I want to love Yooka-Laylee. I really do.
There’s a moment around 2 hours into this 3D platformer from Playtonic Games that epitomises the game at its best. Once you’ve collected enough “Pagies”, the magical maguffin tied to the game’s progression, you can unlock the expanded version of the first world. The game doesn’t tell you where to go or which challenge to tackle first. The onus is on you to explore your surroundings, earning collectibles to unlock new worlds and eventually make your way to the final boss. You’re free to play, interact and explore at your own pace. It’s a liberating feeling.
The game as a whole evokes memories of the classic N64 era 3D platformers. Vibrant, colourful characters exploring large, varied worlds that hide plenty to secrets and a plethora of new types of gameplay. From fighting minions to bread and butter platforming to riding a minecart to piloting a helicopter; there’s no shortage of gameplay. Of course, the memories coming flooding back quicker when the platforming is as good as it is here. For the most part, the team of Yooka and Laylee control beautifully, and it is a joy to navigate the different trials on offer. Unfortunately some sections, like the Donkey Kong Country-esque minecart sections, feel unresponsive and weak.
With 5 worlds to unlock and expand, and enough abilities to make some RPG skill trees look barren, Yooka-Laylee naturally takes the form a Metroid-vania game, with plenty of backtracking to previous levels to recover items you couldn’t collect before. Again, this nonlinearity in Yooka-Laylee’s overall progression is a joy. The word charming is thrown around a lot, but the humour, the presentation and the exuberance of the characters and worlds make the game enchanting. The heroes, Yooka and Laylee, are sassy with plenty of one liners. The villains, Capital B and Dr. Quack, are hilarious in their ineptitude as bad guys.
So why can’t I love Yooka-Laylee? As much as Yooka-Laylee represents the best of the golden era of 3D platformers, it bears some of the unfortunate hallmarks. The camera is problematic at the best of times, constantly getting stuck behind geometry or switching angles without warning during your exploration. Yooka’s tongue, which acts a grappling hook of sorts, also has the cruel tendency to grab something 10ft away from the thing you actually want. But the biggest downfall is the glitches. User experience may vary, of course, but during my playthrough I encountered simple glitches like objects floating in midair to controls not registering during certain minigames. These are glitches that can be fixed with a simple return to the main menu and are ordinarily forgivable, but there are also glitches tied to the collection of Pagies. I encountered one such glitch that made completion of the top down kart racing minigame impossible. In turn, this makes the pursuit of a 100% completion fruitless, because I’ll never be able to obtain that one Pagie. For completionists and achievement hunters, the idea that a playthrough can be ruined because the game just decided to mess up is shocking.
And sure, in the “release now, patch later” world that is the modern day gaming industry, it’s more than likely that these issues will be addressed in the future, but the fact remains that these issues should be fixed before launch. If you’re going to make a game that jokes about other games not having Quality Assurance, which Yooka-Laylee does, you better make sure your game runs perfectly, otherwise you just look stupid. Ultimately, Yooka-Laylee is a really enjoyable 3D platformer that just keeps tripping itself up in the pursuit of greatness. A lack of polish and an infuriating camera prevent Playtonic’s platformer from being the essential throwback platformer it desperately craves to be.