Most of our younger readers probably wouldn’t know that there was a time when the humble platformer ruled our consoles. They were a staple for the original PlayStation, and most people will think fondly of iconic series such as Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot, and Rayman (to name but a few). This phenomenon extended way beyond Sony’s consoles. Everyone tried to recreate the Nintendo’s consistent brilliance of the 3D Super Mario series. The Sega Saturn brought us the iconic Sonic, and the N64 had the amazing Banjo-Kazooie – one of the most critically acclaimed platformers of all time. This bird and bear duo not only came exceptionally close to recreating the formula that made Mario famous, but added some of their own unique elements into the mix. The jibber-jabber of the “voice acting”, the witty humour and brilliant platformer sections were just some of the reasons fans fell in love with the series.
Not only were 3D platformers system sellers, they were the face of the entire era of gaming. This, however, changed slightly over time as shooters and action games became the face of modern gaming. Sure we still get the odd platformer every now and again, and despite how good they might be, they aren’t taking main stage anymore.
Luckily, things are starting to change. The latest incarnation of Ratchet and Clank on the PlayStation 4 was quite brilliant, and with the imminent release of the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, we get to relive the golden are of platformers. Eager to join the nostalgia, is Playtonic Games with their latest title, Yooka-Laylee – a crazy duo of a male chameleon and female bat. If you notice the striking resemblance to Banjo-Kazooie, you would be spot on. This is because Playtonic is made up of a huge number of ex-Rare staff, who set out to create a spiritual successor to their highly successful game.
Starting the game, you quickly realize that Yooka-Laylee isn’t just a clone, it IS Banjo-Kazooie 4, even though the titular characters are nowhere to be found. The design, the art style, the font, the structure and sounds will immediately be familiar to anyone who has played a Banjo-Kazooie game before. This is an unapologetic, pure, old school, 90’s platformer and the only thing that differentiates itself from its predecessors is the HD paint coat. This exact premise is why the game reached its initial crowdfunding campaign goal of £175,000 within thirty-eight minutes and its initial highest goal of £1,000,000 in 21 hours. At the time it was the fastest video game in Kickstarter history to reach US$1 million.
Unfortunately, this commitment to nostalgia is both Yooka-Laylee’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness. What most people don’t realize is that some of the design choices made with the original Banjo-Kazooie was due to the hardware limitations of the platform. The moment I removed my nostalgia-goggles, I started seeing the flaws in the game. While the writing is charming at times, if I’m frank, it is generally quite bad. Even cringe-worthy at times, but that’s definitely on purpose (at least, I hope so) to give the game that Banjo-Kazooie feel. What’s even worse, is the delivery. The queeks, beeps, barks and belches were charming when Banjo-Kazooie did it (again, this might just be nostalgia), but with Ratchet and Clank still somewhat fresh in my mind, I missed proper voice acting. Especially with this type of humour. Couple this with an almost non-existent story, and you have a game that shouldn’t work in the “next-gen” era of gaming…but for some reason I just can’t stop playing it.
Before you think that I am going insane, let me get you up to speed. Yooka and Laylee venture out from the safety of their home in Shipwreck Creek to explore deep inside the work halls of a baneful business known as the Hivory Towers. Their quest is to find the “Pagies” of a special book, needed to explore the mysterious Grand Tomes and stop Capital B and Dr. Quack from absorbing all the world’s literature and converting it into pure profit. That’s it, there is literally (accidental pun) nothing more to it. This is the premise driving the main purpose of the game: collecting. Pagies, Quills, Ghost Writers, Play Coins and Mollycools (atom-thingies that allows you to transform between shapes) are just some of the things you can collect in five massive worlds. Each world is unique and an absolute joy to explore. They are also littered with quests, challenges and platform sections to complete. The challenges are enjoyable and the quality is quite consistent, providing enough incentive to keep you going. This, combined with my constant obsession to collect them all, kept me going for hours at an end.
Adding to this enjoyment, is the control scheme. The symbiotic relationship between Yooka and Laylee is an absolute joy. The duo effortlessly switches between platforming and combat, and while the latter can become quite tedious, the platforming more than makes up for it. Part of the brilliance is the way the game drip-feeds you the abilities you require to traverse the world and collect items. Yooka and Laylee have a spectacular move-set, and it was an absolute joy seeing what unlockables the next world brings. To unlock these abilities, you have to talk to an somewhat annoying snake called Trowzer – a good example of the puns, wordplay and characters you’ll find in the game (in case that joke went slightly over your head, I’ve provided a picture below). Some fall slightly flat, but others are absolutely spot-on. My favourite is an old mining cart called Kartos, the god of ore. There is also an 8-bit, charming, polygonal, 90s-obsessed, dinosaur called Rextro. By finding him and the Play Coins, you’ll unlock old school arcade challenges, which provide a welcome variation to the platforming.
What I really enjoyed about the game is that, even though it is simple enough for children to play, there is enough complexity for older gamers. The game does absolutely no hand-holding, and you are left to explore and solve the puzzles on your own. You never now if your inability to solve a puzzle is due to a lack of moves, or your own inability to think outside the box. For this reason, you will find yourself revisiting worlds and areas as you progress to find that ever alluring Pagie.
The key thing to remember about Yooka-Laylee, is that it is meant to be played with nostalgia goggles. It is a throwback to the golden era of platform gaming, and absolutely lives up to its predecessors. It might not be perfect, but it is a perfect reminder of why the genre was so popular. Despite some rough edges, the sprawling worlds, exciting challenges and sense of progressing absolutely makes up for it. Granted, the game might not be for everyone, but fans of the series will definitely have a blast. This is one game that will keep you busy for hours at an end, and definitely worth checking out.