I’ve been playing Yooka-Laylee religiously since getting my hands on review code for the game. I can’t put it down. There’s something wrong with my hands. Even when I know I’m supposed to be doing something else, I find my hands wrapped tightly around the controller while my brain says: “C’mon, just have a little look around and find a couple of pagies, you can do that other stuff later.” Evil brain. Bad brain. Bad Chris for listening to evil, bad brain.
I grew up playing the likes of Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, Banjo-Kazooie, and all the rest. Their charm and appeal still lasts to this day; it’s the reason I still play Spyro the Dragon 3 religiously on my PS Vita, despite having completed it more than a dozen times. What can I say? I like colourful games…
Yooka-Laylee would have been right up my street when I was a wee lad. Colourful worlds to explore. Wacky, non-human playable characters. A cast made up of completely bonkers ideas. Yep, it’s just what I’ve been missing for the past 15-20 years: a game that’s all about fun. These days it’s all “let’s be gritty” or “let’s make our game an interactive movie with feelings and emotions an -” I can’t even bring myself to write the rest of that. Basically, I’ve grown bored of washed out shooters. I’ve grown tired of wannabe-film directors shoving their ego into games. Yes, Uncharted 4, I’m looking at you, mate.
Yooka-Laylee is a breath of fresh air, basically, and I’m gulping it down like a desperate asthmatic in an oxygen chamber. If you want to know why I’m dissing asthmatics, read on for the full review.
Yooka-Laylee is a classic platformer/action/adventure game. It takes cues from the genre-defining classics of the PS One and N64 era of games. Doesn’t hurt that the ladies and gents behind Yooka-Laylee also helped establish the genre two decades ago. Safe to say, then, these people know what they’re doing when it comes to building a digital playground.
Exploration, platforming, and collecting a ton of stuff is what Yooka-Laylee is all about. Ordinarily, if this was the pitch for a video game, I’d be put off within moments; I’ve spent the last decade chasing Ubisoft’s feathers and what not, I’m done with that stuff, or so I thought.
You’re introduced to the game’s world with a quick cut-scene that gives us our first peek at the titular duo, Yooka and Laylee. Yooka is a green lizard and the main part of the duo, if you will. Yooka is the one you’ll be moving around the world while Laylee, the bat with a massive red nose, provides assistance by sitting on his mate’s head. Sounds like a great, equal friendship…
The opening act had me running around, learning the ropes, and generally just soaking it all in. The amount of colour on the screen is just unreal. I’ve spent my recent months in all the big releases, so taking a step back from the realistic and into the absurdly adorable is welcome and I already knew from that moment it was going to be hard to put down.
Once I’d met a couple of the game’s daft characters it was on with the story. The story is no summer blockbuster affair, mind you, but it doesn’t need to be. Instead of being bogged down with endless cutscenes and boring drama, Yooka-Laylee presents a simple premise to give validation behind all the jumping, running, smashing, rolling and the rest of it. I’m not putting the story down but it’s basic and simple, though it is just jam-packed full of daft humour, little nods to other games and the game industry in general, as well as a few sly winks to the adult players who know a little more about the world than the youngsters. One aspect I’m not too keen on is the lack of proper voices. Instead the characters are talk gobbledegook and jibberish, meaning you’ll always be reading the speech bubbles. I imagine this’d be a little tough on the younger audiences, too. Speaking of, the humour tickled my very British bones because I have very British bones. Yes, some of the gags were truly groan-worthy, but I think the bigger problem here is that the humour may not translate that well across the world.
Yooka and Laylee need to stop the big bad guy, Capital B, from collecting the missing pages from a magical book. If he was to get his hands on them then the world would be buggered with all of his evil schemes. It’s your job to run around and collect the magical ‘pagies’ and keep them out of his nasty hands. Simples. Or it would be if there were just, like, two pages and they were in someone’s kitchen. Alas, it’s not so simple. There are many, many pagies and they’re spread out across numerous worlds filled with challenges, enemies, and other collectibles. Busy times ahead, then.
After going through the motions and getting into the game’s first world, Tribalstack Tropics, the game really opens up. It was a bit of a surprise when the camera panned around to give me my first look at this tropical oasis. Was it real, or just a mirage? No, it was all real. From here I was free to do whatever took my fancy. Go and smack that little gremlin-like thing? Yeah, why not. See where this path leads? Don’t mind if I do. Run around collecting the gold quills? Yeah, until I see something else shiny and attractiv – ooooh, what’s that.
That’s basically how I played the game. I never stuck to collecting one item at a time or just focusing on one goal. I would go from place to place, collecting whatever was within sight. Along the way I met some silly characters that had me chuckling to myself, and at times, quite audibly. There’s no list of things to do, nor is there any in-game prompts suggesting where to go next. No mini-map, no arrows, just you and your will. It was weird, initially, to not have any kind of HUD (heads-up display) on the screen. After years of glancing at mini-maps, waypoints, and all other space-hogging aids, it did take a little getting used to.
This brings me to one of my only gripes with Yooka-Laylee: getting lost all the darn time. I appreciate the clean presentation that lets the game world spew out into my greedy little eyeballs, but surely a little map tucked away in the menus wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world, would it? I know that Playtonic Games was going for an all-out old-school action-platformer, but a few comforts wouldn’t have done any harm. I resented getting lost in the first world and not being able to find my way to Trowzer to buy some new abilities. I’d spent far too long looking for Rextro and even longer hunting for his bloody coin so I could have a go on his retro arcade mini-game. Speaking of…
Yooka-Laylee is a 3D platformer that deviates a little from its roots with the inclusion of mini-games. While I thoroughly enjoyed running, jumping, and rolling around the huge worlds, I absolutely resented some of the mini-games. Take, for example, the first one that I encountered: a top-down racer like Micro Machines. At first I was like “hell yeah, gimme them goodies, dawg” but after 30 seconds of smashing my kart into a wall, being burnt by bloody flames, and generally having a piss-poor time, I was soon like “yo, eff this” and didn’t bother to try again. They’re not all terrible, mind you, but I’d say that most of them just felt so out of place and forced that they weren’t that much fun.
It’s not perfect by any means (what is these days?) but it’s still an exceptional game, despite its flaws. The presentation is absolutely spot-on in terms of plucking up gaming memories from generations gone by, and the musical score that surrounds it does a great job hitting the nostalgic notes time and again. If, like me, you’re in your mid-to-late 20s and miss the whimsical adventures of the 90s, do yourself a favour and book some time off work and get a few hours in while the kids are at school/asleep/being neglected. Oh, that reminds me. Where the foof is my kid?
Yooka-Laylee PS4 Review
- Overall - Must Buy - 9.0/109.0/10
Yooka-Laylee is just what the industry needed: a firm, colourul, kick up the bum. There's lots to do, even more to see, and even more to collect. An expandable game that really does justice to the genre it's trying to revive. It's been a long time that a game has kept my attention with pure gameplay alone. It's a timeless classic that'll join the ranks of Spyro, Crash and Banjo, and deservedly so. Gimme more. Please.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
*Reviewed using a PS4 Slim.