Yooka-Laylee (Xbox One) Review

By Greg Giddens 04.04.2017

Review for Yooka-Laylee on Xbox One

Seldom few titles offer the same 3D platformer experience enjoyed in the late 90s-early 2000s; an era where classics of the genre were born, such as Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, Jak and Daxter, and Spyro the Dragon. Yooka-Laylee is clearly inspired by these platformers of yore - with key talent from the Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country games at the helm - and means to bring back their quirky and clever design philosophy, compelling quest of collection and exploration, and unique, standout characters that induce a smile. It's an ambitious goal Yooka-Laylee chases, but this Kickstarter concept has indeed achieved it marvellously.

Where the likes of Doom, Shadow Warrior, and Battle Zone have brought their series' back in recent years - with their core experience very much intact, but now including precisely the kind of refinements and features you'd expect from a modern title - Yooka-Laylee actually remains fairly traditional. Visually, it's very much a modern title, with strikingly rich and detailed textures, and lighting helping to build a bright, welcoming, and fascinating set of levels. However, elsewhere, Yooka-Laylee remains remarkably true to its genre roots. Multiplayer is entirely local, conversations with characters are conveyed in text, with humorous grunts, squeaks and gibberish making up the audio portion, the soundtrack is wonderfully low-fi, and the handholding is at a minimum. It feels spectacularly charming and familiar.

Indeed, it's that charm and sense of familiarity that works so well in Yooka-Laylee's favour. It feels, sounds and looks like the platformers you remember from back in the day, except it's tapped into that sense of nostalgia, so, in fact, it doesn't at all look or sound like it did back in the day, it just feels like it does - and that's the trick, Yooka-Laylee's great deception, and it'll utterly fool you and suck you in.

Screenshot for Yooka-Laylee on Xbox One

The nostalgic design is present in every aspect of the game. The story is shallow, but highly effective as an excuse to explore and tell jokes, with villain Capital B stealing all the books in the world and Yooka the lizard and Laylee the bat determined to retrieve the one stolen from them, which just so happens to be magical and coveted by Capital B. It embroils the duo in an adventure through Capital B's corporate lair - which acts as the hub world - and five Great Tomes, which transport the heroes to different regions: a lush location with ancient ruins, a snow-covered area, a dark and dank marsh, a glitzy casino, and a space themed location. It's a quirky set of destinations that feel entirely appropriate to the genre and are full of mysteries to uncover.

Each of these Great Tomes are unlocked by collecting Pagies - golden, dancing, sentient pages - and spending them, with each region also being expanded if you collect enough Pagies on top of the initial cost to enter it. Within each tome are plenty of Pagies to collect through platforming puzzles, boss battles, character quests, and general exploration, equalling hours upon hours of content. Expanding the tomes adds even more content to explore within the regions. It's a clever dichotomy. First you learn the general layout of an area and conquer as much of it as you can, then expanding it introduces more challenges and new areas within the region to explore.

As to be expected from a game that's inspired by the 3D platformers of yore, each region is a labyrinthine set of platforming challenges. It's fascinating and time consuming to explore every nook and cranny, searching for the all-important Pagies that allow you to progress, as well as other collectables, such as permanent boosts to your health and energy bar, a set of five Ghost Writers that are in fact ghosts, an arcade coin, a gubin to power a friendly NPCs transformation device, and golden quills used as currency to buy new abilities. As you buy these new abilities, more of the platforming challenges can be completed, granting you the means to chase down these collectables, complete quests for the many quirky characters you meet within each region, and defeat the comical bosses that stand in Yooka and Laylee's way.

Screenshot for Yooka-Laylee on Xbox One

Figuring out how to traverse each region is a stiff challenge. In the beginning, when the duo's abilities are limited, there are many tasks that you just can't quite achieve, many obstacles that can't be overcome, and many collectables just out of reach. The lack of handholding can make this initially frustrating, as you don't know when or if you'll be able to purchase or obtain an ability that will help you. Eventually, when you're forced to move on and chase less demanding goals, you'll find the abilities needed for sections you've had to leave behind - or better yet, you'll better master and understand the abilities you already have through experience and well-placed teaching moments within the game. It's open enough to show you a great deal of the game's challenges before you can conquer them, yet tightly designed enough to teach you how to best use new abilities to solve puzzles.

The design continues to impress when it comes to the regions themselves, which show off splendid verticality rather than expansion too far in other directions. It keeps each region small enough to learn its paths and points of interest, with shortcuts opening as you explore, leading back to familiar areas. It's fantastically well-designed. The hub world of Hivory Towers, Capital B's head office, also features similar shortcut discoveries as progress is made, but expands more linearly. There's also some unfortunately difficult to see routes that can easily flummox you until the camera happens to fall just right and reveal the path you've been searching for.

Screenshot for Yooka-Laylee on Xbox One

Beyond platforming, which are often puzzles in themselves, the cast of odd-ball NPCs have plenty of mini-games for the lizard and bat to complete. There's a nice variety here, from Donkey Kong Country-esque mine cart riding to races, fetch quests and even arcade games. Superbly, these mini-games and challenges differ enough from one another to prevent them from becoming stale, also offering a pleasant break from the platforming or more purpose to the exploration. Even the boss encounters are unique and interesting.

Throughout it all, the NPCs, as well as Yooka and Laylee, will frequently make fourth wall-breaking jokes and references to older games, with some particularly excellent sarcastic lines coming from Laylee. Meanwhile, the humour treads a similarly thin line to that of Pixar, making kids giggle for one reason and adults for an entirely other. It's thoroughly entertaining.

Indeed, Yooka-Laylee is remarkably well-realised, tapping into that sense of nostalgia many have for these 3D platformers and providing a rich world of compelling collectable searching and exploration that can keep you entertained and challenged for many hours on end. The hub world stands out a bit as the outlier in an otherwise terrifically designed set of locations, and there is a stiff challenge to face throughout, but the experience Playtonic has crafted here is one of nostalgic, fourth wall-breaking, quirky excellence.

Screenshot for Yooka-Laylee on Xbox One

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

A stiff challenge, no handholding, and large, open levels is somewhat daunting at first, but spectacular level and character design, sarcastic, fourth wall-breaking humour, and oodles of collectables will quickly grip and immerse you in Yooka and Laylee's quirky world. This is a 3D platforming fan's dream title.






3D Platformer



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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