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Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Yooka-Laylee


Rare's best days are behind them. In the same way that the Call of Duty series started going downhill when Infinity Ward's core staff left to create and join new studios, so Rare have never been the same since some of the most experienced staff started jumping ship just before Nintendo sold them to Microsoft. This means that we'll never again see games like the ones they made during their loved-up marriage to Nintendo... right?


Wrong – if Playtonic Games have anything to do with it.
Playtonic is largely staffed by Rare veterans, and Yooka-Laylee (Kickstarted by fans with rose-tinted specs firmly welded to their faces) bends over backwards (and double jumps, and butt-slams) to recreate the look and feel of an N64 platformer. Specifically, it channels Banjo-Kazooie to the point where it's a new sequel in all but name. A flying character sitting on the shoulders of a non-flying character, jokes so bad you love them, moves you need to unlock, shiny collectables you need to gather in order to open up new levels, characters that talk in bloody annoying gobbledygook... it's got it all.

If you're too young to have played the N64 (or if you didn't play it at the time because you were too poor/busy/moronic), Yooka-Laylee is basically exactly how its 3D platformers looked and played, only not quite this smooth and shiny. All of the big eyes and cartoony aesthetics might suggest a game for little kids, but this is very much not the case. The script is family-friendly – although there are a few eyebrow-raising double entendres – but that's not what I mean. What I mean is that, like pretty much any retro or retro-styled game that you might stumble across, it's pretty damn difficult at times. Some of these times it's due to devious design... and other times, it's more down to a crappy camera or imprecise controls.

Most of the time, the camera and controls do the job just fine (anything else would've killed the game). This is just as well, because it's not a game you can finish in an afternoon. Reaching the final boss fight will take you around 20 hours, and reaching 100% - basically nabbing all the collectables – around 30 hours. Fair warning though: the more determined you are to hit that 100%, the more frustrations you'll hit.


Levels are split across five themed worlds accessible from a central hub, and each of those worlds can be expanded. These worlds are unlocked, and then expanded, by using “Pagies”; the main collectables you'll be after, gifted for finding them in various nooks and crannies and, most of the time, as a reward for completing a certain task (such as a race, an assault-course type affair, or a boss fight). There are 145 Pagies altogether, but you only need 100 in order to unlock the final boss fight. You need much less than that to unlock and expand all five worlds though, and in fact you shouldn't have much trouble earning enough to give you access to all areas. The good thing is that you're always free to return to any world you've unlocked; so if you're struggling to find/earn Pagies in one level, you can quit and go look for them in another.

You'll definitely get the most out of this game if you have fond memories of the Rare of old, but there's plenty here for anybody to enjoy. There's plenty of creativity, the epitome of which may be the casino-themed world. Rather than earn Pagies directly, you find and earn casino chips which you can then cash in (ten chips = one Pagie). There are enemies and lasers here, but also giant one-armed bandits and pachinko machines. Or perhaps you'll prefer the space-themed world, or the obligatory icy world, or the in-game trivia quizzes...


It's far from a perfect game. The camera is a complete git sometimes, the final boss fight is bloody awful, and the retro-styled mini games are dull. The side-scrolling minecart sections can be quite frustrating, too. It's worth battling through the low points to get back to the high points however, because you're never far from something that will make you smile.

★★★★☆

Luke Kemp


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