Since the release of Banjo-Tooie in late 2000, Banjo-Kazooie fans have eagerly awaited a third game to commemorate our most well-loved adventures. We’ve casually shrugged off what was Nuts & Bolts, and hoped that one day the Rare team would reunite and deliver us the collect-a-thon we’ve been wishing for. Flash forward to 2015, when former Rare employees announced that our dreams of something new would come true by setting up a Kickstarter to be funded. And we so furiously did.
That Kickstarter led to Yooka-Laylee, and now that the game has finally been released, I’ve realized that maybe some things should stay in the past. With numerous development issues, glitches, and perhaps over-confidence, we’ve been given a game that’s, well, not exactly as wonderful as we thought it’d be. Despite negative reviews and warnings, I gave it a shot, hoping to spark some childlike nostalgia. Instead of wishing for what had been, I was left with other wishes
Yooka-Laylee begins innocently enough: you, the duo of Yooka and Laylee, wake up on a sunny day to see that one of your books, stolen from a pirate ship, has been sucked into a distant factory-esque building owned by the villainous Capital B, in his search for a powerful and special tome. Upon seeing its golden pages, or “pagies,’ scattered about, you decide to make a borderline unwilling effort to recapture your treasure by traveling through multiple worlds. The story is kept simple, as most Rare games were, to highlight the vast exploration and puzzles to be found along the journey.
Similar to Banjo-Kazooie, you have multiple collectibles to retrieve upon entering each level. These collectibles include Pagies, Quills, and Ghostwriters, which are parallel to Jiggies, Music Notes, and Jinjos. However, Yooka-Laylee has brought a new depth to these items, forcing the game to be a bit more challenging and take more time away from your busy life to gather them. Quills can be traded to a pants-wearing snake named Trowzer for new moves and power ups, while each ghostwriter has to be collected in a unique way, such as feeding one snowballs or battling another atop a looming cliff. This new perspective to collecting would have made hunting for treasure more enjoyable than it already was- if it weren’t for numerous issues within the core gameplay.
The first notable issue is perhaps the most bothersome: the camera. While Playtonic made an effort to fix any complaints before the official release, the camera is still subpar. It’s designed to automatically adjust itself, yet gives you the power to control it manually. Naturally, this causes a battle for power when the camera clicks back directly after you move it in the direction you want. This, of course, is why most games have a button which allows the game to take back possession of your view, and is one important thing Yooka lacks.
The slippery and inconsistent controls drive home another important problem I faced while playing. Like most games, any change in mobility can be a change to your comfort. This, however, is not something that you can manually adjust to in Yooka-Laylee, due to the each area’s ever-changing controls. It’s aggravating, as you’ll find the controls to be firm and easy to navigate one second and suddenly hard to manage the next. The struggle comes from pointing Yooka and Laylee in the direction you want them to go and finding them swerving and inching away from that area. This leads to falling off cliffs, bumping into enemies and inanimate objects, and having a bad time in general. This makes directional specific tasks, such as sliding down ramps while avoiding electric fences, quite the hassle. While swimming is already difficult in any platformer, Yooka takes it to a whole new level by including a terrible flying sequence that re-uses the swimming movement. I still haven’t figured out exactly how to land gracefully, and I’m not sure they even provided that input.
There are few good things that truly catered to my long-standing nostalgia. The music was particularly impressive with its jingles which occasionally featured small segments from Banjo games, the colorful atmosphere kept me engaged and curious as to what was around the corner, and the characters remained quirky and clever with their usage of puns and vastly contrasting personalities (despite reusing the same very few characters and enemies throughout the whole game). These elements were best incorporated at Hivory Towers, which is unfortunate considering that it’s only the hub world.
The poor world design wasn’t the biggest dilemma in the game for me, however, it did make it hard to feel totally immersed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the ability to use collected Pagies to enter a new world or expand a world you’ve already entered. What bothers me is the simultaneously empty and cluttered areas with no consistent route, even after an expansion which adds bonus sections to explore, as well as new tasks to complete. It looks like it was created in a lifeless version of Minecraft with bits and pieces of scenery thrown about. It’s hard to navigate, which makes hunting for treasures frustrating, especially when there are roughly 20-25 Pagies and 200+ Quills to look out for. Circling a controlled area for hours and not being able to find what I’m looking for isn’t particularly my cup of tea, unless there is, at least, a map.
But the pain doesn’t stop there. In fact, if you ask me, the biggest nuisance that comes with playing Yooka-Laylee are the glitches and feelings of incompleteness. The whole of Yooka has a very dead essence to it, and I can’t help but wonder if the team was perhaps rushed. Clipping through walls, standing on air, infinite spawning of enemies, and not knowing whether you will be able to walk through a box or push it causes struggles for the leisurely gamer. The glitchiness tends to be more apparent the further you journey into the game. This poor platformer feels as though it was neglected, as if it was rushed to cater to audience anticipation, and it was ultimately infuriating trying to complete tasks with both the horrible controls and bugs continuously playing off of each other.
I know, I know. I’ve done nothing but trash what some people do enjoy, and they do enjoy it for a few good reasons. Yooka incorporates plenty of what Banjo fans loved, from sassy dialogue to puzzles that are actually quite challenging. It also introduces new concepts such as, my personal favorite, minecart rides, as well as the adorably short retro-inspired mini-games. When it comes to concept, Playtonic absolutely had the right idea. Yes, I would even go as far to say some of the newly acquainted material could’ve caused Yooka-Laylee to surpass Banjo gameplay in the rankings if it weren’t for the numerous failures in other categories, and what a shame that is.
I don’t want to say that Yooka-Laylee is the worst game I have ever played, but it’s definitely on the list. This platformer had a lot of potential that was dealt out wrongly, and with that, I salute them for at least trying. The game’s inconsistency in many aspects as well as lack of a finished-feeling product ruined quite a lot for most players, and, unfortunately, it couldn’t be saved by a great soundtrack or colorful designs. If you have an extra $40 in your pocket and are looking to spend it on something juicy, Yooka-Laylee is probably not for you, or your child, or your enemies.