Yooka Laylee – Review
PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Nostalgia is a funny thing. It leaves us with warm feelings about a particular time, place or piece of entertainment, encouraging us to revisit these items and events from our past. The problem however, is that nostalgia often forgets the issues we had with these things. It glosses over their weaknesses with rose tinted glasses and leaves us only remembering the good times. So this disconnect between the fond memories of our past and the reality often leads to a disappointing shock when these recollections are revisited. Sadly this is the case for me after ploughing my way through Yooka-Laylee, a 3D platformer from Playtonic games.
When the Yooka-Laylee Kickstarter was announced with the pitch of a new 3D platformer from a bunch of people that created Banjo Kazooie I, like many others, was immediately excited. I have so many fond memories from N64 platformers that I was super excited to play a brand new game in this fondly remembered style. The idea of classic gameplay with modern graphics was an appealing one that I was on board with. However, in the almost 20 years since the N64 era, a lot has happened in the world of game design. Certain problems have been eradicated and once standard gameplay tropes left behind in the bin of bad game design. Sadly in their attempt to recreate the N64 experience, Playtonic have brought these design choices back to life and honestly, the modern day isn’t kind to them.
When I wrote my preview for the game I felt much more enthusiastic about the whole experience. At that stage, I had played 3 or 4 hours and nostalgia was still getting me through. But since that point, I have soured on the whole experience. Little niggles that, at first, didn’t worry me too much became grating and immensely frustrating over time. The camera is the worst culprit. In the year 2017, it just isn’t good enough to be fighting the camera every step of the way. The camera getting stuck on scenery caused more deaths in my playtime than any of the enemies did and a few times I found myself walking away from the game lest my controller get launched.
I also found level design to be predictable and somewhat boring. The traditionally styled levels such as the tropical or ice levels are fine, but lacking in originality, while the more original settings such as the casino level are boring and uninspired. Considering there are only 5 worlds in the whole game, even one dud world is a massive disappointment. I did like that each of these worlds could be remixed with added challenges and changes to the scenery. This mechanic felt like the one true new idea brought to the game and was a welcome breath of fresh air.
The gameplay is almost a carbon copy of Banjo-Kazooie, which isn’t a bad thing, there is a reason it is remembered so fondly after all. The two lead characters combine to enable certain platforming moves and attacks. It works well and despite it lacking originality there is a lot to like about the core gameplay. The game handles well and some of the puzzles are excellent and it is in these moments that the game truly becomes a wonderful reminder of how much fun we all had with bears, gorillas and plumbers in the late 90’s.
Yooka-Laylee is also chock full of funny and interesting characters. From the title characters, to talking clouds, to guest appearances from Shovel Knight. The cast is, almost without exception, entertaining and humorous. I really liked the tone of humour that the game uses, it has an almost Monty Python essence to it. The jokes overall are written well with plenty of meta-humour taking aim at Kickstarter campaigns and old platforming tropes and more often than not they brought a smile to my face. Yooka-Laylee is very self-aware and the game is better for it.
Sound design is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, I quite enjoyed the score, it was upbeat, catchy and suited the material well. On the other hand, the sound effects were a little more problematic in my eyes. The first issue I have is that it seems that a lot of the sound effects have been recycled from the Banjo-Kazooie franchise. In fact if were you to blindfold me I am sure I couldn’t pick the two apart. The second problem I have is so many of those sound effects are grating on my ears, especially the squarking noise the characters make when they are talking. These sounds annoyed me back in the 90’s and these days they just make me want to smash that mute button.
I know that this review sounds overly negative but I guess that is what nostalgia can do to you. I wanted so very very much to love this game but its reliance on nostalgia was actually its downfall. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very good N64 platform game, the problem being the world has come a long way since those days. If you are jonesing for an authentic N64 experience then this will certainly fit the bill but if you are after a quality 3D platform game you would be much better served picking up Ratchet and Clank or waiting for Mario Odessy. Sadly Yooka Laylee is too stuck in the past to take the genre into the future.