Nostalgia is this weird, immeasurable thing that sees us longing for past glory — or at least what we perceive to be past glory. More often than not, rose-tinted glasses can cloud our judgment, making us believe that things were better before when in fact they’ve only improved over time. Yooka-Laylee, the debut effort from former Rare developers Playtonic Games, has been crafted from scratch to sound, look, and feel like something you played on your Nintendo 64.The thing is, they’ve aggressively captured both the bad as well as the good: camera issues, ambiguous puzzles, a distinct lack of signposting, and voices that will make your ears bleed all stop Yooka-Laylee from ushering in the 3D Platformer revival. Rather than honour their past, they’ve replicated it, while the world has moved on.
That being said, Yooka-Laylee’s old-school, kid-friendly look is refreshing in 2017. Bright backdrops and caricaturish personalities fill the screen, with no world showing this more than the first, Tribalstack Tropics . The greens and blues pop like balloons, while the cast of personalities — such as the titular iguana-bat duo, and the shifty Del Boy-esque Trowzer snake who sells you new special moves along your journey — give a promising first impression. The Christmas Cracker jokes from the ginormous cast quickly outstay their welcome, though, as do the unbearable Banjo-Kazooie-style voices. I can only guess the incessant whooping and grunting ‘Wakka-wakka!’ sound effects are intended to be charming, but they’re more obnoxious than a Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown routine. The saving grace is that you can skip through some of the ear-piercing chatter by hammering buttons.
While some of the other levels have alluring sections, like the ice-cold Glitterglaze Glacier, Yooka-Laylee never reproduces the magic felt in that opening level. The inclusion of the drab, swampy Halloween stage is baffling, as is the decision to not include maps for each world, because it’s easy to get lost in these expanding locations. On more than one occasion — and a lot in the pumpkin-filled Moodymaze Marsh — I found I was doubling back on myself, looking for the next point of interest. And that’s before I mention the camera, which regularly gets stuck behind objects and forces you to fight it far too often. The lack of any direction for the player, as well as the confusing layout of the hub world Hivory Towers, makes returning to levels an irritation in a game where revisiting previous stages to collect Pagies is a must to progress.
Yooka-Laylee is a collect-a-thon, and Pagies are your everything. You need them to thwart the plans of the evil Capital B, who’s eager to rewrite the entire universe using a special book — which once contained these Pagies. By completing a variety of challenges across the five worlds (six if we include the complex hub world), you obtain these golden sheets, which are used to access more levels and expand the ones already open to you.
This Saturday morning cartoon-like premise is a valiant stab at the ridiculous whimsy that engulfed the genre for close to fifteen years, but Yooka-Laylee’s puzzles destroy that pretty quickly. Each world contains a cavalcade of folk with odd jobs for you, along with a range of challenges to figure out for yourself à la The Crystal Maze. Sadly, Richard O’ Brien isn’t on-hand with his harmonica to push you in the right direction, and while some can satisfy you upon completion, many of them are frustratingly ambiguous — some puzzles in the earlier stages require powers that are gained in later levels, but that’s rarely communicated to you.
Make no mistake, Yooka-Laylee is a hard game. Even though it may look inviting to the younger generation, it’s damn difficult. There are fleeting moments where everything falls into place, especially once you’ve unlocked all the advanced moves. Yooka can use his tongue to grab elemental fruit, becoming a one-lizard Captain Planet and The Planeteers, and moments of mild entertainment occur when you juggle all the abilities together. But I struggle to comprehend who Yooka-Laylee is for, exactly. Those of us who remember Playtonic Games’ roots have grown up, and expect more from our interactive experiences. Kids will quickly scoff at the annoying trials on offer, or start bawling at the ear-bleeding dialogue.
The anthropomorphic 3D platformer had a great run; for nigh on fifteen years the general public couldn’t get enough of those cutesy, jumped-up mammals. Rare was one developer that excelled in the genre, so it’s no surprise that breakaway dev, Playtonic Games, would attempt to fill that hole. And if nothing else, that’s exactly what they’ve done: they’ve made a video game that could easily live on the Nintendo 64. It just feels very out of place in 2017.
Version tested: PS4