Video Game Review: 'Yooka-Laylee' offers an enjoyable time capsule
April 12, 2017 4:13 PM
There are five worlds that can be unlocked in the collectathon release "Yooka-Laylee."
By Max Parker
The return of the collectathon genre is here in “Yooka-Laylee.” The game was made by Playtonic Games, a group of former Rare employees. Rare was best known for games like “Perfect Dark,” “Diddy Kong Racing” and many other popular games for the Nintendo 64. “Yooka-Laylee” (8 out of 10 stars) takes players back to the style of adventure games that have been long lost.
Decades ago, back when games were played on cartridges on the Nintendo 64, there was an entire genre called collectathons. They usually stared one or two cartoon characters who embarked on an adventure that involved collecting a large number of items scattered around a game world. “Banjo-Kazooie,” “Donkey Kong 64,” “Conker’s Bad Fur Day” and even “Super Mario 64” to an extent fell into this category.
That genre lived and died on the Nintendo 64 platform, which was fine for most fans of the console. The formula got stale after years of similar adventures. The task of collecting vast numbers of items became more daunting than fun over the years.
“Yooka-Laylee” refines what worked with collectathons while attempting to bring the gameplay up to speed to modern standards. For the most part, it succeeds in reminding players what was fun about taking a couple of lovable cartoon animals on a colorful journey. Yooka and Laylee are a lizard and bat who just want to enjoy the sunshine and read. That life is interrupted when Captain B, a big, menacing bee, steals the book along with several other books from around the world. So Yooka and Laylee head to his headquarters of Hivory Tower to take it back.
The game is supported not only by its gameplay but also its writing. It doesn’t go for raunchy humor like “Conker’s Bad Fur Day,” but it’s often self aware with references to its successful kickstarter campaign and other games of its ilk. Plenty of cameos from other game characters bring the laughs.
The problem with collectathons was always that it became an overwhelming task. In the older game, so many of one collectable could be turned in for another collectable, and up the chain of item rarity it went. “Yooka-Laylee” simplifies things by only having two. Quills are the most common and can be collected to learn new abilities. Completing tasks around the game world earns a Pagie. Pagies can be used to unlock new game worlds. It’s a simple formula that isn’t too daunting and still give players a sense of reward and progression.
There are five worlds that can be unlocked, each with their own set of 25 pagies to collect. The pagies are earned by a combination of exploration and completing tasks for characters in the various worlds. Some of those pagies can be earned right away, while others Yooka and Laylee will have to come back for once they have the necessary abilities. The early worlds are well crafted and are reminiscent of “Super Metroid.” If you can’t figure out a solution, come back later. You probably don’t have the right ability unlocked yet.
Each world has a whimsical theme. The first is jungle themed, the second is ice, then an spooky swamp level, a casino level and finally a world of science fiction. Each world can be expanded by collecting more pagies, which adds more missions and areas to explore. It’s a favorable gameplay system so players can get a feel for each world before unlocking its full potential. “Yooka-Laylee” does a great job of mixing up the gameplay required to earn the pagies. It never feels repetitive and, thanks to the many abilities that are unlocked throughout the game, the challenges widely vary. You’ll occasionally have to fight a somewhat wonky camera, but this is usually only an issue in indoor areas.
That enjoyable action lasts through the majority of the game up until the last world and beyond. The gameplay bites off more than it can chew with the final ability of flight. Yooka can use Laylee to fly over the world, but the worlds aren’t designed for that verticality. Plus, the controls of the flight mechanic are more frustrating than fun. The last world has puzzles and challenges built around that flying ability, but they don’t feel fleshed out. I stumbled through the challenges of the last world until I had just enough pagies to take on Captain B, and I had no interest in going back.
“Yooka-Laylee” accomplishes what it sets out to do. It reminds players what was so appealing about collectathons at the height of their popularity. Even if it overstay its welcome toward the end, it’s mostly a joyful journey through a long forgotten genre.
Max Parker writes as The Game Guy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @GameGuyPGH.
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