NOTE: This game is available on PC, PS4 and XBox One, and a Switch version is incoming. For the purposes of this review, I played the PS4 version of the game.
If you haven’t heard somehow, Yooka-Laylee is the work of Playtonic Games, a group of developers made up of former members of Rare, the developers responsible for games such as Donkey Kong Country, GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark. This game began its life as a kickstarter campaign, and it was billed as a revival of Rare’s work on the Nintendo 64 with fantastic platformers such as Banjo-Kazooie and its sequel, Banjo-Tooie.
For much of its opening hours, Yooka-Laylee actually does recapture a lot of the great things about those games. I got butterflies in my stomach while discovering its many quirky characters and worlds, as well as compulsively collecting the game’s collectibles. However, along the way, the game doesn’t just hit snags–it totally derails. One moment you’re dazzled by how fun this game is, and the next you are cursing it to hell and back. This cycle repeats itself from front to back in Yooka-Laylee.
Let there be no mistake–Yooka-Laylee is not revolutionary, nor is it trying it be. It is simply trying to be the Banjo-Threeie we’ve been waiting on for 17 years, and it that sense, it really does succeed. Yooka plays just like you remember Banjo–you travel through several themed worlds that are connected by one hub world and search for trinkets. These trinkets include the main collectible, Pagies (Jiggies) which you need to unlock new worlds, and Quills (Notes), which you can use to unlock new skills.
Bird and Bear, Page for Page
One thing Yooka does very well is its presentation. It totally captures the feel of the Banjo-Kazooie games, from the wonderful character designs to the wacky dialogue and comic sans text, this game definitely has a soul here. As a nostalgia trip, this game took me for a serious ride, and I think it’s a must for fans of the old Rare games for that reason alone.
Yooka and Laylee are pretty much reskins of Banjo and Kazooie–Yooka is the voice of reason, while Laylee is the sassy firecracker. I didn’t mind this, though, but where the game really shines is with its NPCs. Trowzer the Snake (They really went there) is an absolutely hilarious concept with great execution. Other highlights are the main baddie, Capital B who taunts you throughout the game (Like that ugly witch you may remember), and his evil minion Dr. Quack.
The story is pretty simplistic as well. Capital B is on the hunt for a magical book that will let him rewrite the universe, and it’s up to Yooka and Laylee to put a stop to his evil plans. It’s a good enough set up, but the story is really in the background the whole time.
Once the glow of nostalgia wears off, though, several problems begin to crop up that begin to harm the experience. First off, the game’s challenges can be wildly inconsistent in quality. While some pagies are hidden behind ingenious puzzles or challenging platforming segments, others are hidden behind infuriating mini-games or terrible boss fights. Banjo-Kazooie was never this inconsistent, and unfortunately, this is something that haunts Yooka-Laylee from start to finish.
There are five worlds in Yooka, which is tiny on paper, but each world is truly massive, and feel like several of Banjo‘s worlds put together. Another difference from those games is that you first unlock a small segment of each world, which you must then expand by spending more pagies. I feel rather mixed about this design decision. On one hand, it forces you to backtrack every time, which sucks, but it also does make each world slightly easier to digest. By exploring a small portion of the world first, it helps you become familiar with the general layout, which prevents you from becoming lost in the huge worlds once you expand them.
However, this benefit is defeated by the fact that the layouts of some of the worlds are just so nonsensical and needlessly complex that it makes it insanely hard to track your progress in a level. It makes finding that last pagie or quill a needle in a haystack situation, and it’s just not fun. If there was easier ways to navigate each level, or to track which portions you have already completed, it would have helped to remedy this, but no such functionality exists here.
Finally, the camera can be bad–even worse than Banjo-Kazooie at times. It has a bad habit of getting stuck behind objects or relocating without your input, to the point where it can get downright nauseating. Playtonic has been improving this with patches as of late, but it’s something that marred most of my experience with this game.
I feel really conflicted about this game. It has many, many moments of brilliance, but it has an almost equal amount of frustration and anger. The game definitely carries the soul of Banjo-Kazooie, and it feels like it was crafted with a deep love and understanding of old 64-bit platformers. However, it also feels cobbled together–amateurish, even, and this is what prevents it from reaching its full potential.
Overall, though, as a first title coming from Playtonic Games, I think Yooka is a solid start. I fully want them to continue making games like this, and to improve along the way. Yooka and Laylee are a joy to control, and the characters and dialogue are filled with personality. There is fun to be had here, and at its best, Yooka made me feel like a kid again, giddy and excited to explore the huge playgrounds they present here.
- Captures the visual style of Banjo-Kazooie very well, from the characters to the UI.
- The dialogue is awesome, and captures Rare’s wit.
- Yooka and Laylee have a huge moveset, and unlocking each move is rewarding.
- A lot of the puzzles and platforming challenges for collecting pagies are awesome.
- The Grant Kirkhope-composed soundtrack is catchy and nostalgic as heck.
- Camera issues that make Banjo-Kazooie look much better by comparison.
- Not much originality. Yooka isn’t afraid to lift its best ideas from Banjo at every turn.
- The worlds are huge, but lack a sense of direction and are too difficult to navigate and keep track of your progress. Making you unlock the worlds in “tiers” only helps somewhat.
- Uninteresting or frustrating boss battles (Except the final boss).
- The Rextro and Kartos minigames, which are present in every world, are not just boring, but frustrating ventures that ruin the pace of all the levels.
- Backtracking is a pandemic in this game. From the way you expand worlds, to the way pagies are gated behind abilities, you will be backtracking. A lot.
- Many, many frustrating objectives that you have to slog through to get pagies.