Yooka-Laylee Review

Yooka-Laylee is a game about a mild-mannered bear named Banjo and his sassy avian companion, Kazooie. One day, Banjo’s sister is kidnapped by the nefarious Grunty in a bid to steal her youth and beauty. So Banjo and Kazooie depart their home, head into the lair of their enemy and go on a fun-filled, platforming adventure. Of course— wait, wait that’s not Yooka-Laylee. 

Let’s try this again: Yooka-Laylee is a game about a mild-mannered lizard named Yooka and his sassy bat companion, Laylee. One day some Bee starts stealing all of the world’s books. As part of his plan he ends up taking Laylee’s beloved One Book (beloved in this context means he was using it as a coaster, I am not making that up). So Yooka and Laylee depart their home, head into the lair of their enemy and go on a sometimes fun-filled, sometimes buggy, kind of derivative, platforming adventure.

Nobody can accuse the game of being ugly.

Look, I was excited for this game. I pledged to the Kickstarter campaign the day it went live. The Rare Nintendo 64 games are some of my favorites of all time. The first measure of the Spiral Mountain theme from Banjo-Kazooie sends me into a nostalgia-induced coma. So the idea of people who worked at Rare during that time coming together to make a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie was an incredibly attractive prospect.

In many ways playing Yooka-Laylee is like taking a time machine back to 1998. The problem is that, while the game is a welcome return of classic 3D platforming collect-a-thon gaming, it also brings back some of the frustrations 3D gaming had in the 90s.

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Back when this was the guy you asked for information on upcoming games.

For starters the game has some serious camera issues. You can control the camera in one of two ways: the modern way, using the right control stick, or the retro way, pressing a button to center the camera behind Yooka and Laylee. I’ve gotta say it was a lot of nostalgic fun playing the retro way. For all of five minutes. Of course the modern way is the better option for precision platforming. The problem is that, in order to accommodate both styles the camera can get a little wonky. This is made worse by the fact that all objects and walls in the game stay opaque as opposed to going transparent when blocking the player’s view. This makes platforming in confined places needlessly frustrating.

When the camera is cooperating the game plays wonderfully...for the most part. The controls are very tight. Except when they’re not. There are times when controls become, for lack of a better word, slippery. This wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t so unpredictable.

When the controls are working they combine with the game’s beautiful environments, great music, interesting level design all work together to create something magical. True, the formula is an almost copy/paste job of Banjo-Kazooie, with musical notes becoming quills, jiggies becoming pagies, jinjos becoming ghosts, and eggs becoming berries, but the formula is just as fun as before, so I am willing to be a little more forgiving of it’s derivativeness.

Pagies: The 21st Century's Jiggies

One thing I cannot overlook however, is the obnoxious sounds every character makes when speaking. This carry-over from Banjo-Kazooie is somehow much more annoying than it was in 1998. It’s weird, because when I go back to play the original Banjo-Kazooie games it doesn’t seem to bother me. I don’t know if it’s a nostalgia filter or if the sound design is just worse in Yooka-Laylee but I found myself muting the TV whenever talking to characters.

The greatest let-down of the game is the characters. Sure Capital B. is a great villain, and the duo are almost as charming as Banjo and Kazooie but the characters that populate each world feel so disconnected. In fact, many of the characters are copied and pasted into each world, which results in each world being vibrant and beautiful, but hallow. 

Not truly terrible or a terribly great, Yooka-Laylee ends up being competent. The game offers plenty to do and it’s good qualities do manage to outweigh it’s bad. It’s just a shame because I know the talent behind this game are capable of so much more.

The Wrap-up

The Good

+Beautiful environments

+Interesting level-design

+Incredible soundtrack

+Tight controls...

The Bad

-...except when they become unpredictably slippery

-Uncooperative camera

-Obnoxious sound design

-Flat NPCs

The Verdict

In the end I’m glad I backed this project, and I am rooting for the game to succeed, despite its flaws, because at the end of the day, Yooka-Laylee does breathe a little bit of life back into the 3D platformer genre and it is my sincere hope that Playtonic can learn from their mistakes in Yooka-Laylee to make a truly great game for their sophomore effort.

7 out of 10

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J. Leonard has been writing since 1994 when he wrote his first piece on what he wanted to be when he grew up in Mrs. Wagstaff's Kindergarten class. His writing has improved marginally since that time.