By Kimari Rennis
It’s a 2017 release with a 1998 vibe. Yooka-Laylee is a 3D adventure platforming game that was heavily inspired by the original Banjo-Kazooie game developed by Rare. It’s easy to infer that many fans of the Banjo-Kazooie franchise would turn to Yooka-Laylee in search of desired nostalgia. However, is Yooka-Laylee in the wrong time period for what it offers? Is there a such thing as too much nostalgia?
Yooka-Laylee’s Kickstarter was unbelievably successful. The game raised £2,090,104, which is worth a little over $2.6 million in US dollars. With this support, Yooka-Laylee gave awaiting fans a handful of goodies for gamers. But was it enough?
Once inside, you assume the role of the duo, Yooka the chameleon, and his buddy, Laylee the bat. After relaxing outside of their home on blankets, their magical book floats away. This occurrence is linked to the villain; Mr. B’s evil plan is to steal every book ever printed for profit and, thereby, to control the world. The magical book taken by the enemies releases its “Pagies,” so the book is rendered useless under Mr. B’s control. Now, it is Yooka and Laylee’s job to find all the scattered pages of the magical book and bring them together.
The detail in this game is phenomenal. From the skyboxes to the characters, admirable effort towards the candy-colored visuals is evident throughout. During my playthrough of the game, I was fascinated by the moon or sunset on the horizon. This artwork surrounds the outer area of the world to add to the theme. So instead of generic abyss in the distance, you’ll see a calm, colorful, and gorgeous horizon. It blended in well with the environment and made the land look more vast than it already is. The objects in the environment fit theme of the world. Totems, a jungle, and ruins really tie the land together. I absolutely love the look of Glitterglaze Glacier, purely because of the lighting, music, and the bitterly cold atmosphere. It’s absolutely beautiful.
The game is vast, especially with the option to expand the world. You can unlock and purchase abilities for Yooka and Laylee with the quills you collect in each world. Every ability has its own special properties. This makes the game more interesting, and allows you to explore more in depth as you discover ways to reach new areas.
A major strength of the game is the character design, including words the characters use and present themselves. These showcase their comic personalities. Trowzer, for instance, is a red and black striped snake who pesters and persuades Yooka and Laylee to buy abilities from him. He is seen as a swaggering salesman and he answers business calls during a conversation and makes deals with the player to keep his business running.
Another example of great character design would be Rextro Sixtyfourus. Rextro, which satirizes the Nintendo 64 console, is a polygonal dinosaur that is eager to share his software and arcade games with Yooka and Laylee. After his friends go to pursue and play the online games of the future, Retro decided to dwell in the past and continues to create retro games on arcade machines. This character development really draws in players to listen when stories and lore is told.
Yet the controls are uncomfortably slippery. Yooka the lizard is very fast. It’s hard to keep track of him, and this becomes a major problem when you are platforming. At the beginning of the game where you first enter Hivory Towers, I remember embarrassing slipping and falling off simple floating platforms and being taunted by Trowzer for failures that were not my fault.
But it wasn’t just the taunting that was bothersome. The controls and miserable camera angles put in a position to fall and lose health. Die and you’ll restart your expedition in a new part of the game — and even that may well block your view.
Awkward animations loop and loop during talking sequences and sadly, there is no voice actor that has actual words to say. The voice acting is not a huge problem and it recalls the charm of Banjo-Kazooie. But it would be nice to hear how the characters actually speak and pronounce words, rather than just grunts. These problems may not seem like a big deal, but when you actually play the game, it impacts your experience.
There are many features that could have been added to Yooka-Laylee to make it so much better than what it currently is. The ability to grab onto ledges should be a staple in adventure and platforming games like Yooka Laylee. Grabbing onto ledges might get rid of the slippery control issue and lessen the occurrence of falling off a tower. The ability to examine objects and places closely would be so useful. And during my experience with the game, I had a bit of trouble timing my jumps because of the speed of the platforms. Adjustments would be platforms are greatly desired.
Sadly, 2017 is not the era for Yooka-Laylee. Banjo Kazooie is a classic game and has a natural feel and playstyle while Yooka-Laylee feels forced. As a Banjo-Kazooie fan, I appreciate the cute comedy and satire within Yooka-Laylee. However, if Yooka was replaced with a bear and Laylee was replaced with a bird, this game would begin to be the Banjo Threeie we wanted a decade ago. This doesn’t mean I won’t continue playing it. It’s just that I have a love-hate relationship with Yooka-Laylee, no matter how adorable the bat and lizard are as BFFs working together to save the world.
Writer/intern Kimari Rennis comes to The New York Videogame Critics Circle via the DreamYard Prep School in the Bronx, where the Circle offers a long-term mentoring and scholarship program.