Reviews// Yooka-Laylee

Posted 22 Dec 2017 11:34 by
Games: Yooka-Laylee
I was there, man.

Back in 1998 I bribed an independent game store owner to get him to sell me a copy of Banjo Kazooie a month before release. By the time it hit the shelves, I had already completed it and was in the school playground telling everyone how incredible it was.

I rated it higher than Super Mario 64 and it remained at the top of my favourite games of all time list for a very long time. In a way I've always had to compare Banjo to Mario but have always found a way of expressing why I preferred the bird/bear combo over the little plumber.

It mainly falls down to character. For me Banjo Kazooie had so much more charm than Super Mario 64 had. The characters were funny, they oozed personality and they added a lot more to the game beyond the excellent platforming.

It's no surprise then that with the release of Banjo's spiritual successor Yooka Laylee on Nintendo Switch I'm feeling more than the usual dose of in game nostalgia. Not only is everything about this game mimicking a classic of my childhood, but I'm yet again comparing it to a Mario game.

That's a dangerous thing to do. Super Mario Odyssey is a big budget juggernaut created by the platform holders, and it shows. It's near perfection where 3D platforming is concerned and comparing it to a kickstarted indie game doesn't feel right, but it's hard to ignore when it's literally the last game I played before booting Yooka Laylee up.

One thing that sticks out is how Super Mario Odyssey manages to feel like our first trip to the three dimensional world of the Mushroom Kingdom yet manages to introduce new things. Each addition is welcomed, every throwback to the old days is perfectly placed. It manages to touch on past experiences yet never feels dated. It's progressive nostalgia.

Yooka Laylee is the polar opposite. The warning signs started to flash from the very start as the music pumped through my speakers, instantly curling my nose. It sounded familiar, but slightly off. Banjo's music was unforgettable, this sounded like a mate trying to play those songs on a keyboard he got for Christmas.

This theme runs throughout. From Yooka and Laylee trying their hardest to be like Banjo and Kazooie but failing to capture the chemistry and charm, to the worlds you visit feeling like a child's sketch of a Banjo level. It's all a bit too cover band.

If the intention was to create a new Banjo Kazooie game then it falls well short on what the 1998 classic excelled at. The dressing around the game feels raw and unfinished and ultimately gives off the sense of a fan project rather than the original team finding the magic again.

This could largely be forgivable had the core game been good enough to carry these shortcomings. Unfortunately that's where the lack of evolution starts to become a problem. It's faithful to the style of game Rare was famous for in terms of your goals. Collect things, unlock things and move on, but it's the moment to moment gameplay that very quickly starts to irritate.

Platforming is less precise and lacking in imagination, level design feels thrown together and puzzles range from either too simple to long winded and dull. The worlds are huge but forgettable and when you couple that with the lack of any sort of map, you'll find yourself lost in no time. When done right that can be exciting as you scramble around finding little nooks and crannies, but there's nothing of the sort here. Just areas with dead ends and soulless scenery.

It's brutally punishing in places too. Not in terms of difficulty but in the way it treats you for making the slightest mistake. Misjudge a jump slightly and you'll fall to earth knowing that when you hit the ground you'll lose some life and have to climb everything all over again. Die and it's back to the last time the game had to load, which can be as recent as the last time you walk through a doorway or as far back as the level's entrance on the other side of that world.

These are all complaints that were made when the game was originally released back in April of this year but despite many updates it still suffers. The latest patch boasts of an improved camera but after an hour or so of playing I was wondering how much worse it could have possibly been.

Its release on Switch was always a bit worrying, what with the performance issues on more powerful consoles. Although I can't compare it to the other ports, on Switch Yooka Laylee really struggles. It's fine in more confined spaces like the hub world, but the moment everything opens up a little the frames begin to drop and it's not because of the massive amount of detail packed in.

Nothing here looks too great. In terms of visual design it looks like a game that's been pieced together from submissions from a large community. Colour palettes appear to be the same but the overall tone of the character and world art style is all over the place. Again, it may be a little harsh to compare it to Mario, but the difference is so wide that you have to wonder if they really are running on the same machine.

I can't tell you how disappointing this all is. I had and still have a special place in my heart for Banjo Kazooie and because I've spent most of my life trying to defend that game against those who couldn't possible imagine that Rare could have topped Nintendo, the initial negative reaction to Yooka-Laylee didn't bother me too much. "Maybe they misunderstood it like so many don't understand Banjo" I told myself.

No. That's not the case.

Even when it does offer some good ideas, like the ability to expand upon worlds by collecting pages to add to the book they're set in, it still manages to feel like nothing more than an initial thought rather than a full pieces of work.

After I was done with this, I had to load up Banjo-Kazooie on my Xbox One to make sure that I wasn't kidding myself and that my old favourite really did shine as much as I thought it did. In the half an hour or so I played of that, I had far more fun than I did with the hours spent with Yooka-Laylee.

+ Expandable Worlds
+ Made me boot up Banjo-Kazooie

- Like a cheap imitation of one of my favourite games
- Runs poorly on the Switch

SPOnG Score: 4/10
Games: Yooka-Laylee

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