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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Team 17
Developer: Playtonic Games
Release Date: April 11, 2017

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


Xbox One Review - 'Yooka-Laylee'

by Brian Dumlao on May 12, 2017 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Yooka-Laylee is a 3-D platformer adventure with stunning worlds to explore, unique collectibles to uncover, fun moves to learn and hilarious characters to meet – or defeat.

Buy Yooka-Laylee

Yooka-Laylee is one of the many Kickstarter-funded games that were spiritual successors to beloved properties or genres. In this case, it was the return to classic Nintendo 64 platforming by way of Rare Games, with some of the developers of the original duo of Banjo-Kazooie games leading the charge. The speed at which the project reached its funding goal spoke to how much gamers wanted to see a return to that particular era of platforming. Team17 wanted to help with the porting of the title to consoles, showing that they also had faith in the game. The result is a promise fulfilled, with all of the fun stuff and flaws that you may or may not remember.

In Hivory Towers sits Capital B, the president of the company, along with his vice-president, Dr. Quack. To obtain a magical book that can alter the universe, Dr. Quack invented a machine to suck up all of the world's literature. This also has the side effect of making them the only booksellers in the world. Meanwhile, Yooka the chameleon and his friend Laylee the bat are sunbathing by Shipwreck Creek after transforming a wrecked pirate ship into a new home. Laylee mentions that she found an old book in the ruins, and it is at that moment that Dr. Quack's machine sucks up the book, tearing off and scattering the pages as it does so. The interspecies duo is off on an adventure to retrieve the pages and stop Capital B from wrecking the universe.

The story setup seems to go as expected, but the opening moments should be enough to telegraph the game's oddball humor. Talking sarcastic bats, egomaniacal bees, and noble chameleons are one thing, but a duck encased in a gumball machine and a human-octopus hybrid as a scientist are far more unusual. The humor has loads of British quirks and features puns, double entendres and fourth-wall-breaking references. The jokes take a shotgun approach and will usually elicit chuckles or laugh-out-loud moments. Overall mileage may vary, but the jokes hit just enough to call this a very funny game.

The tenets of a Rare platformer of that era are on full display in Yooka-Laylee. For starters, the interspecies duo has lots of different moves. They start off with the basic tail whip, but your arsenal of moves grows wildly after that. The ability to glide makes way for the ability to fly much later in the game. Basic sonic shouts turn into a radial blast. Curling into a ball to go up ramps eventually becomes a spin dash that also breaks glass. Slurp up berries for ammo, and you also take on the properties of what you consume, so you can be heavy like a cannonball to avoid getting blown away or you can keep warm by eating hot coals.

Despite the litany of moves at your disposal, the combat isn't that strong. You can defeat enemies, but it sometimes feels hampered. There's a lack of a lock-on feature, and aiming isn't stationary, two things that could come in handy during the final boss fight. Some enemies are immune to many of your attacks, so you're predisposed to running away instead of trying to beat them. It doesn't help that the enemy roster is thin, especially if you discount the enemies that act similar to others despite different appearances. Indeed, the wide variety of moves are more for traversal and puzzle-solving purposes than actually making combat more exciting.

Collectibles are a huge part of the game, and there's quite a number of them to gather. Butterflies and energy badges appear once in each world and increase your overall health and energy meter for your special moves, respectively. Those are augmented by the various tonics you can swap out at each station to increase your health by a unit or decrease the energy drain when using certain moves.

Mollycools are interesting collectibles since they act as the currency for transformations. You can only spend them in the level you acquired them, but it also only costs one to get the transformation done. Most transformations are pretty drastic, whether it's turning into a school of ravenous fish or a snowmobile. The only one that feels slightly overpowered is the helicopter, as you can essentially fly around the stage and pick up items that would otherwise take some real platforming skills to obtain.

Coins also represent an important collectible, since they allow you to access Rextro's arcade machines. They're all minigames that revolve around classic arcade experiences, and there are plenty of them. They also happen to feature offline multiplayer for up to four people, and while it would have been nice to see an online option, local multiplayer actually feeds in well to the narrative.

The most important collectibles to gather are quills and pagies, both of which act as keys. Quills unlock a pagie if you collect all of them in a world, but you also need them to buy special moves. Pagies unlock new worlds and expand on existing ones. You'll only need 100 to unlock the final boss fight, but completionists can get another 45 more.

All of this happens in a game world that is only semi-linear. Pagies and the acquisition of necessary abilities act as gates for progression, but once you open and expand a world, it can be traversed in any order, and a pagie can be obtained however you want. The sense of depth each world provides is the game's biggest asset, as the non-linear nature of each stage means you can skip a tough quest and aim for the easier ones instead. It also helps that there's a variety of tasks that you can fulfill to obtain the pagies:  timed races, unlocking new areas for bystanders, playing oversized golf, and defeating the enemies in a challenge area. Meanwhile, the level sizes hide loads of quills that can lead you to new areas and challenges; it constantly derails you from your task if you aren't focused enough.

At the same time, the more you play Yooka-Laylee, the stronger your sense of déjà vu will be if you've played Banjo-Kazooie. You may be controlling a chameleon and bat instead of a bear and bird, but the assignment of sexes is the same, as are almost all of their moves. The levels have different themes, but the structure of multiple goals in one large area remains the same. The idea of transforming is there, albeit with a more flexible cost, and some of the otherwise out-of-place activities, like quizzes, will trigger memories of the old Rare game. This isn't a knock against the title, since this is exactly what the developers had initially promised on Kickstarter. However, those looking for a larger evolution of the formula won't find it here.

The adherence to the gaming standards from a few generations ago might or might not be appreciated. For example, you don't get a map of the world, and there are no indicators of where your collectibles are. If you're trying to seek out the last few quills in a stage, you're going to need to scour every inch of the world or rely on a tonic that isn't always reliable. The game has no checkpoints, except for where you enter or exit a part of the stage, so even though you have unlimited lives, you won't necessarily respawn in the same vicinity. You'll at least have some progress saved, which is more than can be said of boss fights, where death means restarting the whole sequence. For the particularly long boss battles in the latter half of the game, this can be a curse since those fights have no means of letting you refill your health.

Everyone can agree that the camera needs work. Most of the time, the viewpoint is fine, but push the camera against walls or other objects, and it'll start to get stuck or try to adjust badly. It gets worse in some situations, where you have to fight against two different viewpoints at rather important situations. The boss fight in the first world is a good example of this, as crossing a certain line when away from the ramp causes the camera to do a 180-degree shift without adjusting the controls for the change. Get caught in this, and you'll run between two points in a small space and give yourself a headache as you try to adjust and fail. There is word of an upcoming patch to fix this, and if it works as intended, it'll resolve the title's one big issue.

Graphically, Yooka-Laylee looks excellent. The game is bathed in loads of bright colors that sport some very clean textures and designs that are reminiscent of the studio's heritage. The environments also have some nice draw distances, to the point where you can see the edges of every level once you reach a high enough point. The only exceptions are some of the shadows, which have to be approached at a certain distance before they appear properly. Character animations are good, which is paramount in a game that features tons of cartoon characters, and they still elicit charm even without being exaggerated for effect. The frame rate is good, but there are times when pauses and frame rate drops mar that quality level.

The sound is a dead ringer for what you would've heard from classic Rare games of the N64 era. There are better instruments now, but the soundtrack floats between whimsical and epic without any jarring transitions. The pieces are great to listen to and don't overstay their welcome, even if you've spent a few hours in the same world. The effects carry that same sense of whimsy, but the voices stir up some real nostalgia, for better or worse. Everyone speaks with grunts that come through at different octaves and pitches, and the gibberish is subtitled into something understandable. It's cute at first, but with the amount of dialogue in the game, it can get old quickly. The good news is that most of the dialogue can be sped up, so the grunting is kept to a bare minimum, but you will agonize over the few cut scenes that can't be skipped.

Yooka-Laylee is classic 3D-era platformer. It brings an updated presentation to the genre, and it provides some solid and familiar platforming mechanics. The large levels provide a nice playground for those abilities, and while the combat isn't anything special, it's a lot of fun to complete the various tasks to collect pagies. If you can deal with the problematic camera, Yooka-Laylee is worth checking out.

Score: 8.0/10

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