Yooka-Laylee: A Game with Good Intentions

Fans of the Banjo-Kazooie series have long-awaited a true sequel since Banjo-Tooie’s release on the Nintendo 64 in 2000.  When Yooka-Laylee was finally announced as a spiritual successor to the much-beloved pair of platformers, I’m sure every Banjo-Kazooie fan jumped for joy.  Many people, like myself, hoped that Yooka-Laylee would harken in a new era of great platformers in the style of those we had grown up with during the late 90’s.  Now that I have completed the game, what is my verdict?

Honestly, I don’t think we’re quite there yet.  Nevertheless, it’s a big, big step in the right direction.

Yooka-Laylee is a fun enough game, though I almost feel as if the question of whether or not this game is fun is beside the point.  I know it must sound counterintuitive to claim that “fun” is not the point of a game, and I certainly don’t mean that.  I just feel that Yooka-Laylee’s accomplishments and shortcomings are more important in terms of what they mean for the future of platformers and not simply for the game itself.  Yooka-Laylee has already been released.  Once we’ve all had our fill of the chameleon and bat duo’s first outing, the question that needs to be asked is, where do we go from here?

In a way, you can say that Yooka-Laylee is more like a warm-up.  The Rareware-style of platformers have been essentially dead for nearly two decades.  We can’t expect such a thing to suddenly be given new life this many years later and still be the same as we remembered back at the turn of the century.  Not only does Yooka-Laylee, as a brand new game, lack all the nostalgia that enables us to look back at these old games with such fond memories, but the world is not the same as it was twenty years ago.  Our preferences have changed.  Consoles have become more powerful.  Heck, the number of analog sticks has even doubled since the N64’s bizarre and awkward controller.  (Which was obviously not made for human hands.)  The world of gaming may still be young when compared to most other things one can think of, but it has evolved greatly in such a relatively short time that the modern games of today are a totally different species of creature from the games we played as kids..

Yooka-Laylee is a game full of good intentions.  There are plenty of good ideas, yes, but there are plenty of flaws, as well.  Instead of giving this game a typical review, I instead want to analyze what the game does right and where it falls short.  If these shortcomings are eliminated and the strengths, um, strengthened, this warm-up of a game could spawn something truly amazing in the future, and the old-school platformers we grew up with might indeed be able to make a true comeback, after all.

Let’s start off on a positive note.  First of all, Playtonic really delivered when it came to nostalgia.  As soon as I reached the main menu, I felt right at home, as if I had played this very game before in some other life.  It looked and felt just like Banjo-Kazooie, and even though our favorite bear and bird pair would not be present, I couldn’t wait to meet our new platforming duo, Yooka the chameleon and Laylee the bat.  Furthermore, the music could have easily felt right at home in any of the first two games, and the gibberish language of the characters brought an instant smile to my face.  Heck, we even had three save files.  When do you see that anymore?

I also found many of the interactions with the various characters to be quite amusing, as was the sheer absurdity of Trowzer, a snake who wears pants and our replacement for the moles Bottles and Jamjars.  A new feature is the ability to expand worlds, which is pretty unique and cool, as well.  It was an interesting idea to give us the option to make a world bigger and unlock a whole bunch of new areas and challenges.  Or you can spend your Pagies on opening the next world.  Your choice.

I also love the fact that Yooka’s and Laylee’s moves are largely unique to what type of animal they are.  They had this down pretty well with Kazooie, with her flying and egg-shooting abilities, but I never thought all of Banjo’s abilities made much sense for him as a bear.  He can…sleep in his backpack?  Do…bears do that?  But in this game, Yooka can camouflage and make use of his long tongue, and Laylee can fly and use sonar, which I think fits their inherent traits pretty well.

On the most part, the game is pretty fun, but there were plenty of problems, as well, that took quite a toll on how much enjoyment I got from the game.  For me, it all boiled down to two main feelings.  Frustration and confusion.  I seriously thought that some of the challenges were really annoying.  I’m totally fine with a game being difficult, but I felt that some of the Pagies were far more bothersome to obtain than they needed to be.  For example, there is this golf-type challenge in world five.  You have a time limit to push this big golf ball to the hole, but I hardly had any control over it.  I would barely touch it, and it would roll off at unnatural speeds, even if the slope wasn’t that steep, and fall off the edge.  Once I managed to keep it from falling, I then had a limited time to open a gate and push it through.  If my characters could physically grasp the ball and push it, this would be no issue.  But when all you can do is ineffectively nudge a large round object and expect it to do your bidding, you’re in for a pretty tough time.

Furthermore, many of the Pagies require tedious challenges that are reused over and over again throughout the game.  I hope you really enjoy jumping through hoops and rushing through doors before they close, because you will be doing this…a lot.  Other bothersome challenges included Kartos and Rextro.  I was initially excited for the mine cart levels because those were always some of my favorites from the original Donkey Kong Country games.  My excitement quickly dissipated when I found out how annoying these stages were.  The mine cart doesn’t jump nearly as fast as I need him to after he lands, so I would be able to clear one barrel, only to hit the next few and lose gems.  The cannon often doesn’t work when I need it.  And sometimes, there is so much happening that I can’t help but bump into nearly everything in my path because I just can’t react quickly enough.  Rextro’s arcade games, while a nice idea in theory, were also an issue for me.  I just didn’t think they were all that fun, especially the ones in worlds four and five.  They just made no sense to me, and I don’t think I ever came close to completing them.

Some people also disliked Dr. Quack’s quizzes, though I didn’t mind them as much, even if I agree that some of the questions are totally unfair.  Gruntilda’s questions could be difficult, but never did she ask you to memorize your current playtime or other stats no one pays attention to.  Fortunately for me, I got through these quizzes by answering the easier questions as quickly as I could in order to move two spaces instead of one.  Without that ability, I would have likely needed to retry these quizzes several times.  Other issues include a decent number of glitches (including the presence of two Dr. Quack’s during the cut scene before the final boss during every subsequent attempt) and a lack of direction given to the player as to where Pagies can be found.  I know we are supposed to explore our environment, but when you’ve combed every inch of a world multiple times and are still missing several Pagies, it’s very confusing indeed.

Despite the game’s flaws, I appreciate the developer’s efforts.  I really do.  They were clearly aware of what features the fans enjoyed from the Banjo-Kazooie games (a statement I cannot make for Rareware themselves when it comes to B-K: Nuts and Bolts…), and they clearly tried to replicate that.  They did a great job when it came to the music and the characters’ wonderful gibberish speech.  I’ve even grown quite fond of Yooka and Laylee themselves (Laylee is adorable, weird big nose and all!).  I have no animosity for this game.  I don’t take any pleasure in calling out its shortcomings.  I just want these things fixed so that if they decide to make a…um…Tooka-Laylee, the Yooka-Laylee series (if there indeed ends up being one) can become the true Banjo-Kazooie successor of the modern age.  In order for this to happen, the developer needs to learn from their mistakes and break away from the typical Banjo-Kazooie formula just enough that Yooka-Laylee becomes a unique series in its own right and not just a clone with a few superficial changes.

It’s now your turn, dear readers.  What were your thoughts on Yooka-Laylee?  Did you enjoy it?  Also, do you think it tried to be too similar to Banjo-Kazooie or was it just right?  Please let me know in the comments below!

Ducka-Laylee

Image from Flickr User: PSMania.net

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