Yooka-Laylee is the spiritual successor to the N64 classic Banjo-Kazooie and features many of the same mechanics. From its open world design to its bright and colourful cast of characters it takes us back in time to a genre of game that’s long since been forgotten.
Let me begin by saying that I found Yooka-Laylee a difficult game to review. Not because it’s a bad game, far from it, and not because I couldn’t think of anything to write about, but because developers don’t make games like this anymore. Yooka-Laylee is a genre that is seldom used in this day and age and it took me a while to unlearn everything I’ve picked up in regards to modern games. At first, I really found it hard to enjoy. I felt there was no clear sense of direction and I was overwhelmed with the number of items in each level to collect. It wasn’t until I just decided to collect items as I found them did I truly start to enjoy the bright and colourful adventure.
Yooka-Laylee began life as a Kickstarter campaign back in May 2015 that was set-up by many former Rare employees who worked on the Banjo-Kazooie franchise. The game was always intended to be a spiritual successor and retains many of the N64 franchise’s game mechanics, style and humour. From the memorable characters to the terrible puns, Yooka-Laylee is like stepping back in time to a genre of game that just doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a refreshing change of pace that allows players to just enjoy the game for its quirky characters and well-written dialogue.
Each and every character has their own personality and its hard not to pick favourites. From a polygonal T-Rex to a shorts-wearing snake, each has their own voice and style. While there is no voice acting in Yooka-Laylee in the traditional sense, the characters talk in a sort of gibberish which although is meaningless, it still brings them to life.
Yooka-Laylee has many features and gameplay mechanics from its spiritual predecessors. At its heart, it’s a 3D platformer where players are required to hunt down a seemingly neverending plethora of collectables. The number of items is pretty overwhelming and aside from the odd boss battle, that’s basically the entire gist of the game. To a modern gamer, this can feel pretty alien and somewhat disjointed. Sure, every game has collectables, but not this many. The entire game is driven by collecting various knick-knacks in each level. Once you accept this, Yooka-Laylee is pretty good fun.
At first, I found the vast number of items to gather to be fairly repetitive but the issue wasn’t the game; it was me. Over the last ten years, gaming has evolved into something more than it was intended to be. With games like The Last of Us and Final Fantasy, we’ve come to expect complex storylines and deep character backstories. After I let go all of these expectations I really began to enjoy Kooka-Laylee and accepted it for what it is; a silly throwback to the past.
From the very 90’s loading screen to the mention of game guides and the review score scandal from around eight years ago when larger sites were being paid for better reviews, the game is constantly reminding you that although it’s new it’s clearly born of video games gone by. There’s even a jab at its own long loading times; ironically, during the loading screen.
Much like Banjo-Kazooie, Yooka-Laylee is full of interesting and colourful characters. From the bling sporting trolley (shopping cart) that wants to sell his home-grown mushrooms at the farmers market to a shorts-wearing snake-salesman called Trowzer. There’s even a mine cart called Kartos, to which Laylee aptly asks “Let me guess, the god of ore?”. And apart from the wonderful inhabitants, the devs have filled the game with a number of terrible and British puns, like “Bat ship crazy”. It doesn’t shy away from the British sense of humour either. Most of the conversations are tongue in cheek and a lot of the dialogue is genuinely amusing.
The level design is one of my favourite parts of Yooka-Laylee. Like many games from the N64 era, the game is divided into a number of themed worlds. There’s a rainforest style world, swamp, casino and of course the obligatory ice level. Each world is open, giving you the freedom to wander where you want to collect pagies, quilts and all of the other overabundance of collectables. It’s hard to know where to start but each type of item has a different purpose. Pagies are used to unlock more levels and to expand current ones while the quills are used to purchase more moves from the serpent salesman, Trowzer.
Worlds can be tackled in any order and they’re all connected by Hivory Towers, the fictional base of operations for Capital B; the games main big bad. The tower itself is also, in a way, a world to complete. It has hidden pagies as well as puzzles to solve, Trowzer even pops up randomly to give you new moves to help tackle later levels. Some puzzles will require a certain move that you may not have come across yet – so there’s a lot of backtracking if you want to collect everything.
With this being said, however, one aspect of the game that really let it down is its camera. While you can use the right analogue stick to move the camera around Yooka and Laylee, I found more often than not, it had a mind of its own. Angling yourself to make a perfect jump and the camera would move. Getting too close to the scenery can cause the camera to wildly alter its position. I felt that I was fighting with the camera more than the actual enemies in the game. It’s a real issue which I hope can be fixed with a simple patch.
Despite my initial reservations, having spent nearly twelve hours with Yooka, Laylee and the rest of the gang I can honestly say I was pleasantly surprised. With a number of genuine laugh-out-loud moments as well as some inventive boss stages it reminds me what were missing in an age of Call of Duty and Battlefield. It’s a game that can be played regardless of your age and once you let yourself go and just find contentment in collecting pagies it really is a lot of fun.