Yooka-Laylee is a modern day 3D platformer that feels like the evolution of a genre that has become all but forgotten. Developed by Playtonic Games and published by Team 17, Yooka-Laylee bares a lot of resemblance to the Banjo-Kazooie series in its gameplay, visual style, music, and clever writing. Most of this is due to the development team behind Yooka-Laylee being former developers Rare, the original creators of Banjo-Kazooie back on the Nintendo 64. But despite the visual and spiritual association, Yooka-Laylee provides a fun and humorous experience that feels like it could have been plucked straight out of that era of gaming.
If you’ve played any of the classic Rare developed Nintendo 64 titles, such as Banjo-Kazooie or Conker’s Bad Fur Day, then you’re going to feel a strong sense of nostalgia as soon as you start playing Yooka-Laylee. The writing is well done and feels like a classic Rare game that got lost in time. Many of the game’s sounds and visuals are heavily inspired by past titles the development team were involved with. However, the game cleverly pokes fun at this with its dialogue and scenarios throughout the many hours you’ll spend playing.
You’ll often find more than a few inside jokes that break the forth wall and wink at the audience, as well as a few fun jabs and commentary about video games. Yet none of this ever becomes too childish or silly, but instead has just enough cheekiness and wit to make you laugh.
Gameplay is a straight-forward collecting adventure that one would expect from the team that worked on Banjo-Kazooie, with the comparisons being almost one to one. You’ll search for and collect Pagies to progress through each stage and unlock new environments from a central hub. There is a total of 145 Pagies to find, with a number of them being hidden within each area.
Some of the challenges to collect Pagies can get increasingly difficult in later parts of the game, but nothing too crazy that you can’t solve through some basic trial and error. Most of the time, the Pagies themselves will talk with Yooka and Laylee as you’re trying to collect them, offering both hints and funny dialogue within the moment.
Throughout the game, Yooka and Laylee obtain new abilities that can help you reach new areas. You purchase new abilities from Trowser the Snake, whose name is not only is a play on words but has a sly personality that is always fun to interact with. The feathers placed all over the levels are what is used to buy new abilities from Trowzer, which act like the Notes from Banjo-Kazooie.
You can end up unlocking a bunch of new abilities early on, which makes most places of a level feel accessible pretty fast. The powers you obtain do feel a bit unique in some instances, but not all the time. You still have your ground pound, high jump, and other basic abilities for this style of game, but the few powers that are exclusive to Yooka and Laylee are interesting enough to mix things up.
The different stages of Yooka-Laylee can get very big, but never vast enough to become overwhelming. Levels never feel too restricted or claustrophobic because of how large each area can be, especially when you increase the size of the places you explore later in the game. Each stage you visit has a different theme that fits into the design and layout of different challenges and hidden secrets. Unfortunately, some areas aren’t designed well enough to become memorable or very interesting in their layout, which can lead to some boring parts while exploring. Some places feel a bit empty, while others had much more going on within a small area of the entire stage.
Like many games in the genre, there are a lot of secrets to discover in Yooka-Laylee. You can find retro 8-bit coins hidden within each stage that unlock different mini-games from Rextro Sixtyfourus (another play on words). These mini-games can be done in both single player and local competitive multiplayer. The mini-games themselves aren’t too much to get lost in, but offer a small distraction from the main game.
In addition, there are a lot of collectibles that boost Yooka and Laylee’s abilities, giving you more health or even goofy abilities that change up some properties within the main game. You can also find a ton of easter eggs with some nods to past games that fans of Rare will take notice off. Even the most mundane object in the background can have a subtle wink to something like Conker’s Bad Fur Day. It might take a long time to discover them all, but the fun winks to the audience make searching for all of Yooka-Laylee’s hidden goodies well worth the effort.
Yooka-Laylee is a fun and witty platformer that builds upon a well-established formula. Though some of the game’s appeal relies on the nostalgia for older titles from its developer, there’s still a great experience here for those that never grew up with Rare and their games. The characters are lovable and goofy, the stages are colorfully vibrant, and the humor is really clever to make anyone hold a smile while playing. In another time, this could have been the Banjo-Kazooie game everyone deserved.
This review is based on a digital review code of Yooka-Layee for the Xbox One, provided by Team 17.