Game Review: Yooka-Laylee (Xbox One)

Yooka-Laylee is the spiritual successor to the much loved Rare games, Banjo-Kazooie & Banjo-Tooie. With Rare being a shell of its former self after years under Microsoft, many of the original team came together to create Playtonic Games & set about making Yooka-Laylee.

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Yooka-Laylee was announced to be a Kickstarter project in May 2015 & reached its goal quickly before being released on the 11th of April 2017.

Completely banking on the nostalgic love gamers have for the Banjo-Kazooie series, Yooka-Laylee seemed destined to be successful no matter what. The question is though: Does Yooka-Laylee deliver a fun, vibrant throw back game? A game that feels modern or is it time we took off the rose-tinted glasses?

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The answer is both yes & no. Yes, Yooka-Laylee is a fun game with vibrant & colourful worlds, unique characters & classic 3D platforming gameplay. Unfortunately  it’s a flawed experience. It feels so dated already, it’s lacking in content & has some serious design issues that shouldn’t happen in a high profile release like this.

Before we get into the grittiness of the game though…

Capital B & his assistant Dr. Quack have come up with a plan to steal the world literary work using a machine designed by the good Dr. Capital B is an unscrupulous business…errr, bee & wants to use the books to make even more money.

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It’s up to the pairing of Yooka & Laylee to stop Capital B’s plan by rescuing the pages (known as ‘pagies’) of a very special book. They’ll have to go deep into Hivory Towers, the sprawling business centre of Capital B’s empire & explore 5 different worlds, defeat bosses, take part in quizzes with Dr. Quack & eventually take down the King Bee himself.

Yooka is a green lizard, Laylee is a bat. They are best friends & compliment each other in a very similar way to a certain bear & bird. Anyone familiar with the Banjo-Kazooie style of controls will feel instantly at home. It’s also where the first of Yooka-Laylee’s problems arise.

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The controls can be so fiddly, so frustrating & detract from a lot of the fun. This is made much worse by a camera system ripped straight out of the late 90’s. It will get stuck behind things, zoom up close at the wrong time & often see you leap to your death as it spins wildly around.

It’s a constant problem & while it is reminiscent of late 90’s 3D platformers, it’s the kind of memory best consigned to the bin.

As you progress, you unlock new moves from a shop-keeper character called Trowser.

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One of the many unique & cool characters introduced throughout. These moves allow Yooka & Laylee to overcome obstacles that they previously couldn’t. For example, very late in the game you’ll earn the ability to fly for short periods of time. This allows access to areas in levels & the main hub of Hivory Towers that were previously blocked.

Like all good collect-a-thons it’s a progression system that helps you find all the different items found throughout each of the 5 worlds. It’s not just pagies but quills (like notes), ghost writers (jingos), health extenders & more. Its not necessary to collect everything to finish the game though. Only 100 pagies of the 145 available are needed to get to the final boss battle.

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This lack of linear gameplay means you can approach each world at your own pace. Almost all boss battles can be skipped or more likely, missed. That’s a bit of a pity as the boss battles are some of the most entertaining moments of the game & the only time the game really proves to be challenging.

Each world has a large number of ‘quests’ that offer pagies as rewards but they rarely offer decent challenge. Fly through rings, race against other characters, find items for other characters, transform into other things ala Banjo-Tooie, solve the occasional puzzle…it’s basic stuff but at least makes the expansive worlds seem less empty.

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There has been some imagination used here though. Each of the 5 worlds have a theme & a very unique style. Tribalstack Tropics (jungle world) Glitterglaze Glacier (ice/snow world), Moodymaze Marsh (swamp world) Capital Cashino (a casino world) & Galleon Galaxy (space like water world).

You use pagies to unlock the worlds & once you’ve collected more you can expand it once. This opens new areas making even more pagies available. The problem with this is that before you expand the world it feels far too small & very limiting.

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For all it’s ‘throwback’ gameplay & visuals Yooka-Laylee lacks a serious amount of content. To cap it off though, paid for DLC will be coming which will no doubt include new worlds. Contrast that with Banjo-Kazooie’s nine worlds (not including Spiral Mountain or Gruntilda’s Lair too) & Banjo-Tooie’s nine offerings. Not good at all.

One of the final high points of Yooka-Laylee is the excellent music that feels both nostalgic & original. Bringing back original Rare composers David Wise, Grant Kirkhope and Steve Burke was an excellent decision & the music really hammers home the classic feel.

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Like many, I wanted to love Yooka-Laylee & in a lot of ways I do. There is no doubting that it’s the spiritual successor to the BK games & the love felt for the series shines through. It’s visually striking thanks to its colourful nature even if it looks rough around the edges & it’s got many entertaining characters & interesting level designs.

It’s the sometimes awkward controls, horrible camera, empty worlds & lack of content that lets it down. Priced at £34.99 it’s absolutely not worth it. Had it been £15-£20 it would have been far easier to recommend. Hopefully this is just the starting point for Yooka-Laylee & future games can build on the good found here.

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Yooka-Laylee
  • 7/10
    The Final Score - 7/10
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