Disclaimer: I backed this game on Kickstarter.
So finally it’s here. This was a huge thing back on Kickstarter 2 years ago, getting over 2 million great british pounds in pledges. It features staff that worked on classic Rare games, and it was these same people doing a new game in the style they were known for before being bought out by Microsoft and destroyed from the inside (yes I know this started happening when they were still under Nintendo). The interest for this was huge.
I’m a big fan of the original Banjo-Kazooie, and despite never owning the sequel I did play through a good part of it and it was pretty great too. Nuts & Bolts was a bad game that could’ve been good (even with its car-building gameplay), but at that point basically none of the Rare staff that made the classics were around anyways (heck, they left long before that).
It’s been a good while since we got a game in that specific style. There’s been platformers, some even 3D, some even with pointless collectibles (hint: B-K was good specifically because its collectibles weren’t entirely pointless), but not really that do what the Banjo games did. Some have similar ideas like the Ratchet and Clank series, but they’re more linear.
So let’s see if this is a return to form for a genre that is mostly dead.
Developer: Playtonic Games
Publisher: Team 17
Date of Release: April 11th 2017 (no idea why backers got the game after people could buy it at retail… or why we got it after reviewers… throw us a damn bone, geeze)
Platform: PC, PS4, Xbone (PC version played)
Genre: 3D collect-a-thon platformer
Rated E10+ for Everyone over 10
This game is super pretty. Very varied environments, lots of color, different colors in every level too. Is there even brown? I dunno. They put a lot of effort into crafting really nice environments. Character design doesn’t exactly fare as well IMO. Yooka and Laylee seem kinda… generic? Some of the NPCs are cool, Trowser is quite cool and so is Rextro. They basically put googly eyes on things, which is normal procedure in classic Rare. One of the levels is just a bunch of shopping carts with googly eyes. Overall though I really enjoy the look of this game, it’s very nice. Technically it doesn’t look like anything that couldn’t be on last-gen consoles.
Performance-wise I’ve heard bad things from people on the console version, the PC version does have some frame issues from time to time but it’s generally solid.
On the sound side, I love that they kept the wacky voices from B-K. I know people who don’t like older games hate this, but it’s fun. The music though is classic Banjo-Kazooie music!… Yeah, they stray far from the style of Banjo-Kazooie. It is really great stuff by David Wise and Grant “Crazy” Kirkhope. Essentially, if it sounds like something out of Tropical Freeze it’s David, and if it sounds like a B-K tune it’s Grant (at least as far as I could glean). Not sure which tracks exactly are Steve Burke’s work. There’s lot of variety.
Story… meh. So Yooka and Laylee apparently found a nice book with golden pages. Capital B, whose company is right next to them in a tower, gets a machine built that attracts all books to the tower because he’s looking for said golden book. As the golden book gets attracted, it loses its pages. So Yooka and Laylee go into the Hivory Tower to retrieve their book and its pages. Capital B is getting the book for vaguely evil “I’ll use it’s powers to change the world BS. And that’s it, the rest is just Yooka and Laylee getting pagies and eventually going to fight Capital B. Capital B is a shitty vilain (nowhere near Grunty who is actually a little bit threatening, just some corporate businessman who wants to kill you), Yooka and Laylee are pretty boring. There’s not much to it here.
So this is a 3D platforming collect-a-thon. Not a genre that’s really around anymore.
Yooka and Laylee start with almost no abilities: run and jump. Talking to Trowser the snake makes them learn how to attack, and as you advance you find more things. Going into the Hivory Tower you earn the talon trot (I don’t know what the rolling move is called, whatever) and get into your first book world.
Get a few pagies there, find quills to buy more moves from Trowser, and when you’re done you can either use pagies to expand the first book world, or you can explore a bit, get a free move from Trowser and get to the second book world. And it goes on like this for 5 book worlds total, and when you get 100 pagies you can go into Capital B’s office to fight him.
The moves you get are kinda boring, and some don’t work too well. The rolling is cool, and the licking objects to get their properties/projectiles is interesting, but in general most of it is “you need this specific move to do this specific thing”, and some of it isn’t even told to you (the invisibility move does have a separate specific use). Moves tend to just have a singular use. Not that the moves aren’t cool, just that they’re not terribly useful outside of rolling and gliding and flying.
But then you get flying. It feels like it should make sense, since B-K had it, but… you can initiate it anywhere, and if you have just one energy increase or 2 it’s entirely broken. I used it to skip so many things I wonder what the point is to have a lot of the other moves. It’s one of the last moves you get, but you can rush to it pretty quick. I really don’t get why this needed a flying move.
That said, most of the levels are decent with some exceptions. The idea of expanding them instead of having twice the number of levels is an okay trade-off. You do have to do lots of backtracking though, since some things even in the first level requires a much later move.
Most of the levels start up pretty normal (one of them with a decently fun gimmick that… doesn’t really mean anything). But there’s some weirdness here and there. The ice level’s expansion is really different than I was expecting… not spoiling but pre-Rare Rare fans will enjoy it. The space level though is fucking stupid. There’s basically nothing in it the first time you go in, so it only becomes a good level once you expand it.
The transformations suck too. All of them suck to control. And some of them are basically completely meaningless. The fish? Fucking really? At least the helicopter is a bit meaningfull.
So collectibles… 25 Pagies per level, 200 Quills per level (those can be used to buy moves) which land you one of the Pagies if you get them all, 5 “ghost writers” per level (they’re just ghosts though…) which land you one of the Pagies if you get them all, a health booster and an energy booster per level, a Molycool (activates the transformation), a play coin for Rextro and a secret pirate item that the game doesn’t keep count of (and does nothing right now).
Rextro is fucking shit. You get “arcade games”, which use in-game engine stuff to make mini-games. Complete the mini-game once, get a pagie, then complete it AGAIN but by beating a high score to get another… why not combine both playthroughs? And ALL OF THEM SUCK BALLS. This was a terrible idea. Also Kartos is fucking shit. He’s basically a minecart level in every world, a reference to DKC probably, but these minecart levels are horrible (I’m actually one of the few who enjoys these levels in the DKC games). And they require grabbing gems because fuck you. They’re terribly designed levels. Both of these are really stupid time-wasters. And I hate that because I like Rextro’s design (even if the dialogue and jokes are meh). Oh and there’s quizzes. As expected they’re stupid.
Oh and the camera is really bad, it constantly gets stuck in the environment. Even when going down a slide challenge I got all sorts of weird problems.
Yooka-Laylee is essentially Banjo-Kazooie 1.5. It’s pretty fun for the most part, but it does lack a lot of the charm. It feels like it’s a game they made because people wanted a new B-K, rather than a game that was inspired by it… if that makes any sense? Like it was kind of a formality.
It has lots of issues. The moves aren’t really interesting (and I find a lot of them to be underused), the transformations are almost all lame, controlling anything other than Yooka walking/jumping around feels weird, the camera is constantly getting stuck in scenery, Rextro sucks balls, Kartos sucks balls (which is weird because I actually really like mine cart levels in the DKC games), the villains are lame, the quizzes are stupid…
But the good does mostly outweigh the bad. Finding pagies is mostly fun, the controls feel good as long as you’re not underwater or transformed, the collecting aspect is still fun and most collectibles are somewhat meaningful. Plus the levels are nicely varied.
Overall a solid game of a style we don’t see a lot of anymore. Not the huge amazing thing I was hoping for after the Kickstarter, but a solid game nonetheless. Not quite a Shovel Knight, but far from being a Mighty No 9. I still have high hopes for Playtonic and can’t wait for their next project.