It’s such an interesting time for these nostalgic throwback games, isn’t it? We are in an age where the separation of a creation from its creator no longer necessarily spells the end of a franchise, or at least its spirit, if its audience is willing to front the cost, and ultimately, take a risk. But, between the past failure of Mighty No. 9 to live up to the grandeur of Mega Man, and the hope that Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night will carry on the torch of the Castlevania series, we are here, at the present, with a game that seeks to recapture the classic 90’s 3D platforming action of Banjo-Kazooie. This is Yooka-Laylee.
If you’ve ever played Banjo-Kazooie, than you will feel right at home with Yooka-Laylee. Immediately upon booting up the game, it becomes apparent that the team at Playtonic Games have put an extreme amount of work into recreating the tone and aesthetic of Banjo-Kazooie. From the colorful worlds, to the almost familiar music, to the dialogue heard only in gibberish syllables, down to the game’s villain, Capital B, taunting you in the world hub, just as Gruntilda would. Everything seems to have been placed precisely to give you the feel of the N64 classic, and I have to admit, I spent the first couple of hours just smiling from the pure rush of nostalgia.
Yooka-Laylee puts you in control of the titular lizard and bat duo, exploring various unique worlds in search of “pagies,” pages out of a book that allow you to unlock and expand new worlds. Other collectibles can be exchanged for new moves, which, in turn allow to you reach new areas. It’s feels great to revisit a previous world with a new move in hand, and finally be able to reach the last bit of the level that’s been teasing you.
The game also features a great sense of humor. Its wide cast of characters deliver witty dialogue, often making self-referential jokes about gaming culture. And everyone feels so unique and memorable, from the Trowzer, a seedy sales-snake clad in a pair of shorts, to Capital B, the villainous bee bent on turning literature into profit. It all goes a long way in giving the game some great personality. Also Shovel Knight is here. Can’t go wrong with that!
However, as the nostalgia wore off, the game’s flaws became apparent. Pagies are offered as a reward for completing platforming challenges and puzzles or helping characters with various tasks and mini-games, and while they’re mostly fine, some are just unnecessarily time consuming and vague. For example, a downward slide that punishes you for going either too fast or too slow, purely luck based pachinko games, and having to walk on and off a switch to guide a ball through a wind-powered maze. Many of the timed challenges and puzzles require such precision that I’ve found myself, on multiple occasions, completing them at the 0:00 mark. It starts to make collecting pagies needed to advance through the game feel like such a chore. Some of the world bosses can be rather tedious, one of which requires a strategy that amounts to little more than 10 continuous minutes of a repetitive cycle of attacking and taking cover. And furthermore, the game also feels the need to stop you from progressing and demands to literally quiz you on extremely specific questions about itself. “Where was this picture taken? How much time have you spent on this save file? How many of this or that item do you have?” It’s all just so unnecessarily tedious and, frankly, boring.
And yet, I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy my time with Yooka-Laylee. Despite it’s flaws, the game delivers hard on its promise of a classic N64 era platformer, and truly does channel the spirit of Banjo-Kazooie. Experiencing each vivid world, interacting with a wide cast of unique characters, and expanding Yooka and Laylee’s skill set to be able to explore further and further, it all just made me feel like a kid again!
Yooka-Laylee was reviewed using a pre-release Steam key provided by Playtonic Games.