Disclaimer: the author backed Yooka-Laylee on Kickstarter and his name appears in the credits to remind him forever of his mistake.
On May 1st, 2015, the Kickstarter campaign for Yooka-Laylee was launched by Playtonic Games, which was founded by a group of ex-Rare employees. With a goal of a little under a quarter of a million dollars the campaign was funded within a week of its launch, and by the time the campaign was over they had received over 2 million dollars in pledges. Flash forward to almost two years later and Yooka-Laylee was released on April 11th, 2017 for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC (with a Nintendo Switch port soon to come). Since its release the game has received very middling reviews from fans and reviewers alike, for reasons that will be talked about in detail throughout this review.
Once the game starts players are greeted with an overly-long cutscene starring the game’s central antagonist, Capital B, along with his cohort Dr. Quack. After their introductions are made, the cutscene then moves along to center on the protagonist’s Yooka and Laylee relaxing as a book is taken from their possession. This book is said to have the power to rewrite the universe given the right circumstances, which is why Capital B wants it for the corporation he works for named V.I.L.E. While an introductory cutscene to set up the story for a type of game that does not usually contain a lot of cutscenes is fine, the opening to Yooka-Laylee only sets the standard for the slow and uninteresting dialogue to follow; filled with far too many jokes that “break the 4th wall”. This gets to the point where nearly every character that players interact with has to talk for what feels like ages before they can advance in their goal, not to mention that many of these voices lack the charm found in games that have a similar style.
After this cutscene has been completed, players and given control of Yooka and Laylee, and admittedly the controls in Yooka-Laylee are very good. While the duo did feel slightly heavy at first, by the time players are an hour or so in Yooka and Laylee control magnificently. After players are given control, they can explore their introductory area of Shipwreck Creek a bit, but there is very little to do until later abilities are unlocked and instead players are directed to speak with a snake named Trowzer who gives players the ability to do a basic attack. Although his name is humorous, that is really the only entertaining aspect of Trowzer because as the game progresses he only shows up to sell Yooka and Laylee new moves, which is an extremely slow process that takes far too long to be enjoyable. After speaking with Trowzer, players are welcomed into Hivory Towers, the building owned by Capital B that serves as the hub world for the five main areas featured in Yooka-Laylee.
The player is then introduced to ‘Pagies’, which unlock new areas of the game by jumping to the top of a large, golden statue of Capital B. The only world available at this point is Tribalstack Tropics, a jungle-themed level that contains 25 Pagies and 200 quills, making it a very large area to explore. This comes with a catch though, not all of these collectibles can be found in the world at its current state and they only will be available once the world is expanded with more Pagies. While the concept of expanding a world is not an inherent negative on the game’s part, the way in which this expansion is handled is meaningless. There is ultimately no reason that this expansion mechanic is featured within the game, other than to encourage players to fully explore the worlds they do have, in order to be able to be afforded the ability to explore more. The bigger problem, however, is that while these worlds are very large, they are designed poorly and contain too many collectibles for their own good. A simple omission of 5 Pagies and 50 quills would make each world more inviting, as the ways in which the player receives Pagies is too repetitive. If Yooka-Laylee had much better world design, and 20 or so unique ways in which the player can recieve a Pagie for each world, this would not be a problem. This is not the case though, and it is evident that the developers just wanted to pad the game with more collectibles when in reality the game would have been a much better product if it had a much smaller scope. This is not to say that five worlds is too many, but each of them could have been smaller (and with less collectibles included), and with this smaller scope the developers could have devoted time and resources to modernizing the game and working on the design.
One of the nice things about Yooka-Laylee is that it does look very nice, given the cartoony art style that it employs. On the other side of the coin though, these visuals are quickly marred by severe performance issues including rendering issues with the terrain, and an extremely low frame rate during some of the mini-games. Speaking of which, each world also includes a mini-game hosted by a polygonal dinosaur known as Rextro that the player can play in order to collect up to two Pagies. Every single one of these mini-games is bottom of the barrel mediocrity and more entertaining versions of these games could most likely be found on websites that host flash games from the mid-2000s like Newgrounds. Not only do these mini-games show a general lack of effort, but they do not even run properly as the frame rate can drip drastically when too much is going on. And on the subject of unstable gameplay, Yooka-Laylee crashed twice during the review process, once in the middle of a jump in the first world, and again when returning to Hivory Towers through the menu. These are not the only technical issues that Yooka-Laylee faces, as there are a multitude of other bugs and glitches that are prevalent, especially so in the PS4 version of the game.
There is a reason that collect-a-thon games are not found in the modern-day gaming landscape, as they have not aged very well. Instead, platformers have moved on to a mission-based structure like the one found in Super Mario Galaxy 2. That is not to say that a decent collect-a-thon game can not be found in 2017, but developers like Playtonic Games need to realize that the genre has to evolve; which is something that Yooka-Laylee does not do. Even when compared to Banjo-Kazooie, a game that definitely has gameplay issues, Yooka-Laylee seems very mediocre. This is largely due to a what appears to be a lack of effort on the part of Playtonic games, who seemed to care about little more than checking off the of stretch goal boxes from the Kickstarter campaign, without actually putting much work into them.
Just a few days ago, Playtonic Games announced that a patch is in the works for Yooka-Laylee, and although it would potentially solve a great deal of issues found within the game (including adjustments to the camera, the speed of dialogue, and overall polish to get rid of glitches), what matters is that on April 11th they delivered an unfinished product. While in the year of 2017 it is not uncommon by any means to have a ‘day one’ patch that fixes some known issues with a game after it has already gone gold, players should not have to wait a month or two for a gameplay experience that is not riddled with bugs and severe performance issues. Without these issues, it is more than likely that Yooka-Laylee would have been pushed up a full letter grade, if not two, because at its core it is a mediocre game; not a travesty. However, Playtonic Games dug their own grave by releasing their game too early.