Yooka-Laylee review: Nostalgic fun isn’t as straightforward as you’d think

Yooka-Laylee has a mountain to climb from day one. It initially started its life as a Kickstarter project, before being picked up by indie publisher Team17, and it’s clear that many players, fuelled by feelings of nostalgia, desired Playtonic’s throwback to the halcyon days of 3D platformers. The trouble is, in the wider world, Yooka-Laylee has to appeal to more than just the die-hard fanatics.

Yooka-Laylee review: Nostalgic fun isn’t as straightforward as you’d think

That shouldn’t be a problem, for the most part, as Yooka-Laylee is genuinely good fun, even if its main draw is fuelled by a rose-tinted view of the past. If you’ve never played an N64-era platformer from Rare’s back catalogue, you’re unlikely to “get” what Yooka-Laylee is all about. For everyone else, however, it’s a revival of a bygone era typified by the Banjo-Kazooie series.

This time around the titular heroes of Yooka-Laylee are a thoughtful chameleon (Yooka), and a hyperactive, cheeky bat (Laylee) who, after being disturbed from a midday siesta, set out on a quest to stop the evil Capital B from turning the world’s books into profit. It’s a peculiar setting and pairing, but Playtonic has managed to make its cross-species duo work well together.


By drawing upon each character’s animal traits, Yooka-Laylee serves up some interesting gameplay ideas. For instance, at its base level, Yooka’s chameleon tongue can swallow up healing butterflies, but as you progress it’ll gobble up status-changing traits and even work as a grappling hook. Laylee, on the other hand, can assist by helping Yooka glide and fire out ultrasonic blasts to open up new areas or stun enemies.

It’s easy to see that Yooka-Laylee is a labour of love for Playtonic – packed to the brim with ideas, collectables and colourful characters doling out peculiar missions – but there’s just something about it that feels tired. In its quest to be a return to form for N64-era platformers, it has somehow forgotten that there was a reason the world slowly moved away from simple 3D collect-a-thons and onto more complex third-person adventure, action and puzzle games.

One example can be found in the freeform, open-world gameplay Playtonic has attempted to create. Entering these big new worlds feels somewhat akin to exploring a toy box – you’ll run around gleefully observing the charming enemy designs and smiling at the creative settings. However, this feeling quickly evaporates as time passes and you scarper aimlessly searching for your next objective. This feeling is alleviated somewhat by your ability to expand worlds to find new challenges. It’s a shame, then, that this mechanic feels like a thinly veiled excuse to drag you back to a previous world after you’ve squeezed every last drop of blood from it.


This feeling of pointless freedom is exacerbated by Yooka-Laylee’s move purchasing system. Intended to be flexible in how players buy new moves, it actually has very little bearing on how you interact with a level. You usually buy all the moves each new world offers almost straight away thanks to an abundance of the golden feathers used for currency. The real kicker, however, is that some challenges require you to use skills you only obtain at set points of the game – it’s a mechanic that’s at odds with the open-world exploration Playtonic seemingly promotes.

“It’s a world begging to be played in, but it doesn’t encourage playfulness.”

It’s unfortunate that Yooka-Laylee has arrived after The Great Zeldaing of video games. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild surprised almost everyone by blowing away the cobwebs that have engulfed many action-adventure and open-world titles. By comparison, Yooka-Laylee’s reliance on set moves that need to be purchased in order to complete tasks makes its open-world level design simply a buzzword for a game box. Sure, I can run around and maybe complete a handful of puzzles, but if I don’t have that slam move there’s no way I can depress those switches to complete that level. It’s a world begging to be played in, but it doesn’t encourage playfulness. I didn’t go in expecting a genre-defining title, and this definitely isn’t one, but fresher ideas for gameplay progression would have been nice.


Unfortunately, no matter which methods Playtonic opted to use it wouldn’t be able to please everyone. Nostalgia-driven fans will surely enjoy this system, but I suspect many others will find it somewhat at odds from what they expect of a modern game. Despite those issues, and the return of the dreaded dodgy 3D platformer camera from hell – something no developer can seem to get right – Yooka-Laylee isn’t a bad game at all. Far from it.

Yooka-Laylee is good, wholesome fun. Its worlds are full of character and Playtonic’s knack for creating a colourful cast is rife; it’s pun game is wonderfully strong – even with a glut of woeful dad jokes swirling around in there – and it’s clearly made for those itching to break the N64 out from the attic. If you remember blowing dust from game cartridges, fiddling with loose thumbsticks and the dawn of the Rumble Pak, then this is your game. If you don’t, you may find it hard to look past the foibles and creaking game design. To say this is the best Banjo-Kazooie game ever made would be true, but it’s worth remembering that Banjo-Kazooie really hasn’t aged all that well.

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