April 05, 2017

Yooka-Laylee - Review

When Playtonic announced their kickstarter, I like many others were thrilled that the classic 3d platformer was returning and while Yooka and Laylee might be new characters, everything else feels as if it was taken from those classic games.

Yooka and Laylee are just hanging on out on their land locked shipwreck, when the book that Laylee has been using to keep track of their repairs is taken away by a machine created by Dr Quack at the behest of Capital B, but there is not the only one, all the books in the world are taken. This simple premise is what spurs the duo into action, as they make their way to Hivery Towers, they meet up with Trowzer, a snake who seems a little shady, but will grant you your first skill, in fact he loiters around Hivery Towers and the games worlds, selling you moves, each letting you get further into the world. The problem is, apart from a few small cutscenes, there is very little in the way of story to be found, Capital B will occasionally pop-up with a comment, but that is really it. Also, the entire reason for Yooka and Laylee to be chasing after the book is strange, given the comments they make about it.

Given that the game does not really contain a reason to play, it is a good thing that the platforming is solid then, which when you look at the developers, you would hope that it is. Yooka moves around with little effort, you can explore the worlds on foot, but if you want to move a little faster, you can curl up into a ball and Laylee will run atop, which also helps you get up hills. Once you learn the moves, you can also double jump, glide and high jump, you will start to gain access further into the game, which in turn unlocks more worlds and then rinse and repeat. The hub is far more entertaining than they were in Banjo-Kazooie, with lots of enemies, environmental puzzles and characters to interact with, but it is the world’s where everything comes together and while there are only a handful of worlds, given that each world can expand, which in turn doubles the size of the world.

The first location you will enter is called Tribalstack Tropics and it will give you plenty to do, before you expand it that is, with characters who need your help, or offer you something if you can complete a challenge. As you assist each character and complete their task you are given a pagie, which is the goal, collect enough and you can make your way towards the final boss. The problem is, there is no clear indication of what constitutes a win, until you get it right and sometimes, that can come down to pure dumb luck. There are challenges that appear that require you to reach a goal within a set time, but unlike a lot of other instances in the game, here it does not point you in the right direction when the timer starts, so you can lose precious seconds trying to find your way. Keeping within the first world, there is a puzzle, that if you solve it you get a pagie, the problem is, to attempt to solve the puzzle, you need to purchase a move, in order to purchase the move, you need to have collected enough quills and in order to collect quills you need to explore high and low, which requires some advanced moves to get up higher, so it’s a cycle.

The game does try to keep things fresh, as within each level are hidden objectives, like playing a retro inspired game to win a pagie, or finding Kartos and trying to complete his minecart challenge to earn a pagie. The problem with these extra parts is they never fit into the themes of the world and while Kartos blends better, when you find him in each level, the game will then layer the track around the existing world, which works in some worlds and not so much in others. Also located in each world is Dr Puzz, who has created a machine that allows for this dynamic duo to be transformed into other things, sometimes its alive, other times it’s a vehicle and while the other forms work well enough, there is usually only a singular task associated with the form and once completed, no reason to remain in it. But in order to make the change in each level, you need to find the Mollycool, play on molecule, to power the machine, but like the quills, it is hidden somewhere in each level and not always something you will find without too much hassel.

Perhaps the strangest part of the gameplay for Yooka-Laylee is that while it is marketed as a spiritual successor to classic 3d platformers, if you downgrade the visuals, there is nothing stopping you from thinking that the game was made, right after others on the Nintendo 64. The game presents its story in those unescapable cutscenes and yes I mean that, as you can’t skip them, nor can you improve the speed at which characters talk. All the characters and there are a lot of them here, still talk in that broken gibberish that Rare used in some of their games, but the worst offender is the camera, which for the most part works ok, but when it doesn’t it becomes a nightmare. There are times when I try to move the camera for a side on view, helping me navigate tight spots that need more control, but the camera always tries to stick behind you, so I fought with it a lot, the issue is, when the game decides you need to have the camera in a set space, it will switch to that view without warning, which mucks up your directional controls and did cause me a few unexplained deaths.
Given how closely the game sticks to the gameplay of the past, the visuals are a welcome update and while they won’t beat other games, they do offer a charming appeal all their own. The characters of Yooka and Laylee are designed very nicely, each stands apart on their own, but when together, they don’t look out of place, which is something to be said for a bat riding around on a lizard. Other characters all play off stereotypes and puns, something that Laylee loves to call out, every time she speaks to them and while the game does not match up actions of the characters to the words appearing on screen, they still keep moving, helping sell that the conversation is actually happening. The problem that I found with the visuals though, is just how often things repeat and not in terms of the world design, that is really varied and enjoyable, but as with any indie team, they will try to find shortcuts to help them out and here they stand out. The most common enemy that you will encounter is the little grunt guys, every time they see you, they will jump, shake themselves and then try to attack, if you have three or four in a single space, they will all use that exact same animation sequence and there was a time when there was a dozen or so, spilt across two levels and every single one, did that exact animation. The lack of variety in the basic enemy is a thread that once pulled on, starts to unravel most of the game.

From an audio point of view, it’s a mixed bag again, the game has that annoying chatter speech thing that Rare introduced and while its fine on a few characters, there are a lot of characters in the game and by the time I was done playing, I wanted nothing to do with a lot of them, because of the grunting/groaning sounds they make when you talk with them. When you mix those noises, with the fact that you can’t skip their talks or even make them go faster, it is something that really becomes quite annoying, with almost little effort. The area where the game has no issues, at least audially, is the music, this however is not because the composers also worked on classic 3d platformers in the past, it is just because the music works very well for the game. In each world, there are going to be multiple tracks you here, climb high enough and the music will change to a lighter version of the main theme, head inside something and it changes again, there were times when I would stop moving the character around, just to enjoy the music.

Yooka-Laylee is a fine game, the problem is, it is not so much inspired by games of the past, it feels like it was made in the past, just with shiny visuals. Wonky camera controls and frustrating character interactions hold it back, but almost everything you do feels like things you have done before and while some people might find it enjoyable, I wish it was more inspired by the past and not constrained by the past.

Thanks to Team 17 for supplying the game for review

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