Yooka-Laylee Review

By Megan Walton,
Back in June 2015, a Kickstarter appeared for something called "Project Ukelele". Being cited as a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, and coming from Playtonic, a new studio made up of ex-Rare employees, they managed to earn £2.1 million from 80,000 backers (the most funded UK Kickstarter to date). Eventually, this project evolved into Yooka-Laylee and is hitting the shelves next week. After nearly two years, is this game worth the wait?

Yooka and Laylee, the hottest new duo in townYooka and Laylee, the hottest new duo in town

Capital B, the game's baddie who is a weird cross between a bee and Gru from Despicable Me, has decided he wants to absorb all of the books in the world. With the help of his medical duck assistant in a gumball machine, Dr. Quack, they want their company to re-write the history books by taking over the world. Unfortunately, one of the books they try to absorb is a special book to which Laylee, a purple bat with a big red nose, has taken a shine. Before the special book gets absorbed, though, its magical pagies scatter across the world. Together with companion Yooka, a little green chameleon, it's your job to go out and find them all. It's a pretty standard story for the platforming genre with a rather bizarre villain and weird way of taking control, which still manages to make complete sense in this kind of world.

Yooka and Laylee are fun characters to which you are instantly drawn, even with the annoying noises they make when talking (this isn't just limited to them, all of the characters each have their own unique annoying noise). For the most part you control Yooka as he jumps, spins, attacks, rolls and licks his tongue. While Yooka runs about with Laylee on his head, her contribution comes with her ability to fly as she can carry Yooka from ledge to ledge, or even fly around the worlds for quite some time.

You begin in Shipwreck Creek, a small place inside the hub that teaches you the basics of the game. The hub world itself, Hickory Towers, is fairly substantial with many hidden paths and treasures to be found. Despite shortcuts that you will unlock in your travels around the hub, there's no particularly easy way to get from one end to the other, so expect a bit of backtracking and running around while you are looking for the pagies hidden in this area. The other worlds you need to explore come in the form of grand tome books in the hub world. You need a certain amount of pagies to unlock them and you can enter it by jumping into the open book.

Tell me he doesn't look like Gru?Tell me he doesn't look like Gru?

There are five worlds within the hub world to explore. They are each unique in their design, with jungle, glacier, swamp, casino and space themed environments to explore. Each world feels carefully constructed with a large amount to find and do in each, meaning you'll be able to spend a decent amount of time with each world before moving on to the next. With no restriction on the amount of progress you must make, you have the freedom to move on to the next world as soon as you have enough pagies to unlock it. Once the worlds are unlocked, extra pagies can be used to expand them, giving a reason to collect the pagies rather than them just being another pointless collectible. This opens up new paths and hidden areas that weren't available before and is an innovative way of adding more content without adding new worlds. When you enter a world after it has expanded, the game will briefly highlight the new areas so it is made clear where these new places are to be found.

Each of the worlds has a boss to beat, including the hub world, but these are not linear levels through which you run to meet the boss at the end. Some of the bosses may be off the beaten path a little bit, or will require you to interact with an item or character in the world to get them to appear. This mechanic works well in making you feel like you have more freedom within the worlds because you're never forced down a particular path. You'll find certain characters recurring in the worlds, such as the knighted pigs who will give you quests in order to unlock pagies. Kartos, who is an old mine cart you can ride in to earn a pagie, also makes an appearance in every world. All of these characters are interesting and each has a personality of their own, with humour playing a big part in most of your conversations.

As well as the pagies, you'll be wanting to keep an eye out for a few more things in the worlds. The ghost writers each have their own particular way to be collected by interacting with them in a certain way. The ghosts serve as nothing but a collectible, but searching for them definitely encourages a bit of exploring. The butterfly and energy extender items will improve your health and your energy levels. There is one of each of these in every world, including the hub. Then there are atoms and play coins that have a direct impact on something in the world rather than just being a number. The atom can be given to Dr. Puzz in exchange for making her machine work, transforming Yooka and Laylee into something like a shoal of fish or a boat that will help you get to a hidden pagie in that world.

The casino world is one of the most uniquely designed worldsThe casino world is one of the most uniquely designed worlds

The play coin needs to be given to Rextro the dinosaur in order to be able to play on his arcade machine. These arcade machines have mini games for you to play and earn pagies, first by completing it and secondly by beating the high score. The mini games vary from "Flappy Yooka-Laylee" to a kart racing game that is pretty hard to control. These mini games offer a break from the platforming but there is nothing special about them, so you probably won't be coming back to them after the game, even though you can with a friend or two if you choose. These collectibles, along with everything else you can pick up in game, can be easily tracked on the pause screen, so you will know what you are missing and in which world it can be found.

Finally, there is another collectible, quills, in all of these worlds. These can be traded with Trowser, the friendly neighbourhood snake that wears a pair of trousers. He will trade your quills for new upgrades for Yooka and Laylee, which should help you get to new areas you might not have been able to reach before. The upgrades you buy for Yooka and Laylee understandably make the game easier, with the rolling ability allowing you to get up steep slopes and the extended flying meaning you can reach places that would have been out of reach before. You can purchase these in any order and you are free to purchase upgrades whenever you choose. Trowser will give a free upgrade when you specifically need it to progress to the next area, such as being able to turn invisible. Some of these abilities have a secondary use that isn't always made very clear and you are left with a little bit of guess work — for example, invisibility can also be used to bounce laser beams into a switch.

Unfortunately the controls for the extended upgraded flight are not very well designed and you may struggle with the flying; turning sharp corners and manoeuvring through different areas can be quite difficult. Similarly, the swimming mechanics are quite awkward to get to grips with and you may very well find yourself swimming into a wall on more than one occasion. This is made worse with the awkward camera. Tight corners seems to confuse it and it might jump around or lose you for a little bit. The camera does follow you but you may find yourself having to control it more often than not. This is not game breaking but happened on enough occasions to be annoying.

I believe I can fly!I believe I can fly!

Upon completing certain tasks in the game, you will unlock tonics. These can be applied to the game and have various effects that will make the game a little bit easier. Whether it is extending your health or power meter, making abilities last longer or making a noise when important items are nearby, there's usually a tonic to help you out. Once you finish the game, you can also unlock a tonic that reduces your health, which is there for those who want a bit more of a challenge. Generally, though, the game is not that difficult, although you will encounter certain tasks and enemies that might cause you some problems. Dying has no real impact apart from resetting your position so you shouldn't fear it; you will come back will full health anyway, so the game is very player friendly in that aspect.

All of the characters and worlds are brightly coloured and have that retro feel without the old look. There's a constant feeling of fun from the game whilst you're playing it and every world is very in-your-face in the best way possible. The purples, blues and dark colours of the space world stand out as much as the greens, blues and bright colours of the jungle world. An upbeat and catchy soundtrack accompanies the game, beginning at the main menu and carrying on all the way through. This manages to make you feel nostaglic, especially when you go near the arcade machines that have a tune that will no doubt get stuck in your head at one point or another.

There are 35 achievements to earn in the game. It's a fairly well rounded list that encourages you to search for literally every collectible out there. You will want to find all of the pagies, quills, health and power extenders, and ghost writers scattered about the worlds, as well as the tonics. You will need to take down all of the bosses, as well as Capital B. Finally, a secret treasure in each of the levels will be a real struggle to find — I only found two of these in my playthrough.

Jump in Kartos for a fun ride trying to collect quillsJump in Kartos for a "fun" ride trying to collect quills


Summary

Yooka-Laylee is bright, colourful and fun from the outset, a theme that carries through the whole of the game. It's a colourful romp through a unique world filled with pagies, cagies and weirdly wonderful characters. It feels like a love letter to a time of games gone by in the best way possible, and it's hard not to be drawn to the way the game looks. A few issues with the camera and some of the controls stop the game being perfect, but it isn't far off.
4 / 5
Yooka-Laylee
Positives
  • Hefty amount of collectibles without being overwhelming
  • Game looks and feels bright, colourful and fun throughout
  • Expandable and unique worlds with recurring characters
Negatives
  • A few camera issues
  • Flying and swimming controls could have been improved
Ethics
The reviewer spent 35 hours collecting all the pagies, ghost writers, quills and upgrades, and kicking a giant bee's ass. She unlocked 33 of the game's 35 achievements along the way. An Xbox One download code for the game was provided by the developer for the purpose of this review.
Megan Walton
Written by Megan Walton
Megan is a TA newshound and reviewer who has been writing for the site since early 2014. Currently working in catering, she enjoys cooking extravagant dishes, baking birthday cakes for friends and family in peculiar shapes, writing depressing poetry about life and death, and unlocking every achievement possible.