Yooka-Laylee Review: Closing the Book

Credit: Playtonic Games
Credit: Playtonic Games /

Yooka-Laylee’s revisitation of the N64 3D platforming genre digs up plenty of memories at the behest of its backers. Some of them should have stayed buried.

Developer: Playtonic Games
Publisher: Playtonic Games
Platforms: PS4 (Version reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Release Date: April 11, 2017

Disclaimer: The author of this review backed Yooka-Laylee’s Kickstarter campaign at the minimum amount required to receive a copy of the game.

I never played Banjo-Kazooie. But at around the same time, I was making daily trips on summer afternoons to my next door neighbor’s house, where we would play hours of Donkey Kong 64. We were terrible, and sometimes the game was terrible, yet we spent two entire summers busting through barrels, hunting down Golden Bananas, and snapping shots of those pesky fairies. There are some elements of DK64 that have aged well, such as its level structure, music, and character variety. Other items, such as wonky swim and camera controls, bizarre gating, and vague puzzling do the game no favors. Yooka-Laylee, for some reason, brings all of that back: good and bad.

Instead of Golden Bananas, the lizard and bat duo are after Pagies–specifically, golden pages of a magical book that have been scattered across five worlds. They are greedily sought after by a tycoon named Capital B (surprise, he’s a bee) who wants to use them to rule the world with…literature. Okay, so far it’s a plot I can get behind. Yooka and Laylee just want their book back.

yooka laylee
Credit: Playtonic Games /

The five worlds are connected to the main hub called Hivory Towers, with each world gated behind a Pagie cost and various obstacles surmountable by new abilities you’ll pick up in the previous worlds. Yooka and Laylee must work their way through each world, pick up its abilities (purchased for Quills, another collectible currency) and enough Pagies to move on to the next world and eventually to defeat Capital B himself. Pagies can also be used to expand discovered worlds, providing additional areas, collectibles, and challenges.

How does one acquire these mysterious Pagies? Here are some things I did to get them:

  • Win a race
  • Ride a mine cart while collecting gems
  • Hit switches until pictures lined up correctly
  • Hit switches until something on the ground looked the same as something on a wall
  • Finish an arcade-style minigame
  • Chase down something moving very fast
  • Beat a lot of mindless minion enemies that all ran at me at once, squeaking
  • Complete an obstacle course
  • Shoot targets
  • Transform into another shape to be able to press “X” on something I hadn’t been able to before

Does any of that sound familiar? That’s because we’ve done it all before in Donkey Kong 64 and, I assume, Banjo-Kazooie. And it’s not like Playtonic magically innovated any of these activities in the nearly twenty-year hiatus. Almost every single one of these obstacles played nearly identically to what I remember doing in my childhood, right down to the piss-poor camera controls.

yooka laylee
Credit: Playtonic Games /

Some of that’s not so bad. The platforming challenges are some fun, especially once you get all your jump abilities, and while the puzzles aren’t difficult, they were diverse enough that if I got bored of one it was easy enough to just find something else to do. I do not recommend minecarts again ever, nor am I terribly thrilled about races where one tiny mistake ensures your loss and forces you to sit for several minutes, twiddling your thumbs, waiting for the opponent to finish so you can restart because there’s no “Retry” button.

Yooka-Laylee is, for better or for worse, just what backers asked for.

But another trouble is that Yooka-Laylee’s progression retains (and, I’ll argue, exacerbates) the vagueness with which the old Rare platformers presented their obstacles. Multiple times I spent several minutes trying to hit, lick, jump over, ground pound, or otherwise interact with items that I wouldn’t find out until later required some other power to overcome. The designs of several are just subtle enough that you don’t know they’re gated until you get mad, give up, and find the actual solution two worlds and several hours later.

In fact, I found some elements of Yooka-Laylee even more exasperating than my memory tells me the Games of Yore once were. Why is the hub world such a random maze to navigate? Why are almost all the boss battles entirely optional and, in a few cases, a royal pain to find in the first place? Why does this obnoxious Bee keep interrupting me with the same piece of dialogue again and again? What’s up with the long, long loading screens (seriously, some were a minute long!)? Why are the voices like this:

And in that example, the text was skippable. Cutscenes and the quiz show (with its often obtuse, ridiculous questions, such as asking how many wheels are on the duck) use slow-moving, un-speed-up-able text where you must listen to every. Last. Syllable. Of. Nonsense that these characters spit out, forced puns and bad jokes and all. By the time Capital B was done monologuing, I was ready to pull my ears off.

yooka laylee
Credit: Playtonic Games /

I’ve now said a lot about the ways in which nostalgia did not do Yooka-Laylee any favors, but I want to be clear in that this is not a terrible game. The visuals are pleasant, Grant Kirkhope’s music is stellar as expected, and the worlds are mostly fun to explore. I found some areas weirdly spread out and tedious, but Tribalstack Tropics, Glitterglaze Glacier, and Capital Casino held my attention through nearly all of their Pagies as I looked out over their eye-catching landscapes and hopped, intrigued, from puzzle to puzzle.

More app trigger: 50 Best PS4 Games Right Now

Yooka-Laylee is, for better or for worse, just what backers asked for. It’s nostalgia colored in new paint, but still very familiar at its core, including all the gameplay ideas that have since been scrapped because developers found better ways to do them. Players looking for another Banjo-Kazooie will find almost exactly that. But those of us who actually wanted to see Playtonic expand and improve on the groundwork laid before, even just to the extent that gaming has improved, will be sorely disappointed. Because we know we can do so much better than yet another open world collect-a-thon.

Playtonic Games. . Yooka-Laylee. 6. Misplaced hype? Nostalgia done poorly? A shinier clone of Banjo-Kazooie? Yooka-Laylee is a prime example of all of these things, serving up fifteen passable hours of entertainment yet not managing to surprise at any point along the way. But while those looking to revisit their youth will likely find the game enjoyable enough, Yooka-Laylee is also a testament to why the book should stay closed on the lessons gaming has already learned.

All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.