Released on: April 11 2017 (PC, Linux, Mac, Playstation 4, Xbox One) Dec 14 2017 (Nintendo Switch)
Available Platforms: PC, Linux, Mac, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Price: $44.99 ($39.99 US)
The Nintendo 64 was an exciting time for gaming. Famous mascots were making the jump to the third dimension. It was also an experimental time for 3D gaming. Super Mario 64 showed us that it is possible to create an engaging and easy to understand experience in this unexplored field. Another game that thrived on the Nintendo 64 was Banjo-Kazooie. Developed by Rare, Banjo-Kazooie had players collect a myriad of objects, earning itself the moniker of “collectathon.” As the years went on, Rare moved on to different things, but there were still people that wanted a worthy successor to Banjo-Kazooie. Enter Yooka-Laylee, a game made by ex-Rare developers that set out to capture the glory days of the collectathon. While I did enjoy Banjo-Kazooie well enough, I felt it was slow-paced. Nonetheless, I decided to check out this would be spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie to see if it was worthy of the hype.
Hivory Towers: an industrial building owned and operated by the nefarious Capitol B. Using his Noveliser 64, he sucks up all of the books in the land in hopes of obtaining the “One Book.” Meanwhile, it is a lovely sunny day, and our heroes, Yooka and Laylee, are enjoying the calm weather. As soon as they realize that the book they were using as a coaster is magical, the evil Capital B sucks it up with his giant vacuum to keep it for himself. Misfortune strikes, as all the pages of the magical book get ripped out and are scattered across Hivory Towers. It is now up to our heroes to find the magic pages to restore the book to its former glory. The story does a decent job of introducing us to our heroes and villains. The blatant British humor adds a lot of charm to the characters.
Yooka-Laylee’s strongest feature is its characters. They are distinctive and witty. They also have the Banjo-Kazooie style sound effects when they talk, which made me feel nostalgic. I also find Yooka and Laylee have satisfying contrast with one another. It’s evident to the audience what Yooka and Laylee’s personalities are just by looking at them, and all the characters follow that same design philosophy.
Yooka-Laylee is a strange case. I feel conflicted about its various aspects.
The graphics, for example, I find inconsistent. On the one hand, the visual style is bright, colorful, and charming. The environments, for the most part, look incredible. In other cases, there is a severe lack of polish to the terrain, and even some assets have simple low-resolution textures. It seems to me that the developers were able to finish most of the props in time, but others feel rushed. It just makes me wonder what exactly happened?
The gameplay is another clashing aspect of Yooka-Laylee. When traveling on foot, Yooka controls fine. He is responsive, and his movements are tight and straightforward. When using the rolling move, the controls now become slippery and inconvenient. What’s worse, this move needs energy. I understand flying needing energy since it requires a tiny bat to pick up a much bigger lizard, but Laylee rolling on Yooka is the first essential move learned by the player. The player needs the rolling move to climb steeper hills, meaning they will be using the move a lot. The move is not overly powerful by any means, so why it requires energy is beyond me. Where I found the most issue with Yooka-Laylee’s gameplay is with its sloth-like pace. I understand that exploration games, such as Yooka-Laylee are slow by nature, but because of how big the worlds are (which we will get to shortly), the game’s pace slows to a crawl.
Now let’s talk about the level design. The main collectibles the player is looking for are the Pagies. These are the equivalent to the jiggies from Banjo-Kazooie, in that they unlock more levels for the player to explore. In Yooka-Laylee, they even unlock more of the level, revealing a grander world and more stuff to explore. In theory, I like opening up more of the level to find new things. Where Yooka-Laylee falls apart in this regard, is that the worlds are enormous. The first world alone took me a couple of hours to get most of the Pagies. The later levels are even more sizeable. Again, vast worlds to explore are not a bad thing by itself. Yooka-Laylee’s worlds, however, feel empty and ask the player to backtrack quite often. Backtracking is already a pain in the neck, but with worlds this vast, it grinds the flow of the game to a halt.
On the subject of worlds, I had mentioned earlier that I liked the character design. For the characters themselves, this is very much the case. How often they show up and where they are; that is a different story. One example that comes to mind is when the play meets Shovel Knight (from Shovel Knight). I flipped my lid when I first saw him since I am a massive fan of Shovel Knight. His role, however, could have been filled by someone else. As lovely as it is that he is in the game, it felt pointless. I also found that a lot of the same characters appear across multiple worlds. It would have been nice to introduce new characters exclusive to those worlds.
One definitive criticism I have about Yooka-Laylee is the camera. Banjo-Kazooie had a few camera issues here and there, but it is a twenty-year-old game. Yooka-Laylee has those same issues, making the camera controls feel archaic and frustrating.
In Yooka-Laylee, there is a character the player meets named Rextro. He is a polygonal T-Rex meant to be reminiscent of the Nintendo 64’s graphics. While he is a charming fellow, his games are the bane of this game’s existence. If the player wants more Pagies, his minigames are mandatory. It wouldn’t be so bad if the minigames weren’t so terrible. I spent a good half hour trying to get a high score to get his Pagie, and it was an experience I don’t care to repeat. Some of the minigames have multiplayer capability, so it has that going for it, which is nice….
As much as it pains me to say this, I was disappointed with Yooka-Laylee. Charming characters, big worlds, a menagerie of collectibles are what I feel would sell Yooka-Laylee. A wonky camera, questionable design decisions, too much backtracking, and a pace that is much too slow plague Yooka-Laylee, however. Those that liked Banjo-Kazooie might like Yooka-Laylee, but there is no denying that Yooka-Laylee has a lot of baggage.