Third-person platformers have been dead for quite some time. Sure, revitalised versions, such as the Ratchet and Clank reboot from last year, come in sprits and sprats, but for the most part, they’ve gone the way of the Eddie Murphy and his career. Yooka Laylee has set its sights on rekindling the genre, and plays its part as a spiritual successor to the Banjo Kazooie-like collectathons of the 90s. Unfortunately, the title does little to conjure up confidence in this effort, as it lacks polish in almost every facet of its gameplay, and suffers from an acute lack of direction in terms of annoying characters and muddled environments. Simple platforming and puzzles are unrefined and frustrating, and each session of play ended, not with a smile, but with a grimace.
Yooka-Laylee kicks off its trip down this heady winding road of nostalgia with its eponymous characters – a green lizard called Yooka, and a purple bat named Laylee, both of which are exceptionally cute. The pair must run, jump, swim and slide their way through various locales in order to put a stop to the notorious Capital B, and his plan to suck all life and power from the world’s literature. To achieve this goal, you must collect pieces of golden paper, known here as Pagies, in an effort to unlock the next stage, expand each level, beat that area’s boss, and rinse and repeat until the end. This archaic style of collectibles being the primary goal is one of Yooka-Laylee’s throwbacks, yet glaringly shows the shortcomings of its predecessors as these simple collectibles present mindless tasks, rather than worthwhile goals.
Movement throughout each area only hinders the search for such items, as the unrefined controls and platforming make for an unpleasant romp to say the least. Yooka, despite having a multitude of abilities at his disposal, including double jumps and rolling, feels floaty and inaccurate when traversing even the most pedestrian of platforms; falling to your death because of a stuttering, unforeseen movement, whether the fault of the camera or Yooka’s controls, is extremely common. One section, in which you must travel through a dark cave while sliding along on some slippery ice was an utter nightmare, as Yooka’s speed could barely handle the tight turns and lack of grip on the track ahead.
This, along with other instances, highlights a huge flaw in terms of the game’s general fidelity: there just isn’t a lot of polish when it comes to level or platform design. Most objects or sections of the scenery are either pasted together with invisible walls, environmental touches that can be clipped through with your character, or ugly, murky textures. These aid in making Yooka-Laylee feel disappointingly cheap, and prevent you from searching the world for those much-needed collectibles.
In order to get many of the game’s Pagies, the animal duo must solve puzzles, or help other characters with specific tasks. Unfortunately, many of these feel incomplete as well, with little direction in terms of how you may actually complete said puzzle. It isn’t exactly clear what you can interact with in the environment; whether objects can be hit, pushed, or climbed upon. At one point, you gain the ability to form a bubble around Yooka and Laylee, allowing them to walk beneath areas of water, but the game fails to tell you how to control your attacks or movement within the bubble, or whether or not you can even do these things at all.
One of the most frustrating points of Yooka-Laylee’s “quest” design, is its reliance on slow, camera-locking, unskippable cutscenes that are obviously intent on showing younger players the objective at hand. For example, speaking with a character, or triggering a button, may open a door across the game’s map, which will be shown every single time you begin the event. Not only does this become tirelessly old, but it may happen again and again if you’re failing a particular puzzle due to the game’s poor platforming or environmental direction.
Yooka-Laylee’s thematic design, which is perhaps the strangest and most unexpected of the game’s many missteps, is muddled and thoughtless, rather than inspired. For example, in the first few stages, there are jungle temples, isometrically played ice caves, an annoying snake in a pair of trousers called Trowser Snake, an anthropomorphic fridge, anthropomorphic clouds, an anthropomorphic duck in breathing apparatus, an “old-score” T-Rex standing next to an arcade machine because nostalgia, Shovel Knight because nostalgia again, and a host of Minion-like enemies that are too simplistic to be enjoyed or taken seriously, yet bland enough to have their presence questioned amidst this schizophrenic cast of characters and scenery. Ultimately, this lack of identity calls into question the development team’s vision for Yooka-Laylee: what did they want this game to be? The answer to this question is difficult to pin down, and if the player is having this much of a problem identifying the tone or style of what should have really been a rather straightforward animal-themed platformer, it’s no wonder that confusion or dismay abounds.
Yooka-Laylee’s lack of polish is startlingly visible. Its platforming is unrefined and floaty, its puzzle system is confusing and, at times, inexplicable, and its characters and tone lack direction from the outset. It may strive to create a nostalgic tale in reference to a more colourful, simplistic time in gaming, but its lacklustre presence suggests that this period should be left well enough alone.
Muddled, Messy, Directionless
Yooka-Laylee squanders any hope that the 3rd-person platformer genre will spring to life once more.