Recently, and maybe it is because of the little snippets I have seen from certain games, but I have had a very strong nostalgia trip or desire to play games from the past. Not so much the HD collections and such, but original games with borrowed or improved elements from the classics.
The clearest memory I have of Banjo-Kazooie is playing the game at a local McDonald’s on an N64 kiosk. It was a timed demo on repeat and I was competing with some little kid to see who could run through the early part of the game the fastest and collect the most items. This leads me to the Banjo-Kazooie spiritual successor, Yooka-Laylee.
While enjoying a nice picnic outside their home in Shipwreck Creek, unbeknownst to Yooka and Laylee, an evil bee, Capital B and his ‘vice president’ Dr. Quack are sucking up all the books in the world. Their plan is simple; to capitalize on the book industry. This includes the very special golden book written by the ghost writers that Laylee found hoping to include maps to treasure.
As the golden book is taken from right under their noses, pages are ripped out and spread across the world. Yooka and Laylee set out to find the root of the cause from within Hivory Tower and must travel to various book worlds to collect the Pages, or Pagies as they are called in the game.
Yooka-Laylee is a 3D collect-em-all puzzle platformer from days past with twists and humour written for the modern gamer. However, unlike previous entries in the genre, Yooka-Laylee is largely open world, save for 5 separate book worlds you find and enter. However, those books are quite large to explore, including an additional expansion for each book when you collect enough Pagies. This is a neat concept in that it allows you to revisit old worlds with a new view while you collect additional Pagies, but it also lets you decide whether you want to expand right away or unlock the next book world to continue the story.
While collecting quills, which are everywhere and provide a sort of path to new challenges, I discovered that you could freely jump or double to a ledge on a cliff or mountain without an invisible wall stopping you. Not only that, but if you are high up on a floating island, for instance the first world, and have the right ability, you can jump/fly all the way down to other areas. This reminded me of Skyrim where you could be high up on a mountain but instead of going back through the long cave, you can careful walk down the side of the mountain to the village below. I found this to be really enjoyable as it was quicker than going through the doors or cave entrances, but also to see the worlds from a new open world perspective. This discovery proved just how big the worlds are, and how free you are to explore. Apart from collecting quills to ultimately 100% a world with items collected, they are used to purchase new abilities from Trowzer.
With the help of of a sleazy snake adventurer and merchant named Trowzer, Yooka and Laylee use their athletic abilities and flying capabilities of a lizard and bat, respectively. Through the course of the game, you slowly unlock new abilities to reach new heights, stun enemies and use stealth. I found the unlocking progression to be well timed, however I would find myself frustrated at times when I couldn’t complete a task, simply because I was too engrossed in a particular world wanting to expand, only to need a new ability that is available only in the next world particularly because I had no idea what kind of abilities were eventually available. However, I found this to more of a fun challenge in that I would find unconventional ways to reach new heights or complete tasks with what I currently had.
In addition to simply collecting quills and Pagies to unlock new worlds and abilities from Trowzer, you meet other characters that offer interesting stories about the world, their adventures, and mini quests of sorts for you to complete. Dr. Puzz for example has a machine that will turn you into various forms that can provide a new perspective on the world, and opens up brand new challenges for you to complete.
Collecting quills and Pagies while completing challenges are the bulk of the gameplay but along the way there are minions to fight. Their look varies by level but act the same and are simple to defeat. Also, the ghost writers of the books you enter are hidden throughout. They each require a different method of capturing them, but once you find them and do it once, the real challenge in the next book is finding them as some are really hidden well.
World bosses are for the most part optional. You stumble upon them unknowingly and of course the benefit of beating them is collecting a Pagie, but I completed the game by only defeating 2 world bosses. They are certainly a challenge but attack stages are predictable so with strategy and timing they can be defeated. In addition, Dr. Quack acts as a sort of boss to progress to new sections of Hivory Tower, in which you must complete his quizzes. Pay attention because the answers are from lore, your current stats, levels, etc.
Multiplayer is present within the main game but it is very limited in that the second player plays as a bee to collect butterflies for Yooka to use or stun enemies. However, the real fun is when you and up to 4 local friends can hop into arcade games at Rex’s arcade. The games are time limited and are based on who reaches the highest score. They range from side scrolling shooters, over the top racers, stompers, 3rd person racers, all of which you collect quills to come out on top of the leaderboard.
Playing on a high-end PC certainly has its perks when it comes to graphics. For a 3D cartoon world, a lot of attention to detail was spent on Yooka-Laylee. Lighting effects are actually quite wonderful. The way the practical light casts realistic shadows that grow or shrink if you are close to the source. The draw distance is quite something to marvel at as you can see the the tiny quills shining far in the distance. I noticed a few locations inspired by other games, or maybe just looking similar to me, such as a dock and boat that looked like The Secret of Monkey Island. They even have characters such as Shovel Knight show up for a little fun.
Back to that McDonalds playthrough of Banjo, luckily, the audio was low so we didn’t have to listen to the same ‘ol gibberish voices that were subbed in. All the while, repeatedly sitting through the opening, unskippable cutscene which became annoying. In Yooka-Laylee, the gibberish voices are present instead of voice over dialog but it wasn’t so bad. Also, I hear there will be an update to allow players the option to turn them off or skip the dialog and cutscenes.
Music is something you’ll be humming, whistling or listening to when you aren’t playing. All the songs, especially the theme song are super catchy and quite enjoyable. The sound design as a whole is intelligent in that it smoothly transitions when entering new areas or into a battle and so on.
A Steam code for this game was provided for free for review purposes. This does not affect the opinion of the content or value of released game.