Since the launch of their kickstarter campaign back in 2015, Playtonic bet hard on resurrecting the golden days of 3D platformer on the Nintendo 64 with Yooka-Laylee. Led by a team of former Rare studio developers, Playtonic’s current team worked on titles like Donkey Kong Country and of course Banjo-Kazooie, which Yooka-Laylee is considered its spiritual successor in every angle. No joke, Yooka-Laylee has everything Banjo-Kazooie had, from a charismatic duo of heroes, a hell of stuff to collect, a dose of old-fashioned platforming sprinkled with a generous pinch of humor, to even a similar marketing campaign (with the exception of heavy TV ads since it’s not Nintendo)… This all seems like the perfect recipe for a good game, but Yooka-Laylee will also remind us of the faults of that good ol’ Nintendo 64 platformer game generation.
Yooka-Laylee is a product of pure nostalgia, a tribute more than direct to the illustrious Banjo-Kazooie. The two titles share a lot of similarities: gameplay, humor, constant quest for object to collect and thematic levels to explore. Playtonic’s colorful baby is an ode to a genre that gamers of the new generation never experienced probably. And so Playtonic tried their best to create that similar Banjo-Kazooie experience, yet without ever being able to surpass it. Don’t get me wrong, Yooka-Laylee has good ideas, a solid gameplay base, but it evolves constantly in a precarious balance between its nostalgic references and trying to find its own identity.
Starting with the main characters, Yooka and Laylee are similar to the infamous bear and bird duo from Banjo-Kazooie, except it’s a chameleon and a bat sidekick. The pair works wonderfully together, with successful animation and rendering. Like Banjo-Kazooie, Playtonic made it quick to set the story, which recounts the adventure of Yooka and Laylee as they roam the world in search of pages from the books of the world, stolen by the terrible Capital B and Dr. Quack which plans to convert them into pure financial profit. And so our duo will travel through a series of five worlds from a central HUB to collect all lost magic pages (called pagies), reminiscing the famous puzzle pieces from the Banjo-Kazooie series.
These pages will serve as an upgrade necessary to expanding the reach of these worlds, which basically turns a simple book into a grand tome. While it is quite old-school in may ways, Playtonic brings a touch of novelty to the 1990s platformer formula, leaving the player a significant degree of freedom in exploration. It is then possible to unlock the levels in the order of your choice to recover the insane amount of hidden collectibles, as well as beating a series of challenges modeled after some of Rare productions’ greatest games.
In the purest tradition of the genre, the complete exploration of the worlds will pass through a palette of movements quite standard all more or less modeled on those of the duo Banjo-Kazooie. Jump, double jump, glide, rodeo attack, Yooka-Laylee controls our progress by forcing us to purchase new capabilities from Trowzer, a weird snake businessman that wears pants.
If the initial proposal of five worlds to explore may appear thin (in comparison to the original Banjo-Kazooie nine worlds), these are expandable via the expense of pagies, as mentioned before, which will give access to new challenges for the player. As for the environment, we find the great classics, ranging from your usual ice or tropical jungle level. Vast and colorful, these levels allow themselves to be traversed with a certain pleasure despite numerous back and forth between obstacles. But Yooka-Laylee nevertheless struggles to show a great originality in the way it built its worlds and challenges, which quickly sacrifices its approach of platforming in favor of a succession of mini-challenges without any real challenge. The duo will also have to fight against a rather small amount of enemies. Lacking of complete originality, these generic “minions” are simply reskined from one world to another, to stick to the theme of the environment. In the end, the fights, boss ones included, offer almost no challenge.
The progression of the player finally becomes quite mechanical within the worlds, as one advances, start doing the same methodical search for collectibles in all corners of the game, without ever reaching that eureka moment. This blatant lack of soul is felt in the rather unequal character design of the various protagonists, and while the cheerful hero duo are well done, it’s not the case when it comes to the other NPCs. The same pitfalls are even found in the mini-games offered by Rextro, a pixel dinosaur in charge of arcade machines found in each of the worlds. In their overwhelming majority, they are painful to play because of their vagueness, stiff control and a camera control finding always the worst angle imaginable.
However, even with its defects and this small feeling of bitterness, Rare’s inheritance manages to work on other aspects. Take the music for example. which is a great work composed by David Wise (Donkey Kong Country) and Grant Kirkhope (Banjo-Kazooie), which despite some repetitions between levels manages to dress up a tacky adventure that young and old can enjoy together. Plus if you have the patience for it, there is a huge amount of content to explore in Yooka-Laylee and it will take between 10 to 20 hours of game depending on your will to collect all 145 pagies in the game.
On the technical front, Yooka-Laylee is locked at 30 fps on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, or 60 fps on PC. While not really a technical masterpiece, the artistic direction, colorful effects combined with a good use of the Unity engine gives you an enjoyable game.
In the end, I think the main problem Yooka-Laylee face is that apart from this happy reunion feelings, or rediscovering a genre almost lost, the title remains below the standards of the adventures which it draws all of its mechanics. There was a lot of potential, but Yooka-Laylee lacks that soul that made games like Super Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie timeless classics.
Yooka-Laylee was reviewed using an Xbox One digital code of the game provided by Team 17 and Playtonic Games. The game is also available on PlayStation 4, PC and coming soon to Nintendo Switch in digital stores. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• A colorful universe
• Simple but well oiled gameplay
• Some fun character designs
• Produce of nostalgia
• Great soundtrack
• Some fun easter eggs and N64 era references
• The game lacks soul
• That camera control needs to be fixed
• Humor less percussive than its model