I was never an incredibly big fan of the Banjo-Kazooie games, but I do quite like the 3D platformer genre in general. So of course when I heard about Yooka-Laylee, my interest was piqued. Even though I wasn’t a fan of the developer’s previous games, I still wanted to see and play their homage to a bygone era. Unfortunately, what we have is a game that falls well below expectations, and is honestly one of the least enjoyable games I have played in a long time. It is definitely quite easy to call the game a glorified Banjo-Kazooie reskin and that’s awful for a multitude of reasons.
We’ll start with the basics. Yooka-Laylee sees you assume control of a chameleon named Yooka. He is accompanied by his bat friend, Laylee, who looks like she was the result of a test-tube experiment gone horribly wrong, with a nose resembling a piece of squished fruit at the bottom of a primary school kid’s schoolbag. You start off chilling with Laylee inside the shipwreck where you reside, and after watching a mysterious book that you had float away into the distance and its pages becoming scattered everywhere, you venture out of your residence to re-acquire what’s yours.
It should be noted that from here on, the story is kind of negligible. The characters are entirely forgettable and the dialogue is honestly the worst part of it all. Yooka-Laylee sees the return of the repeated nonsensical sounds that play during dialogue as a way of conveying actual speech without proper voice acting. It wasn’t cool in the original and it hasn’t become any cooler with the passing of time. Why Playtonic insisted on keeping one of the most annoying aspects of the game’s spiritual predecessor is beyond me. Even if this doesn’t get on your nerves, the dialogue just plain sucks. It tries to be goofy and charming, but it comes off as lifeless and just downright silly.
Fourth wall shattered.
In almost every respect Yooka-Laylee is a carbon-copy reskin of the old Banjo-Kazooie games, but that’s not always a bad thing. It utilises that classic level design which made its predecessors so successful and to this end, Yooka-Laylee does nail it. The areas can have an impressive amount of variety whilst still remaining accessible for older and younger audiences alike. Some of the true platforming sections have very clever design and make for some moments of brilliance. But no amount of good level design can mask the various shortcomings that the platforming suffers from. The big underlying issue has to do with the controls and the camera. To put it bluntly, the camera is a nightmare. It slingshots its way all over the place and generally does its best to really disorient the player. It really feels like they ripped the camera right out of 1998 and said, “Yep, that’ll do.” 1998 was just shy of two decades ago and game mechanics have evolved considerably since then, and it just doesn’t pass muster here.
Alongside the horrendous camera is the below-average movement controls. Movement feels janky and not what a game made in 2015-2017 should be like. Once again, it’s like they ripped the controls right out of 1998 and thought it would be adequate. There were repeated instances where I was rolling up a slope as the mechanics of the game required and I was shot off the side as the camera decided to have a seizure and change direction completely. No amount of readjusting could have helped and it set me back an annoying amount, making me repeat a lengthy section. It’s a shame that these mechanical shortcomings can really hinder what is in essence good platforming and level design.
Another questionable facet of Yooka-Laylee’s gameplay is the annoyingly tedious object collection that the game insists on shovelling down your throat. By no means are you required to collect everything, but it is recommended you collect as much as you can as a means to gain an upper-hand on later stages. The main object you collect are quills, which essentially behave as the currency of the game. Now I’m not normally against collection (I’m a completionist at heart), but the way Yooka-Laylee approaches this is the exact same way the Banjo games did and it’s terrible. Being forced to collect x amount of quills in each level to purchase abilities that you can use to help work your way through each level is downright monotonous and I personally cannot see how it is enjoyable. Just because it was novel and worked well 19 years ago doesn’t mean it still works now.
Well… they’re supposed to at least.
One of the best parts about Yooke-Laylee is its goofy kid-friendly and welcoming soundtrack. It’s not often that a widely accessible soundtrack (meaning audiences of a wide variety can appreciate its charm) has really felt like it fit inside a game. While it’s certainly good, it doesn’t feel entirely original, as it is strikingly similar to Banjo-Kazooie, using the same key signatures and instrumentalisation as its predecessors. Fans of the Banjo games will feel like they have listened to music in the game before because… well they essentially have. The other facet in which Yooka-Laylee impresses is art design. The game features a very cute art style that seeks to make itself appealing for younger audiences while also being enjoyable for older audiences that can appreciate the light-hearted and playful tone. The bright and vibrant colour palette is a nice break from a medium that has often relied on gloomy colouring. In some ways, the fact that the world tries its hardest to be a vibrant happy place through its style and colour helps break the monotony of the gameplay itself.
I know what you’re thinking, “Jordan, isn’t there some form of combat?” Yes there is, but you can play for so long without even acknowledging it that I would consider it redundant and forgettable. It almost feels like the combat was put there for the sake of having combat in the game. The only rewarding part about it is the fact that some enemies will occasionally drop a pink butterfly that can replenish your health or your energy to perform various manoeuvres. The main issue with it is there’s no point to it, a vast majority of the opponents that you encounter in the game can just be ignored by running past them. I understand that combat isn’t supposed to be the game’s focus, but there really needs to either be more weight behind it or just have it removed completely.
I really wanted to enjoy Yooka-Laylee. The fact that it is the highest-funded Kickstarter to hail from the UK made me think perhaps it would grab me more than the Banjo-Kazooie games that it is a spiritual successor to. I am well aware that Yooka-Laylee is supposed to serve as nostalgic fan service, but it doesn’t feel like it’s done in the right way. With its horrendous camera, incredibly annoying sound design and clunky controls, the game feels more like an exploitation of its market rather than a celebration of the golden era of cute 3D platformers that it’s supposed to be.
Reviewed on Xbox One S