For me, while this is definitely not my first time playing a platformer, it is the first time I’ve played a platformer in the spirit of 90s stalwart Banjo-Kazooie. I’m considering this a chance to make up for the fact that I never got a chance to play Banjo-Kazooie, but as someone who hasn’t played the spiritual predecessor to Yooka-Laylee, I feel that I can review it without the nostalgia rose-tinted glasses on. Theoretically of course.
Well, where to start. It is definitely one of the most colourful games I’ve played, with possibly Super Mario Sunshine and Galaxy being just above it. Its also a game that has a much more upbeat and comedic tone compared to other games that I’ve played. Dialogue is littered with puns, jokes about other games (for example, Laylee admonishes ‘soft shooters’ because you can regenerate health over time compared to needing to resupply your health bar by eating butterflies in-game), and references to 90s gaming. Even most of the characters have comedic names… like Scoffsalot, a knightly pig from… Hamalot…
The game itself is a sandbox type. There’s no map, no markers, no ‘go here’, nothing at all, not even some sort of anthropomorphized hand with big googly eyes (which is the trademark of making a character out of an inanimate object apparently) to help you out. In that sense its absolutely blissful. This is a sandbox where you just do whatever you feel like that day. You want to do an on-tracks mine cart mini-game with Kartos? Go right head. Want to climb the large monument in Tribalstack Tropics? Knock yourself out. Just want to hang out in Rextro’s Arcade? No one is stopping you. It’s this freedom from quest markers and everything that encapsulates a modern game these days that makes it such a breath of fresh air, albeit one that is clearly dated in its approach.
And that’s the major problem.
Yooka-Laylee is too wedded to the idea of becoming a spiritual successor of Banjo-Kazooie for the modern age. As someone not affected by the nostalgia of 90s gaming -mostly because we just weren’t allowed a console in the house until a funky cocktail of peer pressure, being introduced to the idea of saving up to buy a console and the allure of Santa’s omniscient and all-powerful bag of presents got involved in the early Noughties- the idea of playing a game as outdated as this starts to wear thin. I shouldn’t have to wrestle with an errant camera while trying to jump between platform A and platform B, which also tilt like crazy by the way, when I know I can play games where I don’t feel the camera is taking pleasure from my frustrations with it.
Carrying on with the theme of trying to get from platform A to platform B, it does feel annoying that a 3D platformer that you’re controlling a character that at times feels like he’s on rollerskates, meaning that before you get a chance to screech Yooka to a halt on one platform, he’s already teetering on the edge looking about ready to fall. Now if Laylee’s flight ability had been available as soon as you entered Tribalstack Tropics rather than having to wait until just before finding Glitterglaze Glacier’s tome in Hivory Towers, then its possible that a lot of annoyance and a general amount of frustration of not aiming for a moving platform at the exact moment might have been avoided. It’s little things like this that don’t exactly make it unplayable, but it certainly put into question why I was playing what felt like a relic from a simpler time jazzed up in pretty colours to make it look modern… when I could be playing a more recent Mario platformer, which is a relic from a simpler time jazzed up and also tries to improve the genre by learning from mishaps from previous series.
Okay, its not all bad. Considering how much stuff has been packed into the games five themed worlds and its hub world, you could say that there is merit in coming back to a world once you’ve either bought or unlocked more skills. Which makes me wonder why the need for ‘expanding’ a world. It makes more sense to have the world already right there waiting for you to explore in its fullness, with the fact that you needed to come back with either a higher jump, the power to take on the effects of certain objects or any other skill being the only barrier to not completing a world in one sitting. The player already has to pay in ‘Pagies’ to open a new world, so why pay again just to expand for more of the same? It seems an oddly capitalist approach to… wait a minute…
Yes, now its time to turn our attentions to the game’s main antagonist. Capital B. The Donald Trump of Yooka-Laylee, only without the presidential power. If the reference was unintentional, then that makes his creation all the more better. You see, compared to previous 90s platforming villians, Capital B seems even more devious than them all. He’s not doing something out of vanity like kidnapping a girl to make themselves more youthful, or indeed kidnapping princesses just to stroke his own ego (or maybe out of some sort of underlying cross-species lust; I’m just highly suspicious of Bowser given how he seems to have some sort of one-sided romantic attachment to Peach to the point he’d lie to Bowser Jr. about Peach being his mum). What Capital B is doing is for profit, even if it means rewriting the universe via the One Book (a rather obvious reference to the One Ring if I ever heard of one). And to be frank, Capital B really is what makes the game sometimes. From golden statues stroking his vanity to taunting Yooka about how he ‘draws the line’ to having a naked chameleon on ‘Casual Friday’ running around his factory, he’s so hammy in his dastardliness that it becomes funny. It might also explain a lot of capitalism that seems so prevalent in the game, from buying most of your new skills from Trowzer the Snake (who is more or less like a back alley dealer or market stall owner with grand delusions), to the fact that you can’t get any game changing tonics from Vendi, a vending machine, until you complete challenges – oh and you can only have one at a time due to some sort of corporate rule that Capital B has in place, etc. etc.
Though of course, if capitalism is the theoretical barrier to being able to explore every world, turn every stone for Pagies and climb every mountain for quills, then I’d like to ask the developers… why the hell did you change the rules so often?! Seriously, its frustrating enough as it is when you realise that you need to eat certain flavours of berries in order to either unlock a door or explode a bunch of rocks, but then you tell me that there are other ‘edibles’ that I can lick in order to get even further in the game? Oh but it has to be ‘certain’ edibles. I can’t just lick a torch on a wall and become a fire chameleon able to walk through fire walls no problem, it has to be a fire source that’s highlighted that turns me into that. And then you make these walls that are supposedly not to be used as platforms in order to reach a Pagie upon a high point where I obviously need some new skill I’ve yet to unlock, but you make like a little part of it a platform by accident so it turns out I didn’t need that skill after all. Let’s not forget that as soon as Laylee is able to use the Flappy Flight ability it practically turns the whole platforming exercise useless.
In the end, I left the game feeling a little bit frustrated since the challenge wasn’t there like I had expected it to be and went back to playing Persona 5 just so that I at least had a challenge. But perhaps I already had a bit of a bad taste in my mouth about it given how something had happened to my order of it before it even had a chance to dispatch, meaning that I was expecting it to get it on Saturday, leaving me with a task of trying to quickly come up with a Retrospective Review until it rocked up through my mail slot on Thursday.
Should you play Yooka-Laylee? Despite its massive flaws that will need addressing if Playtonic ever intends to make a sequel to it, yes. You should. Espeically if you have fond memories of 90s mascot platforming. Should you buy it? Not at its current price you should. At the current retail price of £27.99, I personally think that the quality should have been higher, particularly in addressing some of the control issues.
And that’s why you should rent/discount buy Yooka-Laylee when its possible to. Because if anything, if Mighty No.9 hadn’t already proved the dangers of trying to capitalise on gamer nostalgia of previous glories, Yooka-Laylee has just done it again by trying to be Banjo-Kazooie rather than forging its own identity, despite the fact that it is a decent game to play. In megabyte chunks.