Genre: Platformer, Open-World, Collectathon
Original Release: April 11, 2017
Developer: Playtonic Games
Platforms: Linux, macOS, Microsoft Windows, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Played on: Microsoft Windows
I loved Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie growing up. In fact, I recently picked up a Japanese copy of Tooie as well as having both on my Xbox 360. Nuts & Bolts left me feeling a little burned, but of late I’ve been wanting to revisit it and see if I can pinpoint exactly why that is. Maybe I’ll do that later.
Anyway, fast-forward to a couple of years ago and when I was going to see Ant Man with a couple of friends, one of them mentioned that some ex-Rare devs were working on a spiritual successor by the name of Yooka-Laylee. I was immediately excited and after we got done at the theater I loaded up Kickstarter to see if I could find it. It was everything I had been hoping for: A 3D Platformer in the same vein as Banjo-Kazooie with new characters and a new world to explore. Sadly, my funds were a bit more strapped at the time (hooray for college), so I put $5 toward it to be included in the special thanks. And you know what? I stand by that decision. It felt kinda nice to know that I was able to contribute to something that would -hopefully- bring joy to people around the world.
And so it came to pass. Sort of. Yooka-Laylee was met with generally positive, if mixed reviews. I tried not to let this taint my own experience with the game, but as I played for a little while afterward, I kept thinking on all of the negative things that critics I follow regularly had to say and I kept asking myself “Should I have backed this? Is this anywhere near as good as I was hoping?”
The answer is yes, this is exactly what I had backed, and I’m okay with that.
I put the game down for a while before doing much of anything in the first world, and didn’t pick it up again until a week or so ago. I decided to start fresh and play it off-stream in order to keep my opinions fresh and free of external influences.
Yooka-Laylee was billed as a 3D-Platform Rare-vival (hurr hurr) and set out to do just that: bring back the collectathon genre of yesteryear and introduce it to a new generation. And in some ways they succeeded really well! In others…I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t detrimental.
The game is an enjoyable experience, don’t get me wrong, but in trying to succeed Banjo-Kazooie, it feels as if a few steps were taken backward in the process rather than building on the things they tried in Tooie and Donkey Kong 64, respectively. Let’s take the quills for example: There are 200 in each world, and collecting all of them will net you one of the 25 golden Pagies scattered throughout the respective world. However, unlike the aforementioned Tooie or DK64 where notes were placed in groups of five (or 20 in the case of the treble clef) and bananas were placed in trails in relevant locations or bunches of five, the quills are all placed individually like the notes in Kazooie, but scattered everywhere throughout the world. I get that this encourages exploration, but there were occasions where I would be one quill shy of all 200 and drive myself nuts looking for it until I finally resorted to a guide or forums to see if anyone else had that issue.
I had this same problem in Banjo-Kazooie if I’m being completely honest. In playing it recently, I spent three or four hours combing Gobi’s Valley for two notes. Two notes that I missed in the pyramid with Rubee and Histup and didn’t realize until I went into first-person and saw the alcove that was otherwise obscured by the camera. Fortunately, Yooka-Laylee doesn’t reset all of your quills if you die like the N64 release of Banjo-Kazooie did.
Granted, this isn’t the biggest issue in the long run. I’m just the kind of person who starts to obsess unhealthily if I’m going for 100% and I’m missing one small thing like that. If you’re just playing through casually you probably won’t care that much and just roam around finding things as you go. I applaud you for that.
I should probably also mention the camera. At launch, a lot of people took issue with the fact that the camera was, in their words, awful. I didn’t play enough to really take notice of that myself, but Playtonic addressed that in short order and fixed the camera control issues people had. Over the past couple of days I haven’t had any major trouble with it apart from getting hung up on some geometry, but that was easy enough to figure out.
Controls and esoteric collectible placement aside, the only issue I had with the game is that it feels…kind of hollow. I don’t know if that’s because I keep comparing it to previous Rare titles in my head or because it’s not quite as expansive as the aforementioned titles, but something didn’t quite click with me. I had fun, don’t get me wrong, but it was interspersed with moments where I kept asking myself if I was the target audience or if I had just outgrown the collectathon genre. I don’t think it’s the latter, since I still adore Banjo and DK64 to pieces. If anything, I think back to the discussion had on episode 166 of the Co-Optional Podcast (around the 18 minute mark) and how it does seem to be more geared toward kids. I really don’t begrudge them that at all. If it introduces kids to a genre that I loved at their age and still love today, then that’s awesome!
Maybe that’s where that hollow feeling comes from. Maybe there isn’t as much depth as previous titles to keep it simple for younger kids. And if that’s the case, I’m alright with that. My nephew (who at time of writing is five years old) would probably have a blast and I think that’s great! The game’s fun, if less complicated than its predecessors, but as I said that may be by design. However, there is one thing that I can’t pass up the opportunity to mention:
There is a skeleton with eyes in this game.
This was around the time that Tempto and I started arguing about whether or not skeletons have eyes (obviously they do, otherwise Clara wouldn’t), and the moment I saw her I knew that this game was for me. I almost cried happy tears over something so trivial and that alone gives this game a special place in my heart.
So you know what? I’m going to recommend this game. Not because I think more people should experience the joy of helping out Clara (although you totally should), but because it’s an enjoyable experience, warts and all. Playtonic did exactly what they said they were going to, and while it may not be everything the fans (myself included) were hoping for, a lot of time and love went into the development of Yooka-Laylee and it shows. And if the reviews are to be believed, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair seems to be even better! I’ll have to check that out, but all things in time. In the interim, here’s a little-known secret about Shovel Knight to close out this article: