3D platformer and Banjo-Kazooie fans rejoice - Yooka-Laylee recently landed for all major platforms, including our very own Linux. As a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie in particular, and created by a team made up of former Rare members, Yooka-Laylee has been a much hyped and anticipated game. How does it hold up to the hype? And does it truly bring the essence of Nintendo 64-era platformers to Linux?
- Developer: Playtonic Games
- Publisher: Team 17
- Engine: Unity
- Platforms: Linux, MacOS, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
- Release Date: 11th April 2017
Well, on the whole hype thing - I was personally never caught up in the hype for Yooka-Laylee, and in fact I hadn't known much about the game until it recently released. So I never went into the game with the same hype train that perhaps many others would have, especially those who originally backed the game on Kickstarter (yes, it was one of those). Still, when I saw the gameplay video and screenshots upon release, I knew it was a game I just had to try.
Whether it's nostalgia or the kid within, or maybe a bit of both, I was very eager to jump into the world of Yooka-Laylee and it's a type of game I would say has rarely been seen on Linux. For kids and kids-at-heart though, I think it's a great addition to the Linux-game library.
So let's dive in.
In Yooka-Laylee you control not one character, but technically two characters working together. The main "big" character you control is a green chameleon called Yooka, who has a small companion bat named Laylee who rides on his head most of the time. If you hadn't caught on yet, the names are a play on ukulele in a similar way as Banjo-Kazooie was a play on a banjo and a kazoo.
Anyway, the plot is fairly deliberately simple and charming: the pair venture out of their home in Shipwreck Creek (no wonder there are shipwrecks, if it's a creek!) to explore and go on adventures when they get a bit bored of lying around and sunning themselves. Almost right away they rather conveniently find themselves whisked into a save-the-world adventure where they must venture inside the mysterious business called Hivory Towers and collect "Pagies", which allow them to activate and venture inside Grand Tomes to collect even more Pagies (and Quills), which allow them to unlock more areas and skills to use in-game, and to ultimately stop the evil Hivory Towers CEO and his loyal henchman Dr. Quack from absorbing all the world's literature and turning it all into one big cash grab.
Along the way they are aided by the endlessly sarcastic and perhaps shonky salesman in Trowzer the Snake. Yes.
Trowzer. The. Snake.
I'll do my best to not ram that one down your throats, but Yooka-Laylee does happily insert some, er, rather mature gags that most children will simply not notice, but the adults among us will get a chuckle out of. And that is a part of the game's charm as well, where the lighthearted humour is abundant, innocent or otherwise.
Yooka is a more serious and reserved guy, although prone to some sarcasm and jokes as much as anyone, while Laylee the bat in particular is quite sassy, sarcastic and perhaps sometimes even a little bit crazy. She's one little bat I wouldn't want to mess with. You'll also encounter all manner of other colourful characters along the way with varying personalities and goals, from the money crazed boss of Hivory Towers in Capital B all the way down to floating cloud characters who desire nothing more in life than to race you around a level.
All in all, it's colourful, quirky and fun, as you would probably expect.
While the dialog itself is quite humourous and lighthearted, there is one major annoyance though - the "voice acting" leaves a lot to be desired. It's basically just gibberish repeated on a loop for each of the characters (nyaa-nyee-nyaa-nyaaaaa). When we were kids it was probably funny and quite tolerable, but as adults (or at least this adult) it's quite terrible. Thankfully, most of the dialog can be skipped by tapping a button, so if you're a fast reader you can read the dialog and keep it moving quickly. Unfortunately some of the more cinematic scenes do not seem to be skippable, but they are a relatively minor inconvenience overall, I would say.
First things first, the Yooka-Laylee developers themselves strongly recommend you play with a controller. And they are quite right.
While the game is obviously playable with a keyboard and mouse, this style of game will always be a bit awkward compared to a proper controller. But Yooka-Laylee in particular seems to be made with controllers in mind and perhaps it is understandable, given its roots as a 3D platformer that harkens back to the Nintendo 64 days.
I played the game with a wireless Xbox 360 controller which worked fine out of the box, complete with appropriate buttons being shown correctly on-screen and a control layout that I never had to alter.
As far as controls and gameplay go, Yooka-Laylee is quite a pleasant experience here. Movement is tight and fluid and generally quite responsive. Games of this genre can either be good in this regard or rather clunky and awkward, but thankfully Yooka-Laylee falls into the former rather than the latter. The game does preserve one aspect of the genre that is widely considered a norm - a pretty terrible camera. Having said that, while many people seem to slam Yooka-Laylee's camera, I found it to be pretty much on par for a kiddy 3D platformer of this kind. For some, it's not a great excuse and could have been improved. For others, it's come to be expected with 3D platformer collectathon type games and is just a part of the experience. Personally, the camera has never bothered me too much, but perhaps I'm just too used to such cameras from years past.
We mentioned the word collectathon above, and to be grossly simplistic, that is the heart of what Yooka-Laylee's gameplay is about. Essentially, you'll be jumping and spinning around levels to ultimately collect things. In this case things are usually Quills scattered around the levels which act as a kind of currency you can use to purchase new "moves" off Trowzer the Snake and the Pagies themselves, which are used to unlock new Grand Tomes (new levels) or to expand currently unlocked levels.
There's obviously a lot more to do along the way, whether it be figuring out a puzzle to capture one of the "Ghost Writer" beings getting around the levels or to gain access to a chest containing a Pagie or simply engaging in one of the game's many mini-games, such as riding a mine cart (in pure old school Donkey Kong Country style, no less!) or racing giant cloud...things. All in all, you do it to collect more things, but it's usually quite a bit of fun along the way.
The thing that surprised me most about Yooka-Laylee is there just seems to be so much to actually explore. Levels can be quite large, and that's before you even expand them with Pagies. And the levels themselves can be quite different in style and setting, which is a good thing. While an overly long single play session could get repetitive, there's no doubt there's plenty for completionists to do here and a decent amount of bang for buck overall, with things to collect and challenges to complete.
Other than that, if you're used to games of this type you have your pretty standard fare of moves to use on the less-than-friendly creatures getting around with physical spin attacks and ranged attacks where Yooka can spit berries out like a bazooka at enemies. Not only that, Yooka can absorb properties of particular objects he eats, so it is even possible to turn him temporarily into a fire-breathing monster. Laylee also plays her own roles, helping Yooka to glide across wide gaps and long drops and helping him to perform extra jumps and body slam attacks. It is all pretty simple but varied enough to be interesting.
We've already touched on the somewhat annoying and repetitive gibberish voice-overs, but that will unfortunately be the first thing you'll notice in Yooka-Laylee. On the other hand, the game does sport quite a pleasant sound track and tunes that will get into your head but not enough to be annoying or distracting.
The music is actually quite nice and does its job and actual sound effects in the game are suitably colourful (if that's the right word) and cutesy, with an abundance of sounds responding to different moves and interactions.
Overall, I'd say Yooka-Laylee does well in this category. Except for one thing which I think was just plain cruel by the developers: the same gibberish voiceover sounds are used in the game menus, each time you select a menu item. Thanks, guys.
Graphics and Performance
This area will be quite subjective, obviously, but I found Yooka-Laylee to be a very refreshing and pleasant looking game. Perhaps I haven't played enough colourful modern games, especially being primarily a Linux gamer for some years now.
On the other hand, I've seen other players comment around the internet that the game looks awfully "Unity", referencing the fact that the game running on the Unity engine looks quite similar to other Unity-driven games. Maybe I haven't played enough Unity powered games, but I never really noticed this. Still, no doubt widely used and popular cross-platform game engines will produce some similar games, in look and feel, but in regards to Yooka-Laylee at least, I think the visuals and art works just fine.
It's all suitably colourful, smooth and cartoonish, without looking at all dated. From a performance standpoint, I was pleasantly surprised. My rig utilizing an Intel Kaby Lake G4560 CPU, 16GB of RAM and an AMD 380X GPU on open source Mesa 17 drivers runs the game on maximum details at 1080p resolution without any issues. I've heard of people (on all platforms, ironically especially the console versions) complaining about framerate drops and inconsistent performance, but to be honest I've encountered very little in that regard. Yooka-Laylee runs smooth pretty much all the time, with only an occasional noticeable FPS drop at the start of levels (perhaps during texture loading) and otherwise the game has been stable.
Yooka-Laylee is a colourful, fun and charming game with a really confident feeling to it - it sets out to be a true spiritual successor to classic games like Banjo-Kazoozie and retain conventions from that era of platformers (complete with awkward camera!) and doesn't try to really be anything that it's not. Some people who may have fell for the hype before release may be slightly disappointed if they are expecting a game to redefine the genre and bring 3D platformers completely back in vogue, but I think that would simply be the result of falling for the hype train.
My advice would be to simply see Yooka-Laylee for what it really is; a game that is basically Banjo-Kazooie rebranded and reimagined and brought into modern times. It is a fun, casual experience that is a welcome break from the norm if you're a gamer like me who has had their fill of the more overly serious, grey-palette realistic games and just desires something a little more imaginative and child-like. But while Yooka-Laylee can be a casual pick-up-and-play game, there is tonnes here for completionists to do and aim to hit that magical 100% completion number. It is ultimately one big collectathon, of course, but with plenty of style and substance in between to keep it interesting.
Don't fall for the hype, but if you have kids who would love a game of this style or you're simply a big kid at heart, give Yooka-Laylee a go.
- Trowzer the Snake
- Pretty, vibrant and colourful world
- Heaps to explore and do
- Nintendo 64-era 3D platforming brought to modern times, on Linux no less
- Those damned voiceovers
- Potentially repetitive, especially if you aren't partial to the style and genre
- Might trigger haters of collectathons