This punishing platformer is music to our ears
Being called a tool is a kind of half-arsed insult which makes you yearn for a spark of imagination in whoever’s berating you. In the case of the calm-eleon Yooka and his batty friend Laylee, it’s a complimentary observation. Whether boinging up walls using Yooka’s springy tail or flapping over ravines with Laylee’s wings, the duo are literally tools. But occasionally tools break. And when they do, they should definitely be blamed.
Having a title centred around an instrumental pun (ukulele—get it?) is a pitch-perfect indication that this isn’t going to be a dull platformer. Starting at a beached boat named Batship Crazy, the chameleon-bat duo set off to reclaim The One Book. Capital B, the businessman bumblebee, has got his conspicuously pollen-free hands on it, but not for long. Or so you hope. Scattered across the five hidden worlds are Pagies ripped from the book, glittering bits of paper that you’ll find by completing various challenges. Use them to unlock new themed worlds or expand the ones you’ve already discovered, revealing new areas and challenges.
It’s a small world
Rolling through these worlds is exhilarating: Whether it’s through the jungles’ towering temples, the ice palace in the shimmering snow, or the gaudy marble-and-gold fountain surrounded by gambling chips, they all look stunning. Exploring the ins-andouts of each map rewards you with a ton of activities to try, but it’s difficult to ignore the fact that a large part of the world remains out of your grasp.
Although there’s certainly no shortage of personality in the worlds, going into these locations for the first time gives the odd sensation that they’re holding back. Being able to
see the bits of the environment that are cut off from exploration feels like you’re being short-changed. Without expanding the world using Pagies there are ramps that lead to nowhere, locks preventing you from opening doors, or, bluntly put, signs saying the next area is ‘under construction’. Spending additional Pagies on each location allows the worlds to come into their own, becoming positively vibrant and boisterous with activity. You’ll notice the difference, which isn’t an entirely good thing.
The missions themselves tread a thin line between being refreshingly challenging and just plain frustrating, as there’s no mistaking the fact that most are punitive. Miss gliding through one hoop or trip up one too many times in a mine cart, and you might as well start all over again thanks to the over-abundance of pulseracing ticking timers. Other missions are incredibly easy. But ‘satisfying’ doesn’t do justice to how it feels to finally beat one, knowing that you
sure as hell earned that Pagie. That is, as long as you haven’t stormed away in irritation before then, or cursed out Laylee for being too batty to complete missions correctly. (Sorry about that, Laylee, we didn’t mean it...)
Dashing through glass; turning full chameleon, and going invisible; using Laylee’s wings to fly over the landscape: The powers on offer later on in Yooka-Laylee are dizzying, and comboing them together is thrilling. However, you’re initially left to your own devices with rather basic moves that feel clumsy. Trying to grab a ledge at the end of a double-jump seems to only work half the time, and some moves will point-blank refuse to work in tandem. This can come across as unfair, and it can be tempting to sulkily give up. As for using the aiming-over-the-shoulder mechanic, it’s simply a nightmare. Yet when the various acrobatic maneuvers come together, making your way through worlds is a breeze, as you can plan how you’d like to tackle the challenges rather than being forced to cobble together a strategy on the fly.
Hivory Towers (keeping track of all these puns is futile), the hub world, takes as much platforming persistence to navigate as the other worlds. Hidden in its corporate maze are five Grand Tomes, which act as portals into the themed locations of Tribalstack Tropics, Glitterglaze Glacier, Moodymaze Marsh, Capital Cashino, and Galleon Galaxy. Bobbing on their horizons are addictively gatherable Quills, which you can give to a salesman named Trowzer who just happens to be a snake (just let that sssink in…) in exchange for new powers. Flapping around are also butterflies, which can either be slurped up with Yooka’s tongue to give you a life back, or be run into with careless abandon to recharge a power bar that’s used to fuel your fancier skills. Just try to ignore the squeak as you eat them, okay?
Anyone would guess that you’ll just be jumping through Hivory Towers on your way to the next world. They’d be wrong. Spicing up your route is Dr Quack’s (yes, you guessed it: It’s a duck) Quickfire Quiz. Getting past that dastardly duck involves answering questions about your playthrough up to that point: How long you’ve been playing for, or how many quills you’ve collected, for example.
An unexpected addition to the game, it’s a smart and fun way to make you reflect on what you’ve been, and will be, doing. Realising that the game has deviously stored all this information about your journey so far, and is now using it against you is semi-unnerving. But it’s this kind of wickedly-sharp innovation that makes
Yooka-Laylee shine. Once Dr Quack’s quiz is quelled, a route opens up to the worlds on the other side. Here it’s obvious just how rambunctious Playtonic’s designs can be when they let loose: Tribalstack Tropics and Glitterglaze Glacier are run-of-the-mill platformer stalwarts, but the remaining three have their own distinctive charm. Gone are the predictable desert level or forest extravaganza: Instead there’s a garish casino, a Halloween swamp, and a ship-sailing galaxy. Rammed with bright designs that look impeccable, whether it’s the surface of a stone temple or the ethereal glowing trees from outer space, taking the time to enjoy the sights is a reward in itself. Not every bit of busywork will yield a Pagie, though: The casino world rolls up its sleeves and goes full-on Vegas instead. As a welcome change of pace, it makes complete sense, considering you’re in the hectic world of bets and gambling chips. To get a Pagie you have to collect ten golden tokens, which are thrown your way whenever you complete one of the mini-games scattered throughout
the gambler’s paradise. Slot machines have levers waiting to be pulled, elusive cards hide in a maze, or tiles yearn to be matched in a memory game. Swapping the tokens involves chatting to the suspiciously familiar yellow-and-black striped buzzing ‘banker’, who assures you he’s no relation to Capital B, but who we still eye up dubiously when he’s looking the other way.
Perking up the levels is this breed of brilliantly written characters, whose sharp dialogue, and fourth-wall breaking quips will delight fans of old-school platformers. Getting the joke that inevitably lies behind each character concept makes finding new ones a joy, and taking the time to read through each conversation will make you chuckle with delight, though cynical players may despair.
Bat’s all folks
You’ll certainly never do something the same way twice: Each world has new tasks, from playing golf in the casino to finding your way through an electrified maze in spooky marshes. Characters reappear through the worlds giving you a similar type of challenge as before, but tweaking it to make it more devious so you don’t get tired of the formula.
Worthy of mention is the DNA-Ray of Dr Puzz, which transforms you into an entirely new thing in each level. In turn this lets you interact with characters who have stoically ignored you until now—some plants refuse to talk to you until Dr Puzz’s machine turns you into a flower, making you irresistible to the fickle flora. A whole new puzzle opens up, and using the skills particular to your new flower form you can deal with them effortlessly.
Floating around are also five types of Ghost Writers in each world, transparent spirits who require different tactics to capture. Once you figure out what it takes to get them, hunting them down is a welcome change of pace, which gives you time to chill if you don’t fancy solving a new puzzle. Likewise, there’s always something to find if you explore every nook and cranny—hidden power-ups, extenders to bulk out your lives, and power bar and Quills galore.
Varied enemies mix up the stress-free combat, with each world having its own distinct roster of Capital B’s henchmen. Packs of cards growl at you in the casino, mask-
wearing tribesmen leap at you in the tropics, and abominable snowmen saunter around on the ice. Seeing the last enemy left in a group throw its hands up in surrender or sprint away in a scrabble to retreat is gleefully funny, as well as when the leader of a pack of monsters shakes its fist at you. “Dratted whippersnapper!” it seems to cry before being smashed to smithereens.
Yooka-Laylee is ideal for players who like their platformers bright and breezy, with a little sado-masochism on the side. It might be hard to remain mad at the annoying controls, but you’ll definitely feel yourself trying. Coming into its own after the first two worlds thanks to new tricksy powers, the game isn’t afraid to experiment, and ends up bringing a breath of fresh air to what could have been an out-dated and predictable platformer. Just remember: patience is a virtue (and beware those skeezy bees).
“Some plants will refuse to talk until Dr Puzz’s machine turns you into an irresistible flower”
Above Kartos, God or Ore, takes you on a speedy trip around the world. Mess up to much and you’ll need to restart, though.
left Don’t worry, Laylee is a fruit bat, not the vampire type that sucks blood. Or so she sweetly claims...
Above YookaLaylee of the jungle, watch out for that tree! Or rather, Tribalstack Tropics’ masked critters.
left The characters that Yooka and Laylee meet are one of the highlights of the game.