Yooka-Laylee, by all means, should have been well received. It is a game that seeks to return to a bygone era where most gamers grew up in and fell in love with gaming, and was created by a team made up of former employees of Rare working on a spiritual successor to Banjo-Tooie that doesn’t involve car building or the god damned Kinect. Yooka-Laylee is what Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts should have been and more. I was very glad I got the chance to play this game and already feel that I am profoundly lucky to have gotten this and NieR Automata in the first half of 2017, and maybe if things keep up this way, it will make up for being stuck living under the rule of a Napoleonic cheetoh with a nebula sized ego and an atom sized dong.
Of course, I seem to be in the minority on this one if the gaming press or any popular game reviewer is to be believed. Since it came out, people have been burning this game an effigy and declaring it to be a failure on the same level Mighty No. 9, one specific reviewer even saying it’s worse. Yeah yeah, I know “differing opinions” and all that noise, but it seems oddly suspicious that a company can literally create exactly what they advertised and people will still claim they didn’t get it. It’s the same principal that once allowed Charlie Chaplin to enter a Charlie Chaplin impersonator contest and lose; people’s perception of something is often not fully accurate. In this analogy, Charlie Chaplin is Banjo-Kazooie, going under the moniker of Yooka-Laylee, and the judges are the gaming community.
There are some people who say that my reviews are too long and that don’t like when I talk about things that aren’t directly related to the game. Just going to warn you, if you are one of those people, you won’t enjoy reading this. With the exception of some lag in some versions of the game that can be patched out, there is not a single criticism of Yooka-Laylee that cannot also be applied to Banjo-Kazooie, Tooie, or Donkey Kong 64. If you liked the latter 3, there is no reason you shouldn’t enjoy Yooka-Laylee, and chances are that if you still don’t then YOU’RE the one that’s wrong about Banjo-Kazooie, not the people who actually created the games.
As one can already tell, this is likely going to be one of the most opinionated and possibly polarizing reviews I write, mainly because I’m also going to be addressing a lot of the criticisms this game received in addition to my own critique of the game in question. Yes, it is true that everyone has a right to their opinion, but unfortunately for any who use it as an excuse to silence criticism; that also includes a right to opinions about your opinions. Opinions on their own mean nothing; what matters is if one can back them up and I don’t feel this game’s detractors have even come close to creating a decent argument against it. Yes I also enjoyed other games that were mobbed by critics or fans such as Time and Eternity, Hyperdimension Neptunia, or Corpse Party: Blood Drive, but I can at least see WHY people didn’t like those, I just disagreed with them. In the case of Yooka-Laylee, I don’t even know if this many people actually disliked it or if everyone just started saying it was bad because some popular reviewer said so.
Yooka-Laylee is about an anthropomorphic Chameleon named Yooka and his purple bat sidekick named Laylee. Already, one can see that the name scheme is similar to that of Banjo-Kazooie. The game chronicles the duo’s quest to stop an evil corporation called Hivory Towers from draining the world’s literature for the sake of profit. They do so by exploring the Hivory Towers building and entering grand tomes, which lead to five different worlds that they explore to collect missing pages of “The One Book” (yes that is literally the book’s name) called pagies (this game’s obvious stand in for jiggies).
In concept, the story may sound like a Captain Planet level children’s story with an anvilicious anti corporate greed aesop, but this is Rare err Playtonic we are talking about. This means that they instead decided to turn the main villain Capital B into a parody of everything wrong with AAA game publishers like EA, Activision, Sony, and especially Microsoft. This results in Capital Bee being a walking parody of modern day gaming trends like DLC and micro transactions while also having a sense of self awareness. Yooka-Laylee is very much “stuck in the past” in everything from its lack of modern conveniences such as a mini map or regenerating HP, the fact that there is no voice acting other than a bunch of comical grunts, to even the lack of modern day hand holding. When we have a gaming press that compares Crash Bandicoot to Dark Souls, it’s no wonder they hated this game.
So many critics have stated that Yooka-Laylee had not done anything to push the collectathon genre forward, but almost all of them fail to name any notable games to look to for inspiration. The only major example I can think of in the last 10 years is Super Mario Galaxy, and that game was much more structured and linear than Yooka-Laylee. Even in the 2000s, the only ones I can think of were Jak and Daxter, Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, and Spongebob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom. I will grant that Yooka-Laylee could have used a better camera, and a method of fast travel would have also been nice (Note: the camera has now been fixed via patch). I remember that at least the Spongebob game I mentioned allowed you to warp to the location of where you collected any Golden Spatula you obtained or in their general area, so why couldn’t Yooka-Laylee have had something like that?
However, that only further proves my point that nothing in this game can’t also be applied to Rare’s older games, and that if you liked them then you shouldn’t have a problem with this. I will admit that it may have been better to have voice acting, mainly since Yooka’s “oooos” and “aaaahhhs” are no stand in for Banjo’s comical hillbilly like grunts, and because it gets incredibly grating whenever one of the pigs speak and they are accompanying by constant snorting and hacking. Aside from those though, I have no complaints presentation wise, and it does a lot more right than it does wrong.
Writing wise, Yooka-Laylee is just as hilarious as ever, possibly even more so. Yooka-Laylee is very familiar in regards to how it does not fit into today’s market. This is most exemplified in the character “Rextro Sixtyfourus,” an anthropomorphic dinosaur who creates arcade mini-games in every world. In response to being asked by Laylee if he wants them to give a good word, he responds “nope, I already bribed enough game reviewers for good scores.” This, in addition to being funny, also demonstrates that Playtonic was well aware of how corrupt the gaming press is, and probably knew how they were going to respond to their game. Do you think it is a coincidence that a game developed with Kickstarter money instead of funding from a large publisher who is likely in bed with most major gaming news outlets just so happens to be seen as a disappointment by the gaming press? It’s almost as if game journalism is a cesspool of corruption that cannot be trusted, and that deciding the game isn’t good just because they said it isn’t absolutely drains yourself of all credibility.
What I also found surprising was some of the stuff that Playtonic was able to slip past the censors now that they are no longer working under a publisher. Enough has been said about Trowzer’s design, but the most surprising one I saw was in the Casino stage where one of the slot machines implied that Capital B would turn him into one of the infamous Japanese panty dispensers if he failed.
Yooka-Laylee is a gorgeous game both graphically and artistically. It is very much what you would expect Banjo-Kazooie to look like if it were made today, and probably even more. Not only does it have beautiful cel shaded graphics that are bright and colorful without coming across as gimmicky, but it is even more impressive in just how much and how far you can see in Yooka-Laylee. If you get to the highest point in a world, you will be able to look down and see nearly everything from there, including collectables, and you will likely be able to go there. There were still a few invisible walls here and there, but they only showed up when actively trying to go beyond the game’s boundaries.
Yooka-Layleee isn’t as massive as some of the bigger AAA titles such as Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto 5, and The Witcher 3 (at least based on what I heard about them) but what it does so well is making sure to use almost ALL OF IT. Even the areas that the game didn’t use; Playtonic still decided to include them just to make the level feel whole. In the fifth world, I was literally able to climb high up enough that I passed through the top layer and the game counted it as a fall death. While some would be weirded out by how this was possible and think this means that the game was not tested properly, these people forget that it takes active work to create a surface that the player can stand on, and the fact that Playtonic put far more work into rendering these surfaces that the player can go out of bounds if they put in a significant amount of effort to explore shows just how much was put into this project.
Additionally, there were a lot of moments where I thought that I may have reached areas the game never intended me to go; only to figure out that they actually hid an item there. The most significant example I can think of is in Galleon Galaxy, where you enter a series of tubes (queue internet joke) in the middle of space that connect in large spherical rooms, and that is where most of that area takes place. Being my curious self, I decided to use Laylee’s flappy flight skill to fly out the window in a very tall room that causes you to slide down to the bottom when entering. Normally, you are just expected to go down the hole you land right next to, and the rest of this room would just be empty space. In this game though, you can just barely reach one of the windows, and can fly on to the roof of the structures. I started to fly across the outer area landing on the roofs on the structure, and I thought that I had glitched the game, only to eventually come across a pirate treasure, the most sneakily hidden items in the game that you are not even told about. Playtonic really has thought of everything.
Aside from the pig’s speech sound effects, all of the sound effects were satisfying and conveyed their intended effects perfectly. The music is even better. The soundtrack is composed mostly by Grant Kirkhope, who also worked on the Banjo Kazooie series, and the instrumentation and sound of the music matched the tone of those games perfectly. While I will say that the tracks from the original games were more memorable melody wise, it is hard to deny that these songs have much higher quality arrangements without the Nintendo 64’s limitations. One could complain that a bit of the melodies from the original games are reused, such as the Tribalstack Tropics music sounding similar to the Hailfire Peaks melody, but if THAT is the worst thing you can say about the music, then that’s a job well done.
In actuality, the soundtrack to Yooka-Laylee is more varied than in Banjo Kazooie, featuring multiple different styles of music. The reason for this is because the soundtrack also includes the work of previous Rare composers, David Wise and Steve Burke. While I am not familiar with Steve Burke’s work, I did hear David Wise’s signature style in the boss themes for worlds 3 and 4, and the additional variance is a welcome addition.
Gameplay wise, Yooka-Laylee was an absolute joy to play with very few moments that were not fun. Every world had a vibrant and imaginative look, and it had just the right level of challenge needed to be engaging. For anyone who loves exploring large sprawling worlds and trying to discover what the developers might have slipped past you, this is the game for you. You will often need to think outside the box in order to obtain a certain pagie or to find an elusive quill, and some of those mini games are certainly tough. At the same time, I rarely needed to use a guide to find anything in this game (even the pirate treasures) and the few times I did, the solutions turned out to be something obvious that slipped my mind.
Additionally, Yooka-Laylee was the 2nd game I have played that I enjoyed enough to get a platinum trophy while having fun with all of it (the first being NieR Automata). Part of the reason for this is because my goal is typically to see the end credits and then play whatever else is easily accessible afterwards. Yooka-Laylee works on the standard “you don’t need even close to the max amount of collectables to access the final boss and ending,” but I still got a majority of the items in the game before fighting Capital B, and the only reason I didn’t get all of them was in case more needed to be unlocked as post game content. This also lead to me beating the absolutely grueling final battle against Capital B twice to see if there was a special ending if you beat him with every pagie. Of course there wasn’t, but the game was fun enough that I don’t consider it that much of a loss.
What most of this game’s detractors will not acknowledge are the several improvements that Yooka-Laylee has over Banjo Kazooie, Tooie, and Donkey Kong 64. One example includes Yooka having higher movement speed than Banjo, meaning that one isn’t using the Reptile Roll (this game’s stand in for the Talon Trot) as a substitute for a run button, thus allowing it to actually be used for puzzles. Of course, this also means that the reptile roll has a limit on how long it can be used for, leading for people to claim that it’s like if the talon trot was limited (which it isn’t).
Another improvement is that the quills are now more cleverly hidden, and not simply used to line paths that are out in the open. At the same time, the quills are never hidden too well (with the exception of one in Tribalstack Tropics). This now makes it easier to keep track of where you have and have not been, given that one will see quills in unexplored areas, and not simply along the ground where you spend the most time anyway. Additionally, it creates a much greater sense of satisfaction when collecting them than if they were handed out like Herpes medications on the set of Jersey Shore. The game’s fantastic draw distance also allows you to see them from afar, which makes finding new areas easier.
In Banjo-Kazooie, the worlds were smaller and easier to navigate, while Banjo-Tooie had large sprawling levels with a ton of collectables. This has lead to some claiming that Banjo-Tooie went overboard while others liked it for having more content. Yooka-Laylee decides to streamline itself by letting the player choose which way they wanted the levels to be, which they did by requiring a certain number of pagies to increase the size of the world. This way, one could casually explore each world in its default state and simply pick up whatever they can along the way, or they could comb the entire world for every item before moving on.
Unfortunately, this method does not help those who are completionists but just want smaller worlds. The reason why is because the game does not tell you how many pagies there are before you upgrade a world, and it only tells you that there are 20 in each world total. Even worse is that the number is different in each world, meaning that you can’t even rely on any pattern. Granted this is not that big of an issue since one could just look it up online, but one shouldn’t have to do that. Also there is the fact that there pagies that you can’t collect until you get moves from later in the game which, while good for making the player want to go back to earlier levels, will break up the natural flow of the levels for those that are looking for a specific structure. However, I do not feel as though this is a serious problem because I feel that game progression should be more nuanced not follow an overly predictable pattern. If you just go to a level once and you’re done with it, then it comes across as short sighted and overly simplistic.
I mentioned earlier that Yooka moves faster and more efficiently than Banjo, but that is not the only change made. Instead of being given to you as you progress through the game, you now need to buy quills from a snake merchant named Trowzer, which you purchase using the quills you collect in each world. You are still given some automatically as you progress through the main hub, but in the grand tomes you have to buy them. I can see where this may be a bit problematic for inexperienced players, but those who are competent enough should have more than enough to afford every move as soon as they are available, although this may be more difficult if you are trying to play through without upgrading the tomes since you have less quills, but I can’t say for sure (yes, I know that this is a flaw that wasn’t present in the N64 games, but that’s only an issue in regards to the game’s progression, which WAS present in Banjo-Tooie and Donkey Kong 64).
Upon further examination, I can see why people who were fans of the original Banjo-Kazooie but didn’t like Banjo-Tooie may have issues with Yooka-Laylee, but the problem is that a lot of these same people tend to praise those two games just as much as the originals when Yooka-Laylee is objective better about this than either of them. Yooka-Laylee is better on the sheer grounds that it allows this type of option to begin with, even if its execution is flawed, while Banjo-Tooie and Donkey Kong 64 do not. May I also remind you that Banjo Tooie had 8 worlds roughly the size of one of the grand Tomes, but had only 10 jiggies in each, while Yooka-Laylee has 20 pagies per grand tome, thus giving Yooka-Laylee’s stages a lot more meat? By all means, if you weren’t a fan of Banjo-Tooie or Donkey Kong 64 then you may not be able to get into Yooka-Laylee, but you will have a better chance at doing so with the latter than you did with the former two.
Additionally, I will say that, while some of the minigames can be difficult, there weren’t any that I didn’t have fun with which is more than can be said about Banjo-Tooie’s Canary Mary race or that beetle from Donkey Kong 64. I liked all of Rextro’s arcade games and only ever felt there was a problem when there was lag present (which seemed to occur at random) and I found the minecart challenges fun to play as well. The only exception was during the atrociously designed boss of Capital Cashino that is entirely based on memorization and will actively trick you by telegraphing its attack and delaying its attack so you jump before the attack and land on it. While the minecart challenges also required some degree of memorization, they at least allowed some margin for error and were fun. Galleon Galaxy’s boss was also kind of annoying since the boat controls are awkward and slow, but it is nowhere near as bad as Capital Cashino’s. Otherwise I enjoyed every boss fight in the game (yes even Rampo, whose battle has been fixed with the latest patch) and had no problems with them with the exception of the unskippable cutscene before the final boss (something that has also been fixed with the latest patch).
There were some other frustrating moments like that annoying golf minigame where you needed to push a giant golf ball through a golf course into the hole while contending with puzzles, enemies, and the worst ball pushing physics since Okami, and that one where you needed to plant pumpkin seeds that got destroyed if they touched a bush, but I found them to be far outnumbered by the fun parts. There was not a single stage in Yooka-Laylee that I did not enjoy over all, and I cannot even pick a favorite out of all of them. The only other complaint aside from the few niggling gripes I had was that nothing in particular sticks out because I had so much fun with ALL OF THEM.
Of course I can easily remember the beautiful scenery, atmosphere, and music of each level such as the luscious mix of green and sky blue in Tribalstack Tropics, the inside of the frozen castle in Glitterglaze Glacier, or the cosmic and otherworldly look and feel of Galleon Galaxy, but the experience is so consistent that I can’t think of what I specifically enjoyed the most. Yes there may have been some moments I enjoyed slightly less than others, but I cannot discern the individual parts that were the most effective. The reason for this is that every world on its own feels like its own continuous and uninterrupted experience, and almost all of them felt “whole.” These places felt so fleshed out and realized that they almost felt real, and it is rare (no pun intended) that a game does that without an emphasis on story (or even WITH an emphasis on story for that matter).
Everything in Yooka-Laylee naturally feels satisfying. Not only does every quill and pagie feels satisfying, but even when you are accomplishing nothing and just trying to see every bit of the game as you can, it feels fresh and interesting. Every platform you correctly jump feels satisfying due to the fact that you WILL have to climb all the way back up if you fall. There was one in Tribalstack Tropics that you needed a long jump from just the right spot at the top of the level to barely make it to the platform. Yes you could wait until near the end when you have the flappy flight, but that makes it so much more rewarding. The same can be said since about how you can sequence break your way past an obstacle involving wind currents to get another pagie that comes afterwards if you use the reptile roll effectively.
There are some that say that a game has to be literal perfection to be given a perfect score. I disagree with this simply on the grounds that a perfect game is not possible to make because a “perfect game” would have everyone agree on it, and if such a game existed, there would be no reason to innovate or change anything since everything would try to copy the “objectively perfect” game. As such, I try to go for the next possible thing; a game that could appeal to literally everyone and is one of the finest games of its genre. The conflict comes in because a lot of people seem to dislike this game, but there is a lack of anything logical that tells me why; especially when a majority of the major complaints (the camera, the slow menu scrolling, being unable to skip custscenes, lag, clipping, and the Rampo fight) have been fixed in the latest patch. Even prior to that, there is no logical reason why someone who loved Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie, or Donkey Kong 64 should not enjoy Yooka-Laylee; especially considering that this is what Rare fans have been wanting ever since Microsoft bought Rare and ran them into the ground.
Rare, now as Playtonic, gave you all exactly what you wanted, only to have it spat back out at them by their own fans, or at the very least the gaming press. Does anyone not think that is isn’t the least bit fishy that Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts has a higher metacritic score than Yooka-Laylee? A game that was universally hated by fans has a higher score than a game with mixed reception (that really shouldn’t be)? Hell if you were to look at Yooka-Laylee’s metacritic page, you would see that most of the reviews aren’t that negative content wise aside from Jim Sterling being a typical contrarian outlier. Yet here we have the gaming press proclaiming it to be a blunder on the same level as Mighty No.9, as if reviews were overwhelmingly negative.
I know some will try and say that I’m only saying this to justify my opinion and not feel like I’m the only one who feels this way. If that is the case then I have to ask, have you read any of my other reviews? I have consistently had far more contrarian opinions both in terms of games I like and games I dislike than the one expressed here. Both major game publishers and game journalists are infamously out of touch with the gaming community, and the latter is likely so because they are wrapped around the fingers of the former.
As for the game itself, the only real negative is that it doesn’t do much that is new or original, at least in the grand scheme of things. In 2017, it IS original due to the drought of these types of games, but when looking at gaming as a whole, it didn’t exactly shake much up. Regardless, ANY fan of 3D collectathons or of Rare’s N64 titles owes it to themselves to check this game out. Rareware is back folks, and we need them now more than ever.
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