Yooka-Laylee is a 3D platform collect-em-all about a buddy duo Chameleon and Bat, who explore immersive worlds to collect “Pagies” in order to stop the evil Capital B. from absorbing all the world’s books for it’s own profit. The game seeks to revive the genre of the 3D platformer by being the “spiritual successor” of the famous Nintendo 64 Rare game, Banjo-Kazooie.
As a child of the 90’s, for me the ultimate gaming experience was the 3D platform games on Nintendo 64. The worlds of Mario64, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and especially Banjo-Kazooie kept me entertained for hours on end. Years of my childhood were spent collecting objects and exploring enchanting lands. I’ve always thought it was a tragedy that this style of game has disappeared over the years in favor of first person shooters, and I longed to see their return.
Thankfully, in 2015, the same people who worked on the Rare games I loved from the 90’s came together to start a new company called Playtonic, and they launched a Kickstarter campaign to create a “spiritual successor” to their fan favorite (and my favorite) game, Banjo-Kazooie. Dubbed “Yooka-Laylee”, the game promised to bring back all the things 90’s kids loved about 3D platformers - expansive worlds, collect-em-all strategies, lovable characters and hours of entertainment. They quickly smashed their goal of 175,000 pounds and raised nearly 2.1 million, and nearly 2 years after funding ended, they launched their game to the public.
So is it any good!?
The game is a visual delight with a wonderful soundtrack, successfully emulating the look fans of the genre craved. The number one draw for this kind of game are the worlds to explore, and Yooka-Laylee does not disappoint, creating beautiful immersive worlds with unique villains and fitting soundtracks. There were many times while playing this game where I just had to marvel at how pretty it was, and I spent quite a lot of time just looking around at the various sets. Though there are only 5 levels to explore, each level is expandable which adds a lot of entertainment to each zone. Floating castles, underwater environments, and lots of caves and crevices to explore- each zone has a unique style that is endlessly fun to wander.
The goal of the game is to collect “Pagies”, which are scattered throughout the many lands. Some Pagies are simple to obtain, while others left me stumped for quite a few days. The variety of difficulty and the sheer amount of Pagies per world is great because it allows you to bounce around from task to task if you get stuck or frustrated. I also like that I can pick up the game for 15-20 minutes and accomplish a task, or plop down for a few hours and really explore the more difficult tasks.
Throughout the game your characters gain new abilities, which helps to make the tasks to collect Pagies diverse and interesting. There are also a variety of objects you can collect in addition to Pagies, ranging from feather quills to ghosts and other special objects, which is great motivator to really thoroughly explore each zone. I also enjoy that in addition to the typical collect-em-all tasks, the game adds another layer of entertainment by including trivia tests, mini arcade games, and even classic cart racing. Breaking up the gameplay with these side missions ensures that the game doesn’t get too repetitive.
Unfortunately a few gameplay glitches take the game down a notch. Immediately upon starting the game, the loading page froze for several seconds at a time, and I was worried that the game was going to crash. Thankfully it never did, but every time the loading page temporarily would freeze I'd hold my breath. The camera angle also isn’t as great as it could be - while you have the ability to control the view to some degree, there are many times during gameplay where environments are confusing thanks to poor visibility. I often found myself wishing that I could zoom the camera out just a bit further so I could get a better view of the task at hand.
Also, while pretty much everyone who backed this game did so due to their affection for the original game Banjo-Kazooie, at times I felt that this game was just a little bit too close to the original. While the game offers a few fresh new twists on the characters moves and abilities, the personalities of all the characters are basically just reskinned versions of it’s spiritual predecessor. A little more attention to creating unique, likable characters that didn’t rely so heavily on it’s throwback could have added another enriching layer to the game.
Finally, my main disappointment of the game is that it only has 5 worlds to explore. This is understandable as a Kickstarter game, but I definitely found myself wanting to explore even more worlds.
Considering that this was a Kickstarter project, built on a slim budget compared to other gaming powerhouses, I think this was an excellent revival of the 3D platform genre. While far from perfect, I strongly feel like the interest in this project has proven that this style of game is still very much in demand, and future games should be developed in this tradition. Priced at approximately 40 dollars, whether you’re an old fan or new to this type of game, it’s absolutely worthwhile to add to your collection. 8/10
Aja Mulford is an illustrator, art director, and illustration teacher based in Northern California.