Reviewing a game that was crowdfunded on the wings of nostalgia is difficult. If you’re reading this review and you’re one of the 73,000 backers that pledged money in order for Playtonic to develop Yooka-Laylee, then you can probably stop reading. Sure you can find out that from a technical perspective the game is inconsistent, or you can read about how much I detested the boss fights, but if you were so enamoured by the idea of a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie created by a group of developers that worked at Rare in the late 90s that you committed money to this game before it even existed, then I imagine little I could say will change your opinion.
With that being said, I was excited about this game. I very much enjoyed character platformers in their heydey and have always been curious whenever someone has posed the question of how you would revive the genre for a modern audience. However, when asking those questions I don’t imagine many thought the answer would be to ignore 17 years of innovation and instead produce a game that feels like it doesn't belong in 2017.
Yooka-Laylee follows two friends, "Yooka" and "Laylee" as they venture to reclaim “Pagies” that have been scattered throughout the world by the nefarious “Capital B” and his sidekick “Dr Quack”. Yooka and Laylee are tasked with stopping the devious pairs plan to turn all books into profit, which is about as specific as the game gets are far as plot goes, but as a jumping off point, it works. The story in Yooka-Laylee is minor, but it works as a good framework to set up the varied world the player will explore.
Yooka-Laylee is a platformer in which the player takes control of both the green chameleon Yooka and his purple bat friend Laylee. Using various attacks and traversal moves that the player acquires throughout the game, players are tasked with collecting “Pagies”. These “Pagies” are hidden around the levels and are also rewards for the player as they complete various side missions around the world. These “Pagies” are used in order to unlock future levels. Players can also spend these “Pagies” to expand a previously visited level in order to reveal further puzzles and side quests.
You will spend the entire game collecting things. Every objective in the game breaks down into a collect-a-ton that by the second level goes from tedious to utterly boring. However, this comes back to personal preference. This was also ta large element of the game's spiritual predecessor; Banjo-Kazooie. If you’re interested in playing a game in which all you are tasked with doing is collecting various items with little payoff, you may get more out this part of the game than I did, which was very little. In 2017 collectables are a peripheral element of most games, not the core objective of the game.
In each world, reoccurring quest givers will have the player play a small variety of mini-games in order to unlock "Pagies". These include a minecart game in which the player has to control a minecart on rails while collecting gems. If the player does not collect enough gems they must start again. This would be a mild inconvenience if the controls for the mini-game were not simply unresponsive. The time between pressing X and the minecart jumping feels utterly random and as such, be prepared to play this mini game many times before finally collecting enough to earn the reward. This feels like less of an accomplishment and more like a relief. The game's boss fight that relies on this minecart mechanic is one of the worst boss fights I can remember playing. The game's poor controls are an issue throughout. Yooka feels like he has the turning circle of a small yacht and whether or not he obeys the player's command to roll or glide seems utterly indiscriminate.
Each world also features an arcade cabinet that the player can play in order to win a "Pagie". These games are inspired by real arcade games and are a fun distraction. The games inconsistent controls prevent these from being anything that you will spend much time mastering, however. These are hosted by a 64-bit Dinosaur named "Rextro" who will greet the player with a quip about modern games that verge from the amusing to the irritating and even somewhat depressing, however, his lines hit more than they miss and I found him to be the most consistently funny character in the game.
The game also features the transformations from Banjo that serve as a way to change movement and the abilities of the player in order to complete specific side objectives based off of these transformations. However the only way players can transform back into their regular form is to travel back to the character that transformed you in the first place, which becomes frustrating quickly.
The game features a boss fight in each level, and while these are not mandatory to progress to the next world, these bosses yield “Pagies” so they are necessary for 100% completion. This is an issue because the bosses in this game are almost unfathomably poor. The bosses are often broken up into several phases, none of which are checkpointed, meaning that if you fail on the final stage, you are forced to play through the entire fight again. This is an issue as several bosses require the player to make pinpoint jumps that are basically impossible due to the poor input latency I experienced throughout the game. There are Dark Souls bosses that require less finesse than some of the bosses in Yooka-Laylee. I never felt as though I was refining my platforming skill. This lead to frustration to a level that if I wasn’t reviewing the game, I would have stopped playing altogether. My final game clock totalled at just over 29 hours. It is not an exaggeration to say that 5 hours of that was spent on bosses. I would die constantly and I didn’t feel as if it was because of a lack of understanding of the mechanics, it was because I was having to guess to which degree the input latency would screw me over.
I also experienced consistent issues throughout the game where the camera would disobey my commands or swing wildly when I was attempting to control it. This became extremely frustrating, particularly in the final boss fight as being able to see the enemy is rather vital. The camera was mostly fine in larger areas, but when the environment got more cramped the camera would respond erratically.
Yooka-Laylee uses a bright and expressive colour palette giving the game a style that certainly evokes the 64-bit era games that the game is emulating. Both Yooka and Laylee are nicely designed and animate well. Side characters are repeated throughout worlds, but the few unique characters fit the aesthetic well. Shout out to the cargo shorts wearing salesman Trowzer.
There is zero voice acting in Yooka-Laylee, this means that characters dialogue is represented by a series of grunts and squawks that accompany text that appears in the lower section of the screen. While this is in keeping with the era the game is trying to evoke, it is one of the most infuriating aspects of the game. The games opening sequence specifically was so off-putting that I had to turn the game down, as the lack of an option to skip certain dialogue was excruciating. This is another area in which I feel Yooka-Laylee is using an anachronistic element of previous games despite the leaps and bounds voice acting has taken since the late 90s. Some of the written dialogue is funny, but when accompanied by a never ending chorus of the same few audio samples, I found myself mashing through any dialogue I was presented with. While some of the dialogue works, far more of the jokes fall flat. Every second sentence feels littered with video game references that come across less as an inside joke and more the entire crux of the dialogue. Also, for the record Yooka-Laylee, I know you were crowdfunded, making a joke about it every five seconds doesn’t excuse the rest of the inconsistent writing.
The music in Yooka-Laylee is composed by Rare veterans Grant Kirkhope and Robert Wise, and as such the music is very evocative of the music of the games Yooka-Laylee is emulating. This is an element of emulation that is spot on and a welcome return. Each stage is given a unique theme and each of the tracks is pleasant to listen to when not being drowned out by the cacophony of annoying character audio.
Yooka-Laylee reminds me why we left this era of games behind. While Playtonic has made an admirable attempt to provide long-term fans of their work with a Banjo-Kazooie for the modern era, the poor controls, tedious objectives and inconsistent writing have instead left us with a game that feels like a sad reunion tour rather than a return to form. For those who crowd-funded this game, I’m certain there will be elements that were exactly as you had hoped they would be, but as a game in 2017 Yooka-Laylee feels like a relic. Even the great music and bright, engaging art style aren't enough to stop Yooka-Laylee feeling like a disappointment.
|+ Evocative, nostalgic Kirkhope & Wise score.||– Tedious objectives.|
|+ Bright, colourful palette.||– Awful boss fights.|
|+ Charming character design.||– Unresponsive controls.|
|– Inconsistent writing.|
|– Camera and technical performance issues.|