Reviewing Yooka-Laylee was no piece of cake, not because it turned out to be a terrible game, but because it made us go through so many types of emotions: enthusiasm, disappointment and frustration. That's why this time we have tried to offer you a bit more than a verdict and +/- section. Inside, you'll find the condensed version of our full review in French, so you know what to expect from Playtonic's game. We have no new videos to share as all content is under embargo until April 10, so we hope the little writing we've prepared will be enough to inform you.
Note: In the Final Stats gallery, the tonic screenshot was actually taken before the final completion of the game, which means there are more tonics available after you beat the final boss.
Our experience with Yooka-Laylee has been a polarizing one to say the least. The first worlds are pretty engaging, with that old school 3D platformer vibe we've been missing for so long. Most of the time, the game plays perfectly well on PC, and it runs very smoothly (even on 4K - minor a few drops when some special effects - like fire - are in action). Discovering the first two worlds is then pretty cool, with tons of things to do and collect, and some undeniable variety in terms of challenges. Those levels also look really nice, though not mindblowing technically, with some verticality and some nice areas to explore. Even though some activities are similar in each world (as they are proposed by the same characters), there is always something specific to do or see, like the isometric castle of the Glacier level for example. Sure, sometimes the camera gets in the way, either because it's locked or because it's not doing what it should and you must correct it manually; overall though, the controls are ok on most cases. We can't deny the fact that some challenges quickly got on our nerves, like the second golf course to name but one, but traversing worlds is reminiscent of what we felt back in the days when playing on PS1/2 and N64, which is good.
Then, things start to change subtly when unlocking the third world. You see, you were quite eager to see what was coming next after having almost completed the first two worlds at 100%, but we were really disappointed to see the Marsh level looked very poor compared to the others. We understand the setting sort of implies a gloomier atmosphere, and we're fine with it, but the level's background looks terrible and the level design itself feels uninspired. The same goes with the Casino world (Capital Cashino is the name), which led us to believe that most of the devs' efforts had been put into the first two environments. It is clearly not the case, as those levels are also filled with content, but it's hard not to regret what seems to be a lack of creativity. Take Ratchet & Clank for example, each planet seems to have been imagined to best the previous one so progression remains engaging until the very end. Yooka-Laylee seems to take a different road, which is a bit of a shame in our opinion. There is still a notion of verticality in the Marsh and Casino levels, and the idea of traversing a wold in which the two heroes are much smaller than the environment (in Capital Cashino) is interesting, but the game does not make a good use of those settings in our opinion. They are functional of course, but we expected a lot more. Fortunately, the last world (and some parts of the HUB area, which is undeniably a level on its own) is much more appealing, both in terms of visuals and atmosphere. The threat of the lethal "water" everywhere kind of reminds of the Marsh level, but unlocking this Last world felt more like a reward than the previous two.
Laylee, got me on my knees, Laylee
One of the problems we found is actually also one of the game's strengths. People have been craving for the return of a good collectathon and Yooka-Laylee clearly wants to give them what they want. No less than 145 pagies need to be recovered, though only 100 are required to unlock the final boss battle. The two heroes are after the pagies of one of their books, which has been stolen by Capital B and Doctor Quack, and those pagies are necessary to unlock the two versions of each world (normal and extended). The problem is that 100 pagies is quite a lot, and by the time you do it, there is a slight chance that you'll have gotten a bit bored. Some pagies are extremely easy to collect, while others can be really frustrating. In a way it's understandable, as this should allow more people to reach the end of the game, but collecting things for something like 23 hours to get the first 100 pagies might feel a bit tedious. It's even more the case when you reach Capital Cashino, in which you do not win pagies but tokens when completing a challenge. Given that you're only given 5 tokens for each victory and that you need 10 to obtain a pagie, you must spend even more time on challenges here than in the other worlds. Maybe it would have been wiser to ask for fewer pagies so people who are not hardcore fans of collectathons do not OD by the time they reach the end. Pagies are not the only collectible things though, as there are also 1010 quills to recover to buy the different abilities sold by Trowzer, the snake in shorts. Thankfully, you don't have to collect all 1010 to unlock all Yooka's and Laylee's powers, but still, a lot of them are needed, so you'll be collecting quills during most of your playthrough.
To all that, you need to add the ghost writers you must find in each level (finding them all will grant you a pagie), the collectibles that are necessary to unlock Rextro's arcade games in each world, and Dr Puzz's transformations for Yooka and Laylee (the first one is a plant, the second a snowplough, the third one a school of fish, the fourth a chopper and the last a boat). There is also one life butterfly (no hearts in Yooka-Laylee, life is symbolized by butterflies) hidden in each level, as well as one hidden energy booster. Those are obviously important because you'll need more health and more energy if you want to survive the different boss fights. Combat is neither difficult normal really interesting in Yooka-Laylee, as most enemies are just clones of those from the previous world(s) with different skins, who can all be dealt with with the spin or jump attacks. Bosses are a totally different matter though. You'll need to figure out their patterns in order to beat them, and the absence of checkpoints and the fact that you generally cannot get life or energy back during a fight mean that patience is key. Some of those encounters can be a little frustrating, but they are manageable for the most part, except for Capital B that is. The final boss has so many different phases it feels like a bad joke. Some of them are particularly easy and surprisingly short, but others are truly annoying. The second phase, for example, has you jumping around trying to shoot ice projectiles at the boss, while avoiding smaller enemies that keep spawning in the room. The main issue is that Capital B takes many hits before taking you to the next phase, and aiming is a pain in the game, as there is no auto lock system.
After several other easy phases comes the last one, which almost drove us mad as we didn't have enough energy left to survive. See, the powers in Yooka-Laylee drain an energy bar. Once it's empty, you can either collect butterflies (eating them gives you health, collecting them fills up your energy meter) or wait until it regenerates. Since there are no butterflies to be found during the fight, the only thing you can do is wait until the bar regenerates, which takes a bit of time. It would not be that much of an issue if avoiding the homing missiles Capital B sends was doable without any of the powers, but we never could double-jump them, so we always ended up losing our remaining lives trying to dodge them. Usually, it took us 10 minutes to be taken down, 10 minutes. That's something we have come to accept with the likes of Dark Souls, but we didn't expect it from a 3D platformer. What we had to do was basically to unlock one of the game's tonics we were still missing. Tonics are also a big part of the game, as they grant you a bonus (one more butterfly, using less energy when rolling, etc.) when you equip them (only one at a time can be equipped though). To unlock them, you need to complete challenges, like killing a certain number of enemies in a certain way for example. To get access to the tonic allowing the energy bar to regenerate more rapidly, we had to beat three of Rextro's high scores (his games aren't incredibly fun, but they are varied enough and can offer a bit of a challenge). Eventually, that's how we beat Capital B, after a more than an jour of frustration (note that we had found all life butterflies but two and all energy boosters but two, so we thought we were well-equipped to confront him).
One last thing we should mention is that Dr Quack regularly tests us with questions, before letting us reach the next area. It's a pretty neat idea actually, especially because the quizz can be pretty tough if you haven't paid attention to every little detail while playing. Among the many questions you can be asked to answer, you'll have to remember the names of the characters you have encountered, the number of quills of pagies you have collected so far, and even the time you've been playing the game. If you can answer quickly enough, you are granted two points, allowing you to move faster on the bridge leading to the next area. But then again, with every good idea in this game comes a downfall. Quizz actually slow down the pace of the game, even more if you fail (and you probably will as three mistakes will force you to start over, with questions that can differ from one round to another). Like we said, it's a polarizing game, with nice and well-executed ideas and poorer design choices. Being able to change Yooka's skin is an example of the good things you can find in Yooka-Laylee. Using his tongue to touch some particular objects actually modifies his appearance, making him heavier to resist gusts of wind, or allowing him to become luminescent for a short period of time to light dark areas. Even the idea of being able to swallow different types of projectiles (fire, ice, water, etc.) was a good one, if it weren't for the absence of a proper aiming system (there is a manual mode but you can't move whilst using it so it can't be used against enemies). Because Yooka-Laylee is not a shooter like Ratchet & Clank is, it is no big deal, but well, it could have benefited from a more convenient aiming system (or at least some sort of reticle maybe?).
Yoka-Laylee is not a bad game on PC, but it's still far from being a return to grace for the genre. It is actually somewhere in between, with good moments which make you enjoy the game and frustrating ones which make you hate it. Objectively, there are maybe fewer of those annoying sequences than we make it sound, but in the end, Yooka-Laylee is maybe too close to the titles it pays tribute to. It makes a lot of sense of course, as that's why backers supported the project in the first place, but we still believe there was room for a little more innovation. Some of the worlds included are not as inspired as we would have liked them to be, so maybe that's also why we were disappointed by the second part of the adventure. Still, there is a lot of content to sink your teeth into, with tons of things to collect and hours of gameplay ahead of you. Provided the console versions perform well enough, or you have a good PC, Yooka-Laylee is enjoyable to play overall. Just don't let the frustration get to you when it tries to force its way in.
- On the plus side
- The first hours are very engaging for fans of the genre
- The new unlockable abilities
- The old school 3D platformer vibe
- Visuals are nice in Worlds 1, 2 and 5 (and some areas of the HUB)
- Tons of content, 20 to 30 hours of gameplay
- Varied activities
- Local multiplayer with Rextro's arcade games
- A return to form for the collectathon
- Good music tracks
- Quizz are both unexpected and challenging
- The 2 heroes (as long as they keep their mouth shut)
- Pretty good optimization on PC
- You'll get to meet Shovel Knight, lost in 3D
- The price is right
- On the downside
- Sometimes way too easy, sometimes very frustrating
- The game worlds are not original enough
- Worlds 3 and 4 lack inspiration (graphics/art style/level design)
- Camera can be a problem sometimes
- Aiming is rather poorly handled
- Transformations are limited to one sidequest per world
- Rextro arcade games aren't really interesting
- Too much collecting kills collecting
- Too much quizz kills quizz
- Character voices are just super annoying