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Yooka-Laylee for Xbox One review: The next great 3D platformer

Kickstarter success story Yooka-Laylee is finally out on consoles and PC.

Former members of game developer Rare joined together to make a 3D platformer in the style of Banjo-Kazooie and the Nintendo 64 (N64) games of old. And they succeeded, capturing a magic we seldom see in games nowadays.

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Battle for the books

Yooka-Laylee for Xbox One

Yooka-Laylee stars a chameleon named Yooka and his purple bat friend Laylee. The two live an idyllic life in an wrecked and abandoned pirate ship. Laylee has discovered a book of tremendous value within the old ship. But before the two can examine it, the book is snatched up into the air, its pages scattered to the winds.

This turn of events is the result of the dastardly machinations of Hivory Towers, an evil corporation led by the dastardly Capital B. He and his vice president Dr. Quack (a disembodied duck head floating within a gumball machine, of course) have devised a plan to steal all of the world's books.

Hivory Towers' interest truly lies in one book, though. The One Book (formerly owned by Yooka and Laylee) holds the power to rewrite reality within its magical pages (called "Pagies"). Now our heroes must embark on a journey to recover the missing Pagies and thwart Capital B.

Yooka-Laylee for Xbox One

The story certainly matches the style of classic Rare games, with humorous and innuendo-laden dialog that breaks the fourth wall more than a few times. Accompanying the text-based dialog are cutesy vocal effects repeated over and over, just like in Banjo Kazooie and Starfox. Not everybody loves these effects, but I find them endearing. And even better, we don't have to hear the nefarious voice of JonTron (which was removed from the game prior to release).

The only downside to these story sequences is that many of them don't allow the text to be sped up. Most mid-level conversations can be accelerated or skipped, thankfully.

Gameplay

Yooka-Laylee for Xbox One

Yooka-Laylee is a 3D platformer, a once populous genre that has dwindled in recent times. The core gameplay closely mimics that of Banjo-Kazooie (last seen in the Xbox-exclusive Rare Replay collection). Primary protagonist Yooka can run and jump in any direction while Laylee rides on his head. Those are his only moves initially, but he soon learns more from the helpful snake Trowzer (a snake who wears pants, naturally).

Trowzer bestows our heroes with a spinning attack for damaging enemies and breaking boxes and a roll for climbing steep surfaces. The majority of the remaining moves must be purchased with Quills, a collectible found in abundance throughout each world. Some of these powers include a ground pound, a glide, the ability to eat berries and spit them out Yoshi-style, a sonar wave that reveals invisible platforms, and camouflage for avoiding security cameras.

Yooka-Laylee for Xbox One

After completing a quest for the bizarre Dr. Puzz in the first world, our heroes can use the doctor's machine to change into a plant. This allows them to talk to the local flowers, who inexplicably dislike Yooka and Laylee. Subsequent worlds offer their own unique transformations, including a snowplough, piranha, and even a pirate ship. You lose access to the standard moveset while using these altered forms, so they're more of a temporary excursion than core part of the game.

Naturally, the abilities Yooka and Laylee gain from Trowzer and their transformed states enable them to access new areas within the various worlds. The game consists of a five distinct worlds and one hub world to explore. That's half the unique worlds of Banjo-Kazooie, but Yooka-Laylee's levels are much larger. The Pagies our heroes discover can even be spent to expand each world twice, at which point they become truly massive.

Yooka-Laylee for Xbox One

This would be a good thing, but using new powers to explore old areas becomes harder and harder with so much real estate within each world. Smaller, more comprehensible worlds would likely be a preferable approach, from a backtracking-for-collectibles standpoint.

Yooka-Laylee doesn't provide a map or much in the way of tracking said collectibles (other than the total count), which is a real shame. More recent collectathons like Crackdown 2 have really honed the process of hunting and tracking large numbers of collectibles, and this game would benefit from those innovations.

The spice of life

Yooka-Laylee for Xbox One

Exploring sandbox-style environments while hunting for items is fun enough on its own, a nostalgic experience from yesteryear. The game feels great once you turn off the inverted camera controls. The camera functions well most of the time, though it sometimes tries to look off in the wrong direction – bad camera! Hey, that's how 3D platformers worked back in the day, for better or worse.

Luckily, developer Playtonic has tossed in plenty of additional activities to keep Yooka-Laylee fresh. These include racing against a cloud (you'll want to roll a lot), target shooting in an aristocratic enemy's gallery, side-scrolling mine cart segments, and much more. The mine cart rides (a pleasant diversion in Rare's Donkey Kong Country games) are unfortunately more frustrating than fun, however.

Yooka-Laylee for Xbox One Quiz

One of the highlights here is the Icymetric Palace found within the game's second world. This area switches to a zoomed-out isometric perspective reminiscent of early rare games like Knight Lore and Sabrewulf. The isometric view meshes well with Yooka-Laylee's core gameplay.

Less enjoyable are the quizzes. Banjo-Kazooie challenged players with a single quiz at the end of the game. Yooka-Laylee inexplicably throws in three quizzes over the course of the game. These consist of general knowledge questions and more annoyingly, questions about how many items and collectibles you've picked up. The text advances at a syrupy-slow pace and can't be sped up.

Rex's arcade

Yooka-Laylee for Xbox One

Like Banjo-Kazooie before it, Yooka-Laylee offers a variety of minigames to play. Scattered throughout the game's worlds are eight oversized arcade machines belonging to Rextro, a polygonal dinosaur. Each machine offers a different game to play. Beating these and achieving the high score in them gets team Yooka-Laylee Pagies and other rewards.

The arcade games vary wildly in quality. The first, Kartos Karting, is a top-down racer in the style of Super Sprint. It controls terribly, and the high score target is rather unforgiving (though I eventually got it). It would've been so much better to style the gameplay after Rare's RC Pro-Am, an isometric racer that remains enjoyable to this day.

Other arcade games fare better, but they all need a quick restart option. If you mess up, you'll have to go through several seconds of loading back into the arcade before you can even choose to start again.

Rex's arcade games can be selected directly from the main menu, even if you haven't encountered them in the actual game yet. They support local multiplayer for up to four players, which could be a fun diversion for the kids.

Achievements

Yooka-Laylee for Xbox One

Whereas Banjo-Kazooie and its sequel only offer a paltry 12 Achievements each, the Xbox One version of Yooka-Laylee ups the ante with 35 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. For a lengthy game like this with so many collectibles to find, having lots of Achievements is a big plus – it gives players so many more milestones on the way to completion.

While many of those Achievements will come simply from playing through the game, you'll have to be in it for the long haul to get them all. Yooka-Laylee has a whopping 145 Pagies and 1,010 Quills to find. With no map and only an overall stats list to help guide you, finding all of those items is going to be tough.

Overall impressions

Yooka-Laylee for Xbox One

Playtonic and Team17 set out to make an N64-era 3D platformer on modern consoles with Yooka-Laylee. They really have succeeded, bringing all of the good and bad aspects of those classic games to a new generation. The platforming is fast and delightful, with plenty of abilities to use, items to find, and areas to explore. Charming characters, clever humor, and lots of bright colors all serve to enhance the gameplay as well.

It's interesting that the developers leaned so heavily into the collectibles, seeing as how N64-era Rare platformers were criticized for their overabundance of items to find. I don't see that as an inherent weakness, because I quite enjoy exploration and seeking things out. But the game definitely needs a better way to track items you have and haven't found. These worlds are just too big to search for one little missing thing with no map or guidance.

Yooka-Laylee for Xbox One

Hopefully Playtonic continues to support Yooka-Laylee with updates and refinements. But even with a few rough edges here and there, this is still a huge game that platforming fans must not miss.

Pros:

  • A genuine N64-style 3D platformer made in the modern age.
  • Bright, colorful worlds and memorably bizarre characters.
  • There's so much to see and do, platforming fans will be enthralled for ages.

Cons:

  • Text often can't be sped up or skipped, making the quiz sections irritating to play.
  • There are no maps, so it's easy to get lost or forget where unexplored areas are in the vast worlds.
  • Poor collectible tracking makes it tough to find the last few collectibles in any given area.

Yooka-Laylee is available for $39.99 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Windows, Mac, and Linux. A Nintendo Switch version is expected to arrive later this year.

See on the Xbox Store (opens in new tab)

Xbox One review code provided by the publisher.

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!

37 Comments
  • Love the look of this, but was put off by some other reviews. Glad you did one Paul, as you seemed very positive about it. I think it looks gorgeous.
  • They straight ****** up by not making this a Play Anywhere title. Lost a sale from me. 
  • You weren't going to buy it.Stop lying.
  • True, a great game will always get sale, no matter what options.
  • Oh, I wouldn't go that far. There are games I was really interested in, but the politicizing or moralizing by the developers turned me off. There are probably 5 or so games this generation to do that for me.
  • I'm definitely buying this, but I'm getting it for Nintendo Switch - If this was Play Anywhere though I'd likely have grabbed it from the Windows store instead of waiting for the Switch release
  • I bought it but be honest, I'll be a happier gamer if it's a xpa title (or not xpa but uwp with cloud sync enabled).
    * I carry my surface pro 4 (sometimes Alienware) and New Xbox Wireless Controlelr with me anywhere I go.
    Switch... I still will choose xb1 version over Switch. 1. forwards comp 2. free-unlimited-active-cloud-sync.
  • Yea, 100% I would buy this on the Windows PC Store as i don't have an Xbox. 
  • If you really want to play Yooka-Laylee then, it is available on Steam.
  • I doubt I'd go for this. It's TOO MUCH a rip-off of Banjo-Kazooie. Seems they didn't progress in gameplay design over the last 15-20 years much, if at all. I was hoping they would at least dump that slow text and clunky tutorial interaction. It would be nice if I felt I was playing something other than what I already played, but I don't get the sense I would find a new, exciting experience.
  • I think the point was to be like the 90s platformer. Considering these guys wrote the rule book along with Mario 64, I'm glad they didn't move away from the collection worlds format. If anything it's a breath of fresh air. A genuine challenge of gameplay and exploration. Something not found the billions of shooters and cinematic games we ha e nowadays. Hopefully this genre comes back strong. Because I haven't had this much enjoyment playing videogames since the 90s.
  • I lost interest in this the more I heard about it. Too much like Banjo-Kazooie in some ways but most aggravating is they kept the stupid sounding "talking". I never liked it, but it was an interesting novelty in the BK game, but now it shouldn't be there, it is annoying as all get out. Good try but as many have said, too much of a retread to be interesting. Surprised on the review since I have seen mostly C grades for this game.
  • Haven't played the full game yet, but played the demo on my buddy's Xbox One S. Look pretty cool, he got me into the Rare Replay games, if I end up getting an Xbox I'll definitely be getting these games, it would be nice to see them in the Windows Store or Steam as well.
  • I trust Paul's reviews over most others. I think I might give this a try.
  • i wouldnt trust any writer they are all in it for the money ;) whatever that works out to being after we read and comment lol
  • That's an incredibly offensive and cynical thing to say. Good writers that consistently communicate their experiences openly and honestly are invaluable. To assume everyone is either on the take or trying to pander to the populace just to make a dime is disrespectful at best and just plain paranoid at worst. Developing a level of trust has nothing to do with how the writer makes their money but whether their body of work is consistent both within itself and your experience of the subject matter. A good writer may even tempt you to try something you normally wouldn't consider or even avoid something that ordinarily would be an instant purchase. So in short I disagree, it is possible to trust a writer regardless of where or how they publish.
  • I think he was joking from the wink, but maybe not
  • Bought it, there's a couple of very minor flaws but love it can't put it down. It just keeps drawing you in further like a great game should. Who needs play it anywhere, just stream it to your PC if you must.
  • Game looks good, kinda remind me of some older games(cant remember what was it), the guy with the long nose kinda looks like his from despicable me lol
  • The developer wanted to make a homage to Banjo and DK64 but ended up making the exact same game. I with they'd made some progress towards what 3D platforming games are now, rather than what they were 20 years ago.
  • I agree that Playtonic should have done something with Yooka-Laylee that differentiates it from those developed 20 years ago, but being a fan of Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie, I'm really enjoying what they have developed over the last 2 years (and I'm still glad I supported it back in 2015). They've brought back the genre; the next step is to evolve it. Look at what modern platformers and adventure games have done and incorporate something new.
  • At least they didn't make a nuts and bolts remake. That game sucked!
  • Personally I don't like Mario Galaxy much. Pretty much all 3d platformers after the Sunshine game were just boring. Not the same. Great 2D platformers today haven't changed much at all. Rahman legends still plays to the formula of Donkey Long Country snes. I don't see why 3d platformers have to change the formula. Games like ratchet and clank, jak and faster aren't even in the same ball park. They aren't collectathons. Not the same as the Mario 64, Sunshine, Banjo, DK64, Yooka Laylee breed.
  • its 2017 this obbsesion with old looking games seams to never end. not quite my stile. if its stack with proximity mines on 007 now thats all i remember from n64.  
  • That's bad. Goldeneye didn't hold a candle Banjo, DK64,'Mario 64 etc.
  • some people liked this some liked that. it is what makes us unique :D
  • Just got the game. Very similar gameplay to older platformer titles m, which I love. But the choice of sound effects is rather annoying (particularly the dialogue). Hopefully you can opt out of the sound effects while still having background music
  • What a great review! I've personally been really enjoying what I've played of it so far. Glad to see there are others who still enjoy this type of game as well! :D I enjoy the humour and collecting/exploring in games like this.
  • So the tonics help in finding collectibles. Even quills as the Tribalstack area I had one left and found it using the tonic. I've been playing for 10+ hours and I really like it. Just wish they had polar bears, Christmas lights, and more areas to explore. It's a great game though.
  • Will be buying (on sale) based on this review. Sounds like a game right up my alley, but I do hate slow and unskippable text
  • I've watched a few streams of this and it looks pretty good.  Steals a LOT from the Banjo games, but that isn't really a bad thing, as long as the controls aren't as bad.  Might pick this up on a sale.
  • Looks like the good ol' games from playstation 1
  • *ahem* N64 😉
  • Yeah come on. PS doesn't even remotely match the N64 for 3D Platformers. N64 held the top 5 spots easy.
  • Game is amazing. Truly is. It has better gameplay, music, humour and fun factor than any other game released this gen. I love it.
  • If a big part of the game is collectables but keeping track of collectables is extremely hard without any map, it would seem the game has a giant flaw.  I'm interested but not until a smaller, safer price point.
  • This is what modern hand holding game design has accomplished. Back in the 64 era, these platformers like Mario 64, Banjo Kazooie all had no map. You got some small clues sometimes of where to find things, but the majority of the games were down to your exploration. God forbid you had to think. You do get to track your collectibles in one way. Each world has a list of the collectibles you can see on each worlds card. It tells you how many pagies on that world you have found out of how many there are. Same for all the other collectibles in that specific world. It's up to too as a player to go explore that world to find them.