After nearly two years being developed, Playtonic has finally delivered us the spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, Yooka-Laylee. Initial reception has been incredibly mixed: some have praised the fact the game stayed true to what the developers have initially promised, some have criticized it for some aspects that were also actually promised in the Kickstarter campaign. Some have viewed it as a return to form for 3D platformers as it played just like the games from the golden age of the genre, some criticized it for the same reasons. Some people called it a masterpiece, others have called it true garbage.
After spending nearly 30 hours dissecting it to its guts (having received the code a day before due to being a backer helped on that aspect), here’s WTMG’s review for Yooka-Laylee.
Yooka-Laylee is pretty much the closest you’ll ever get to a Banjo-Threeie. It plays just like the older games, it features the same art style, it features the same kind of soundtrack, it features the same kind of hub world and constant villain taunts, and much more. Banjo-Kazooie isn’t the only source of inspiration, however. Constant nods to many other mascot platformers can be seen throughout the game, both in terms of themes, easter eggs and core gameplay mechanics. Nods to Sonic the Hedghehog, Ratchet & Clank, Jak & Daxter, Donkey Kong Country, Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Super Mario 64 can be seen throughout the game, and I cannot deny how delightful it was to notice those details. This was more than just a new Banjo game, it was basically a love letter to the entire mascot platforming genre.
Theme-wise, there’s little to complain about Yooka-Laylee. The game is hilarious and incredibly self-aware, constantly poking fun at the current state of the gaming industry, DLC, microtransactions, and even crowdfunding flops. There are jokes everywhere, puns so bad you can’t help but laugh (there is an octopus girl who’s a doctor, and she’s called…..Dr. Puzz…), lots of fourth wall breaks, suggestive innuendos, pretty much what you’d predict from a game developed by former Rare staff.
As you’d expect, Yooka is your typical polite goody-two-shoes, while Laylee is the foulmouthed polar opposite. While being tamer than Kazooie (remember, Kazooie would make fun of Bottles’ kids in Tooie due to the fact their dad died), she’s still adorably arrogant, deliciously cynical and brilliantly sarcastic. To top it off, her voice is nothing else but adorable.
The sound department is mostly fantastic as well. Grant Kirkhope’s soundtrack is pretty much fantastic. Tunes like Galleon Galaxy and Tribalstack Tropics are unbelievably catchy, and retain that same Rare vibe from the late 90s. Other levels like Capital Cashino also have great soundtracks which don’t sound that much like an older Rare game, having a more unique identity of their own. The mix between nostalgic and fresh is awesome.
When it comes to the “voice acting”, well, if you’ve played a Banjo before, you’ll know that each character speaks with a collection of half a dozen vocal “noises”. It worked back then with all characters, and it still works here…with some of them. Characters like Yooka, Laylee, Dr. Puzz and some smaller NPCs have vocal growls that are cute, simple, and not very irritating. Other characters like the main villain, guest character Shovel Knight (yup, he’s in the game!) and Kartos (“the god of ore”) feature quite irritating voice growls that don’t fit very well in the game. Thankfully, the game allows you to somewhat “cancel” those noises by pressing X (or A) during conversations.
Visually speaking, Yooka-Laylee is beautiful. Its usage of colors is downright amazing and refreshing in this day and age of gritty brown games, its lighting effects are superb, characters are well-modeled and very well animated and the framerate is 99% of the time constant at 30fps. Everything is very well polished, as you’d expect from those developers.
There is a little flaw in this department, though. While textures are, for the most part, pretty decent, there are quite a few very poor-quality textures used throughout the game, mostly in the edges of levels. While understandable, given that those are places in which you’re usually not supposed to go in any game, the fact that this game lets you walk freely to them (not to mention that, given the collect-a-thon nature of Yooka-Laylee, you’ll constantly sniff around through the edges of levels for some items) with ease increases the amount of times you’ll see a badly textured object.
When it comes to the gameplay, Yooka-Laylee has some good pros and some very bad cons.
Starting with the pros: controlling Yooka itself actually feels pretty good. Controls are very simple and very responsive. Given that there are some sections which require very fast and precise button pressing, the fact that my Dualshock remains intact pretty much summarises that there are no issues whatsoever with movements and controls. The negative lies in another aspect however.
The main problem in the gameplay department, which is also the main problem of this game as a whole, is the camera. It’s bad, given the fact it pretty much has a mind of its own. While traveling over big open spaces, the camera is fine and you have lots of control over it, but when in tighter spaces or special sections, the camera starts picking completely unnecessary angles which hinder the gameplay instead of helping it. To top it off, there are many moments in which the game doesn’t let you control the camera movement. While definitely infuriating, it is something you can get used to after a few hours playing it. Hopefully Playtonic will release some patches in the future.
This leaves us to the fun factor, and the game’s overall design.
Yooka-Laylee, as mentioned before, is a collect-a-thon, and it was created to cater to the fans of this long lost genre. It features way more main collectibles than any of the Banjo games or even Super Mario 64. It also features less levels than those games (just five, plus the hub world), which would have been a much bigger problem if each level wasn’t so gigantic. Those new levels are incredibly large, being bigger than most Banjo-Kazooie levels combined. They also house way more main collectibles, 25 per world, meaning there’s a lot to check in each one of them. To “add insult to injury”, you can actually upgrade each level, increasing it in size and amount of collectibles, after paying a “fee”. This is one of the game’s best new features, increasing replayability in each level, and strongly encouraging players to go out and explore every single corner.
When it comes to actual level design, some of the level are marvelous, some are okay, while one is actually pretty terribly designed. Stages like Galleon Galaxy (which oozes a very nice Ratchet & Clank swag) and Capital Cashino are incredibly well designed, easy to traverse and fun to explore. Other levels like Moodymaze Marsh are too big and too maze-like, making the exploration more of a chore than anything else. The saving grace is the fact that, later on in the game, you’ll learn how to fly, making level exploration much easier in the process. But overall the game has the advantage of having more well-designed levels than bad ones.
Each level features some default objectives, like finding 5 ghosts (this game’s Jinjos), fighting a boss (which, for the most part, aren’t as interesting as the bosses from other Rare games, and this also includes the infuriating final boss), collecting 200 quills (this game’s equivalent of Banjo‘s notes or Super Mario 64‘s coins) and a side-scrolling minecart level, just like the good old Donkey Kong Country. With the exception of the minecart levels and the insane fetch quest that is finding all quills in a level, getting Pagies (this game’s Jiggies) isn’t very difficult, which makes the experience quite relaxing.
In the end, Yooka-Laylee is a flawed game. That’s ok, as all of its sources of inspiration were flawed as well, and no one was expecting it to be the next Ocarina of Time. But while it does have some serious game design issues, its pros largely outnumber its cons. Playtonic promised us a nostalgic throwback to the collect-a-thons of the 90s, and they stayed true to their word. It’s full of charm, charisma, and you can definitely see the developers have put their hearts and souls into this project. All I can say to them is “well done.”
This isn’t a game-changer in the genre, nor will it spark a new revolution in gaming. If you’re not a fan of this type of platformer, Yooka-Laylee won’t be the game that will change your mind about it. It was made for fans of the genre, and those are the ones who’ll enjoy it. If you’re a fan of collect-a-thons, this game is Christmas in April, and will easily transport you back to the good old days of the late 90s.
It is, without any doubt, the best 2/10 game I’ve ever played.
Also available on: Xbox One, PC, Switch (date TBD)
Reviewer backed the Kickstarter campaign in 2015