Developer: Playtonic Games
Publisher: Team 17
Platform: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Category: Platformer, Adventure & Action
Release Date: 14th of December, 2017 (EU & NA)
Once upon a time, there was a legendary Bear & Bird pairing that took the world by storm. They proved that platforming games can work in 3D and are an utter joy to play. Above all, they instilled a desire to collect absolutely everything in your path, and hunt for every last stray collectible in order to 100% the game. Banjo-Kazooie may never return to a Nintendo console but a new duo has arrived and they aim to bring back the 90’s 3D platforming collectathon formula. Yooka-Laylee is now on the Nintendo Switch and it is time to put it through its paces.
Yooka-Laylee is the spiritual succesor to Banjo-Kazooie, created by the same team that brought the Bear & Bird into the world and also Donkey Kong 64. Ex members of RARE left the company to create their own in the hopes that their newfound creative freedom could revive a once memorable genre they once pioneered whilst incorporating all the modern game development techniques that weren’t available the first time around. Yooka-Laylee was put on Kickstarter to raise fund to put it through development. It was well received and reached record breaking funds of over £2 Million.
Being the “Rare-vival” that it is, It doesn’t just take a lot of elements from the Banjo-Kazooie Series, it takes them ALL. From its open level design, humorously bad puns, an obsession for collectibles, transformations, puzzle solving, an evil main villain that rhymes, the list goes on but I won’t go through them all, I have a review to write after all. Yooka-Laylee was created out of a love for all those platformers we praised and enjoyed in our youth and aspires to help sooth our nostalgia glands and fill the void that has been left in our hearts as we are still waiting for Banjo-Threeie.
So, I guess it is time to get into the story, Yooka the Chameleon and Laylee the bat are taking a rest from redecorating the shipwreck that is their home (it is an actual shipwreck, not that it is in dire need of repair, though it is in dire need of repair as well). They stumble across an old book which they think could be valuable and intend to sell it but all of a sudden, the book is whipped away from them by an unknown force. as it flaps through the air, Yooka & Laylee follow it to a large factory that is none other than Hivory Towers, the corporate lair of Capital B. Capital B is stealing all the literature across the world in the hopes of finding the one book, A special Tome that B plans to use to convert all the literature he has squandered into pure profit. His sidekick Professor Quack provides the Corporate Shill with his scientific expertise to create the contraptions capable of making the dastardly scheme a success.
Yooka & Laylee learn that the Pages from the One book have managed to escape and have gone into hiding across five different worlds that are accesible by warped into special Tomes laying around in Hivory Towers. These worlds are vast and require certain skills in some areas to make traversing them easier. By collecting quills throughout the level, you can use them as currency to pay for the skills you need to learn from a snakey dealer called Trowser. After collecting enough pages throughout a level, you will then be given the option to expand the level you are in to find even more pages or decide to use them to open up another tome to enter next world.
I must admit, the game is beautiful with its expansive worlds and colourful setting. It just feels at home on a Nintendo console. Though it is a great shame that Yooka-Laylee is not coming to Wii U, Being on the Switch allows players to be able to enjoy this game anywhere which is just as well seeing as a lot of time will be put into it trying to find every last quill and pagie, not to mention those awkward ghost writers. Every character, though unique, still has a familiarity to them, even the main characters feel and play very similarly to Banjo & Kazooie. The HD crispness of Yooka-Laylee is just as clear in handheld mode as well as in TV mode, there will be no eyestrain here unless you have been playing for 10 hours straight or something like that. If this is the case, you should probably go have a lie down or tell your boss you have been sick all day.
The music is definitely a show stealer, it hits all the right notes and really does make you feel like you are playing a 90’s platformer again. Grant Kirkhope and his team have done an incredible job recapturing that essence that if you were to look beyond the physical aesthetics of Yooka-Laylee, you could almost picture yourself playing Banjo-Kazooie. The music really does take you away and back to that special place in our memories that we hold so dear. Even the sound effects and the jibber jabber of character speech are so reminiscent of the B-K days. Though, if it gets too much to listen to the whole gobbledegook speech, you can shorten it to a few lines and read the rest of the subtitles without it grating on the nerves too much just by adjusting it in the sound settings.
How does the game play you may ask? Well if you have any recollection of how Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo-Kazooie played then it is safe to say it is an almost exact replication, almost meaning that there have been modern tweaks added and smoother movement controls whilst still keeping some of its retro charm. The controls are responsive but can sometimes fail you if you do not respond quick enough in certain situations. There are a number of moves you can learn to expand your repertoire from the previously mentioned Trowser. You have to collect a certain number of quills in order to exchange for moves much like collecting notes for Bottles and Jamjars in the Banjo games, only this time you actually part with your quills and you can choose which order you would like to learn each move.
In each location, there are several new moves to learn which can also be useful on previous levels for collecting tricky quills and pagies that were not accessible before. Though some of these moves have been recycled like the high jump, the ground pound and the air flutter, there are some new moves that make use of Yooka’s extendable Tongue and Laylee’s Sonar. There are also special abilities that Yooka can gain temporarily by tasting certain items like Honey, Cannon balls and even fire.
After completing a certain number of actions, you can use Tonics which will grant you a permanent boost in certain areas like health or power. You can only activate one at a time so you will have to swap whichever suits you better depending on your play style. Your power meter allows you to use your special moves like the roll or turn invisible and will drain as long as these moves are in action. There are butterflies dotted around the levels or spawned after defeating enemies which you can collect to fill your power meter or eaten to fill your health. Health can be a primary concern as after a while the power meter fills up on its own but when there are no lives to collect in the game, when you die, you will just respawn from where you entered the room last.
The adventure and platforming aspects are great fun but Yooka-Laylee is somewhat let down by its combat. Engaging enemies gets repetitive pretty quickly and though it is not the main focus of the game and rather only when you require butterflies when your health is low. You only have two or three different attacks, whereas in B-K almost every move you learned was a potential attack. There is only so many time you can spin swipe an enemy before you get tired and just avoid them all together. It is like playing Super Mario Bros and not stomping on Goombas and Koopas.
Though there are boss battles, they are not as story progressive like most 3D platformers and actually can be avoided altogether. This is due to the fact that most games required you to beat a boss before you could reach previously unaccessible areas in a level. However, in Yooka-Laylee, level expansion occurs when you prefer to offer up pages you have collected instead. If you do decide to tackle a boss, you are normally left mildly satisfied but feel like it won’t be a moment to remember, gone are the days of the likes of the Great Mighty Poo or Nipper The Giant Hermit Crab.
There were issues with the Camera on other versions of Yooka-Laylee which made the game awkward to play at times, usually because it would change the angle right when you didn’t want it too. This has been addressed for the Switch version (and the other versions via a patch) and a manual camera mode has been added so You can personally manoeuvre the camera to where you want and it will stay there. The multiplayer games have been optimized to work on single Joy-cons, allowing up to four people to play the 8 mini-games available in-game. These multiplayer games can be accessed at any time from the main menu and don’t need to be ‘unlocked’ from the single player mode.
These multiplayer games rehash a lot of old party games and though they can be played singularly for hopes of getting the best high score, they are much more fun to play when you have someone to play them with. These mini-games include Kartos Karting, Glaciators, Bee Bop, Hurdle Hi-Jinx, Guntlet Run and Blag the flag and a few more that I will let you find out on your own. They are all competitive mini-games so it is all about who finishes first. There is a Co-op option in the Single player campaign but it is about as much use as the co-op mode in Super Mario Galaxy where it can be used to collect star fragments or in Y-K’s case, Quills. Unlike SMG, the second player can’t halt enemies so player one will still have to rely on their ownskill of landing attacks whilst avoiding getting hit themselves.
Other issues that have been addressed with the Switch Version (and have since been patched in the PS4, Xbox One & PC version) are improvements to controls, dialogue and cut-scenes can be sped up or skipped completely. Signposts have been added to help guide the player to the next level. The Nintendo Switch version also comes with its own achievements much like the other versions of the game and can be accessed from the main menu.
For everything good about Yooka Laylee, there are some problems with it as well. It seems to rely too much on nostalgia that it might not appeal to younger kids today and may instead be bought by parents hoping to share some memories with their children. It also tries too hard to be a Banjo-Kazooie clone that it doesn’t build on the identities of its own characters. Some puns feel borrowed and at times it feels too familiar that you start doubting whether the original Banjo-Kazooie games were that good to begin with and that maybe our nostalgia has blinded us and glorified the games we loved when we were younger as opposed to seeing what they really were (No, it can’t be, it’s impossible! Banjo-Kazooie was the best Game ever on the N64 and that’s it!). The games were great back then, Gameplay was fun, challenging and rewarding but with the ever changing times we find ourselves in, the platforming collectathon genre has found itself in the past and as good as a game Yooka-Laylee tries to be, I don’t think we will allow ourselves enjoy it like we did the other Rare Classics from the 90’s.
With that negativity aside, it is time to close in on our verdict but not before clarifying where my thoughts lie with Yooka-Laylee. There are fans that have been disappointed with Yooka-Laylee and there have been mixed reviews across the board and I think the problem is that we have set the bar far too high with the promise of a game worthy to be crowned “The 90’s Game of Today” and a Spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie that Yooka-Laylee were never going to be able to reach our expectations. It is an enjoyable romp that does touch those feelings of nostalgia and if we can put our hopes of a Banjo-Threeie sequel to one side, we realise that maybe, just maybe, Yooka-Laylee is worth it’s own weight in gold and even though it only has 5 levels and a hub world, Each level can be expanded and explored in any way the player likes and at their own pace.
I really do love the Banjo-Kazooie Series, Banjo-Tooie was my favourite out of the three on Nintendo systems (Grunty’s revenge on Gameboy advance anyone?) and my heart sank when I heard Rare was bought by Microsoft. I even voted in the Smash Ballot to have Banjo in Smash Bros For Wii U and 3DS. It is safe to say that though Yooka-Laylee will never replace my love for the Bear & Bird, it is a heartwarming thought to think that if even only in spirit, Banjo-Kazooie will live on through Yooka-Laylee and has finally returned to Nintendo consoles. So hat’s off to you Playtonic for creating Yooka-Laylee and most of all, Welcome home guys, We’ve missed you!
THE VERDICT: 8/10
*Review Key Provided By Team 17