole game oozes 90’s nostalgia from the movements and attacks that Yooka and Laylee have access to, and there’s a familiarity to the well-composed and light-hearted themes composed by Grant Kirkhope and David Wise, who created the original music for Banjo-Kazooie and many other stellar titles. The whole world feels like a modern Nintendo 64 game, which is entirely the point, but it’s done so incredibly well that it has to be praised.
Yooka-Laylee captures the essence of 90’s platforming so perfectly, but rounds off the edges, quite literally. Playing Yooka-Laylee will not leave you disappointed if you’re looking for something fun to pick up and play.