The year was 1998. A President was 'busyí with an intern, the Spice Girls were on a reunion tour, and I was glued to my tube tv -
a dusty relic that weighed a ton by today's standards - playing Rareís latest title on the Nintendo 64ís alien-like controller.
Now nearly 20 years later, here I am once again, a different console
and a wholly different age, but if thereís one thing Iíve learnt from my time with Playtonic Games platforming, 3D adventure title
Yooka-Laylee, itís the more things change the more they stay the same.
As Yooka - a green lizard - and his pal Laylee - a purple bat - laze around their colourful home of Shipwreck Creek, a large book in their possession ascends
into the sky above, seemingly sucked away by some unknown force towards the horizon. Little do they know the nefarious Capital B and his sidekick Dr. Quack
are behind it, with a plan to hoover up (literally) all of the world's knowledge, in pursuit of a single book that seems to hold great significance.
But Yooka and Laylee arenít going to take this
lying down - at least not on something so uncomfortable - as they track down their flying book - with its pages unravelling in the wind - towards its
destination; Hivory Towers.
Suffice to say the story in Yooka-Laylee isnít exactly Shakespearean in nature, in fact it's more akin to a 90ís cartoon attempting to
forcibly sell third-world manufactured lunchboxes to children on a sugar high. The same goes for the manner in which itís told, with no actual voice acting present for
any of the characters - making its recent voice talent woes all the more amusing - instead like the bear and bird gaming inspiration it's based upon, opting
for all dialog to be accompanied by the sound of small animals being punched in the testicles on repeat.
But like an old vinyl album left decomposing in the back of your closet being dusted off and listened to after 20 odd years, itís the gameplay where
Yooka-Laylee shines - and itís never felt fresher.
Exploring the hub world of Hivory Towers, youíll be tasked with collecting a total of 145 glittering lost ĎPagiesí from your now booknapped novel -
well actually just an even hundred is required to unlock the final boss - that are hidden among not only the the Hivory Towers hub go-between, but in five
distinct, entirely separate thematic playgrounds to unlock, explore and eventually expand upon even further, called Grand Tomes.
For fans of the iconic Mario 64 or more fittingly the later inspired Banjo-Kazooie games, this will be an instantly familiar scenario - replacing those
aforementioned titles collectable Stars and Jiggies - with book Pagies for you to hoard. And collecting those Pagies is where the whole fun of
Yooka-Laylee resides, that has you experiencing every facet of its growingly adventurous gameplay in worlds that feels like distinctly
themed Disney Parks - minus a much needed map.
Trotting from the lush starter realm of Tribalstack Tropics to eventually the outer reaches of space, each of the five worlds youíll be spending the bulk of
your time within Yooka-Laylee are colourfully handcrafted and chock full of a variety of puzzles and activities, each gifting you a single
Pagie upon successful completion of their task.
And, whilst the majority of puzzles will be clearly marked with a quirky character requiring your assistance - from beating high scores in an Arcade mini-game
to helping a frog catch some space fish - others will be far more obtuse, with nary a marker besides a ĎCaged Pagieí in sight. The variety on offer
in Yooka-Laylee is paramount to its success - but also to its detriment - bolstered by an orchestral soundtrack that truly exemplifies the
feeling of a budding adventure, with something for you to explore in every nook and cranny.
But if youíre aiming to collect all those Pagies, youíre first going to need a little help from your old buddy Trowzer, who just so happens to be a snake -
donít let him talk you into petting him now though. When Trowzer is not wheeliní and dealiní he bestows upon you a growing selection of moves in exchange for
Quills - a bountiful currency youíll find and collect in every world - to increase your maneuverability and offensive capabilities.
The moves themselves start off simple enough, a double jump here or a roll maneuver there, but fairly soon as you go through each world youíll find
yourself with more moves than you can shake a stick at, all using a combination of L2 and R2 with face buttons on the PlayStation 4 controller;
ranging from invisibility to sonic blasts, each of them will not only benefit you against the game's enemies and uneven boss fights, but aiding you in
the ultimate goal of attaining Pagies by mastering these puzzle-filled worlds.
And whilst most puzzles you come across within Yooka-Laylee will be doable with the skills youíve acquired so far - or purchasable in the
world you're currently on - some will require abilities you havenít yet acquiesced from Trowzer, employing a metroidvania-like design for you to come back and
visit a little later in the game.
Not all moves you acquire in Yooka-Laylee are created equal mind you, with some serving very little purpose outside of a few puzzles or being
made entirely redundant further in the game, and the same can be said for the puzzles themselves, with the small team at Playtonic Games - crafting
this semi-open world adventure - showing its limits.
In fact some abilities you unlock will even begin to break the game (such as flight) that lets you stress the limit of each world and has resulted in me
personally witnessing some eye-opening glitches and even a crash on occasion. Likewise, the care and attention on some of the puzzles you will come across
through the five worlds can leave a lot to be desired, especially those involving the guiding of objects whilst fighting against the physics employed within
Yooka-Laylee - itíll literally have you pulling what little hair you may have left from your scalp - or anything to do with slippery ice.
Other things though, are less excusable based upon the team's size; the first of which is the god awful loading screen that looks like a webpage from the 90ís
- adorned with dancing animated gifs - which if worked as it should, we could chalk off as just another quirky side of Yooka-Laylee, but with
the loading screen itself freezing near enough every time, it comes across as pure shoddiness on the developer's part, and left me bewildered how that got
through into the final game. And that really is the story of Yooka-Laylee, tangled in its fantastic aspects are the clear scope limitations
of the developers on hand to construct the thirty plus hour end result, resulting in a Ďrough around the edgesí feeling infecting near enough every
aspect of its gameplay.
But if thereís one aspect that Playtonic Games have completely nailed - and translated from Banjo-Kazooie - it is the humour. Whether its 90ís
Rare titles or even a little later with the Fable series, thereís something very unique about certain British-crafted video games, a humour and tone
you donít find anywhere else - Yooka-Laylee has that in droves.
From the buddy-duo bickerings of Yooka and Laylee themselves to the giant cast of characters that inhabit their world, ranging from Kartos the God of Ore
to Doctor Quack and his Quiz Time, everything feels succinct yet perfectly fits into the greater whole, creating a joyous feeling throughout that brought a
smile to my face many, many times upon my journey to collectathon-completion.
Originally billed to backers as a successor to the now classic Banjo-Kazooie series, Yooka-Laylee from developer Playtonic Games
delivers on that promise in spades and more, becoming in essence Banjo-Kazooie 3 in all but name; with a grand collectathon adventure awaiting you, complete
with quirky characters, a rousing score and a British charm that all now iconic Rare games exude.
Itís a feat in itself that the developers have managed to craft a title the size of Yooka-Laylee with the small team at hand, but that
limitation does rear its head with some wonky mechanics and puzzles that were best left on the cutting room floor.
But the true success story of Yooka-Laylee, will be in managing to
capture that once thought lost Rare essence, and the real question now is whether there is still a wider market out there today beyond those who grew
up with the Nintendo 64 classics wishing to revisit nostalgia. One thing is for certain though, if youíre looking for a fun, colourful adventure to suck up 30
hours of your life then Yooka-Laylee is your man, or bat, or lizard - or, ah whatever.
Review copy of Yooka-Laylee provided by the publisher for the PlayStation 4.