Yooka-Laylee is a game built almost entirely on nostalgia. The idea is to bring back the things you loved about Rare’s Banjo-Kazooie and put them in a shiny new world, with new characters, new mechanics, but ultimately traditional gameplay. The 3D platformer isn’t exactly a burgeoning genre, and for those looking for a game that will somehow advance the past the tropes of a bygone era, disappointment awaits. But for those who just want to return to form for this particular sort of experience, joy and wonder are at hand. This is our Yooka-Laylee review.
If your idea of a good time is jumping, spinning, butt-stomping, collecting, and puzzle-solving in a zany cartoon world – you’re going to like Yooka-Laylee. For the most part, Playtonic’s recreation of the magic that made Banjo Kazooie and other Rare platformers so revered is fully intact here. Gorgeously designed open worlds with loads of secrets and Metroidvania-esque puzzles to solve are ripe for the picking.
I’ve seen some colleagues claim there’s not enough handholding or cues to remember to go back and do things when you’ve unlocked the requisite powers – to me, that’s brilliant. I love the thrill of getting a new power, exploring the world I’ve tread before, and finding some new way to engage with it. That’s what made Rare’s early games so fantastic, and what works beautifully here in Yooka-Laylee.
Still, it’s also true that Yooka and Laylee, while cute, are basically just stand-ins for Banjo and Kazooie. They’re missing the same flair that made the bear and bird so lovable, perhaps because it’s so painfully obvious that the lizard and bat are just substitutes. And yes, the same things that bugged us about 3D platformers in their hayday bug us here too – namely, the damned camera is something you’ll wind up fighting with in your quest to save all the pagies.
Oh, and that reminds me about the story – Yooka and Laylee are basically conscripted by accident into a quest to stop Capital B. He’s collecting all the world’s books in hopes of finding the one book that lets you rewrite and open portals to all sorts of worlds. You’ll be on a race and fight against him to collect those pages first and save all the worlds within the book. It’s silly, Capital B is great, and so is his snake in a jar head crony. But this game’s not about the lore. It’s about the worlds, the puzzles, and the platforming.
And frankly, that’s where Yooka-Laylee is at its best. No, Playtonic’s game doesn’t push the genre forward. And yes, it definitely feels dated at times, while having some absolutely gorgeous visuals. But that’s kind of the point. Playtonic didn’t set out to revolutionize the 3D platformer – they simply wanted to make a great old school style game with the modern visuals possible in today’s world. To that end, they succeed with flying colors.
If you like 3D platformers, you should expect greatness. It does that style of gameplay really well. But one of the reasons the genre sort of died down is that developers were having a hard time finding new ways to make jumping puzzles exciting. There aren’t a lot of new tricks in Yooka-Laylee, but the nostalgia will either make you love it or wonder why you loved these sorts of games at all. For me, it’s been a really fun trip down memory lane. Next, I want to see if Playtonic can push this sort of experience in new directions.