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2017’s Most Unfairly Maligned Game

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    Rating: 4.0 – Great

    2017’s Most Unfairly Maligned Game

    Yooka-Laylee is a shining example of how passion, enthusiasm and fan support can create something beautiful. In a gaming market dominated by almost identical first person shooters, Yooka-Laylee endeavored to be a love letter to a genre many games journalists smugly dismissed as passé and irrelevant. But how did it turn out? Did it meet this lofty goal?

    The first thing to note is that the game looks gorgeous. The worlds are all vibrant and colourful, from sunny and overgrown jungles to a wintry world straight out of an idyllic Christmas card. Butterflies zoom around, and fire burns with a cosy light, every effect wonderfully cartoonish and zany. But by far the biggest graphical triumph are the eponymous duo themselves: Yooka the chameleon and Laylee, a smart-mouthed bat. From Laylee’s hyperactive chattering to Yooka’s wide-eyed curiosity, these two colourful characters instantly endeared themselves to me, helped along by a delightfully snarky script.

    The story, though of little importance, is an amusing pastiche on the real world games industry, and its aversion to artistic titles in a market which rewards uniformity. The villain of the piece, a grotesque bloated bee and his grumbling hench-duck, aim to steal every book in the land, and so control all creativity and thought. It is standard fare, but enjoyably silly, with enough fourth-wall stretching jokes to keep players entertained.

    The gameplay, however, is where the first real dents appear in the armour. The core mechanics are all incredibly fluid and control like a dream. Yooka and Laylee roll, run and glide fantastically, and for the most part the camera gives players a great view of the action and doesn’t hinder things. I say “for the most part” because, towards the end of the game, the player will achieve a special skill which allows them to fly. This is all well and good, until the camera begins to position itself directly under you, forcing you to weave drunkenly about.

    A more irritating issue is with the game’s obsession with difficulty. An issue best illustrated with one mission. During the game, you can use Yooka’s tongue to collect seeds with can be used as ammo and there is a first-person aiming mechanism for this. But during said mission, when presented with numerous moving targets, this first person view was inexplicably unavailable, forcing me to try and hit every target without actually being able to aim at them. This goes beyond simple difficulty, and rather left me feeling that the game was being unfair for the sake of it. There are many other instances of this, and perhaps you will enjoy the challenge, but those who like a more casual experience should prepare to be frustrated.

    On a more trivial note, and one professional reviewers have ran into the ground when remorselessly trashing this game, are the voices of the characters. Or rather the grunts, squeaks and mumbling meant to mimic Banjo-Kazooie. For some, this will prove jarring, and all in all is an example of something best left in the past. With characters this well designed, it is rather sad that they do not have a distinctive voice, especially when the script is so snappy.

    However, let it be known that these gripes are not game breaking, and that there is so much to do and collect that players will always find something to occupy their time. Quills, the in-game currency, help the player purchase new skills and abilities, and the torn-out pages of Laylee’s book help unlock – and expand – the five levels within the game. Also hidden throughout the various worlds are tools to extend both your health and stamina, all well concealed to encourage exploration.

    Ultimately, Yooka-Laylee is a flawed masterpiece, a hodgepodge of amazing creative energy and occasionally archaic game design, a game seemingly torn between which aspects of the past to maintain and discard. For some, it will only serve to validate their opinion that the gaming industry should be dour, colourless and wallow in realism, but for those who look deeper, they will find a game with enough guts to stand on its own merits and be unashamed of what it is.
    Play it, judge for yourself, and cross your fingers for a sequel.

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