Disclaimer: A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for this review.
Rare’s Banjo-Kazooie is arguably one of the best platforming games of the all time. It featured excellent platforming, great environments, witty humor, memorable characters, and catchy tunes. That game was released during the height of the platform genre. Super Mario 64 released alongside the Nintendo 64, but Banjo-Kazooie excelled in almost every way as Nintendo’s flagship title. Not only did the game sell well, but Rare’s titular duo developed a very strong following. Unfortunately, the platform genre has lost its way. With the exception of the various Super Mario releases, these types of games are few and far between.
Playtonic Games, a new development studio is getting ready to release Yooka-Laylee, a spiritual successor to Rare’s iconic Banjo-Kazooie. What makes this title so interesting is that Playtonic Games was founded by some ex-members of Rare who worked on Banjo-Kazooie. Upon starting Yooka-Laylee, I felt a strong sense of excitement and nostalgia. Everything brought me back to when I was a kid in 1998. The environments, music, character design, dialogue, and even the logo reminded me of that day when I controlled Banjo and Kazooie for the first time. The opening moments made me believe that the platform genre would be making a comeback. Unfortunately, Yooka-Laylee is not the game I wanted it to be. In fact, I finished the game feeling let down and disappointed.
The story is about Yooka (a lizard) and Laylee (a bat) who are enjoying life in Shipwreck Cove. They are having a great time when suddenly, the evil Capital B and his sidekick Dr. Quack start to steal all of the world’s books to use for their villainous agenda. One of Laylee’s stolen books even has the ability to alter the universe in the wrong hands. This leads the duo on an adventure to stop Capital B. and reclaim these books.
Yooka-Laylee is a surprisingly lengthy game. It took me 15 hours to complete the main storyline and I still have quite a few of items to find. Some supporting characters work, while others miss the mark. Yooka and Laylee are well written and likeable. In fact, some could say that they are Banjo and Kazooie in a different skin. Rounding out the main cast is Trowser, a “slithery” merchant, Rextro, an arcade styled dinosaur, Dr. Puzz, a scientist, a minecart named Kartos, and of course, the villains. Unfortunately, Capital B and Dr. Quack are bland villains that don’t feel intimidating at all. There isn’t a single point in the game where I felt that these baddies were actually a threat.
Gameplay is a mixed bag. The platforming and attacking elements are stellar, but the more advanced techniques bring a variety of problems. One ability allows Yooka to curl into a ball in order to traverse inclines. The trouble with this ability is that it’s difficult to control and the camera often gets in the way. There’s another move where Laylee can pick up Yooka and fly around the map. While the ability is nifty for traversal, I often found that controlling them in the air was difficult. Platform games should feel fresh and responsive, but I usually ended up feeling frustrated.
As with games in this genre, there are a wide variety of collectables to find. Players will discover Quills (currency to buy new moves), Pagies (used to unlock and expand worlds), as well as other items that will be used to interact with other characters. For example, Molycools will change Yooka and Laylee into a level specific character while arcade coins can be used to play retro styled games.
My favorite part of Yooka-Laylee is the fact that exploration plays a big role in the grand scheme of things. When you enter a world for the first time, not everything can be accessed. Sometimes this can have to do with the fact that you may not have the appropriate move unlocked, but most of the time, it’s because the world hasn’t been expanded. Expanding a world requires a specific number of Pagies. After paying the fee, a world will “expand” which means that more areas will be unlocked. Doing this will reveal more puzzles, side-quests, collectables, and even a few surprise characters. This element adds more content and gameplay challenges for players. I often loved running around levels after they were expanded to see what secrets I could find. It was moments like this where I truly enjoyed what Yooka-Laylee had to offer. While a majority of the game felt old-school, gameplay aspects like this made the overall package feel fresh at times.
One of the worst aspects of the game is the camera. Plenty of my deaths and missteps when platforming were due to the camera. The camera angles often obscured my vision to the point where I just couldn’t see what I was doing. This didn’t just happen one time. Camera issues plagued most of my adventure. Another big problem with the game is the frame rate. It’s so inconsistent and I often found the game dropping to single digit frames in a later level. When there are many enemies on screen at the same time, it’s frustrating to die because of a technical issue. If it only happened a few times, I would find it excusable, but unfortunately, technical issues became the norm around nine hours into my adventure.
Rextro’s arcade games and Karto’s mine cart challenges were among my least favorite side activities. While it’s a running joke in the game that Rextro is living in the past, the games that you can play through his arcade cabinets are often dull and unresponsive. Karto’s minecart challenges aren’t terrible, but just feel out of place and aren’t very memorable.
There is a boss “fight” in each world. I use the word fight loosely because these encounters often utilized one of Yooka or Laylee’s moves to defeat the foe. These were simplistic encounters that didn’t maximize their potential. While I craved a traditional boss fight, the battles in Yooka-Laylee were short distractions that felt more like missed opportunities.
Yooka-Laylee’s audio is superb. All of the music is a delight to listen to and these pieces often feel like some of Rare’s best work. The sound effects and the way that all of the characters talk will make fans of Banjo-Kazooie smile with glee. Visually, the character models are vibrant and appealing while all of the environments are wonderful to look at.
Since the announcement of Yooka-Laylee, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the game. As someone who grew up playing platformers, Playtonic Games would seemingly help me relive my childhood with their debut game. While Yooka-Laylee boasts likeable protagonists, interesting mechanics, stellar music, and fantastic cameos, there are too many negatives to truly recommend the game. When Yooka-Laylee works, it’s a great experience, but the countless bugs, camera problems, framerate issues, and occasional dull gameplay portions mar an otherwise ambitious game. I’m sure Yooka-Laylee will find a strong following. I’m a fan of these characters, but their debut adventure is far from memorable and that’s a shame.