The gaming landscape was vastly different twenty years ago. Call of Duty and Halo didn’t exist and the age of platforming mascots looked like it would never end. Nintendo had Mario and Donkey Kong, Playstation had Spyro and Crash Bandicoot, and Sega was ironically enough lagging behind with Sonic. A few years later Microsoft would attempt a character with, ah, Blinx the Time Sweeper, I guess, but by this point the 3D platformer fell out of fashion with the creators of arguably the best of this kind of gameplay, Rare, busy trying to make avatars for Xbox and making Kinect Sports games. Now, after over a decade of inactivity (unless you are a Nintendo fan), ex-developers of Banjo-Kazooie along with thousands of Kickstarter backers return with a game that is purely and unapologetically aiming to be Banjo Kazooie 3. In terms of bringing back older gameplay styles, this may achieve more than Mighty No.9 ever accomplished, but it doesn’t quite bring any modern advancement to the genre like the exceptional Shovel Knight did a few years ago.
Dastardly villain Capital B (a bee of course) and Dr. Quack (a duck in a gumball machine) reside in Hivory Towers. B wishes to take away all the books of the world in the hope of discovering the magical and elusive book which currently resides with the duo Yooka and Laylee. When the book breaks and the pages fly everywhere it’s up to the headline duo to collect them all and put the book back together.
Yooka, a chameleon, and Laylee, a Bat, are essentially Banjo and Kazooie respectively in everything but name. The characters sit on each other and become one, with the small creature having a cruel wit (which of course is done through unintelligible vowel voice over), and the main character being the reluctant but brave hero.
The story is merely backdrop for the 3D platforming that follows. There is a hub world that connects to paintings… ah, books that act as separate worlds, where the player must collect a number of Jiggies, I mean Pagies, to unlock further worlds. Rinse and repeat until the final confrontation becomes available. Along the way you’ll meet crazy new characters, unlock new moves and even transform into new animals or vehicles. It’s a system that dominated the 90’s and, well, it still works now.
As a fan of these types of games, I was smiling from ear to ear as I partook in races against clouds, or jumped through hoops high in the sky, or solved ground smash puzzles. The new gimmick for this take on the genre is that instead of simply exploring a world when it’s unlocked, the gamer can now choose to expand the worlds they are in for double the activities. What starts off as a normal sized world explodes to a large tower overlooking the entire map, or an entire isometric fortress hidden inside. It allows for the small independent team (and remember this is a Kickstarted project, not a Triple A title) to effectively make 5 majorly different and vibrant worlds. Having the choice to expand or move on was an engaging concept that became addictive even though opening up the entire world will not be too taxing or take too long.
However, the game has some major hurdles that stops it from being the Banjo renaissance it so desperately wants to be. Whereas Banjo simply existed in its time, Yooka-Laylee needs to continually throw back. And it’s in these throwbacks where the game fumbles hard. Rextro, a character you will soon hate, holds old arcade cabinets featuring a new but old school style arcade game. There’s a Micro-Machine style racer, an arena fighter and even a flappy bird style game. These activities feel rushed at best and broken at worst, and unfortunately completionists (for whom games like this are made) will need to complete one of these in each world. Twice. Even worse is the game’s horrendously flawed Mine Kart sequences that feel inferior to anything that appeared in the Donkey Kong franchise twenty years ago. What could have been a fun little diversion becomes an annoying Gem collecting minigame, which again appears in each world. When the game focuses on the collectible task that hearkens back to just traditional platforming the game excels, but when it forces itself into nostalgia the game suffers.
Unlike the days in which games came on cartridges which couldn’t be updated, Yooka suffers from what feels like a rushed development cycle. I thankfully didn’t encounter as much slowdown or even terrible camera angles (well nothing worse than what appears in any of these games normally) as others, however the week one issues I faced show that this game needs a patch, and badly. I encountered a glitch in the 4th world that stopped the game from counting the final Pagie even though I had collected it. I sit with a save file that is one Pagie shy of 100%. On a cartridge it would not be forgiven, but in modern gaming the team can just shrug and say ‘we’ll patch it’. Patch or not, the game I reviewed was, sadly for me, broken.
Yooka-Laylee, most of the time, becomes the third Banjo-Kazooie that was promised by the team at Playtonic back in 2014. Things just click and the satisfaction of collecting that one last collectible in the world gives players the elation that only so few games can provide outside of the LEGO franchise. But an over-reliance on the past and some truly disappointing or faulty design choices make this game difficult to be the poster boy for a new platformer renaissance. Fans of the genre, who may be willing to push past some of the difficult sections, and perhaps wait until launch issues are ironed out, will look forward to hopefully seeing a much improved ‘TwoKa-Laylee’ in the future.
Score – 70%
Reviewed On – Playstation 4