I’m going to put my hands up and say this review might seem a little biased. Why? Well my two favourite games happen to be Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie and I didn’t think twice before backing it during the Kickstarter phase in 2015. So there will be some bias, I’m only human. But I’ll still share with you my honest opinion of the game. While I love Yooka-Laylee, there are some issues, but they’re not as crushing as some think.
Let’s talk about it!
The Dynamic Duo
In a game like Yooka-Laylee where there are two protagonists playing as one, it’s important for them to be the main focus. They also have to be likeable and relatable on some level. The game wouldn’t be as enjoyable without charming characters and fortunately, both characters are very likeable. With Yooka being the sensible, more mature individual and Laylee as the insulting, sharp-tongued one, much like Kazooie. Their personalities shine throughout the game, especially during conversations with other NPCs.
But the story isn’t quite there. The problem with the story is how I couldn’t help compare it to Banjo-Kazooie/Tooie story. In Yooka-Laylee, it feels too minor. In Kazooie, you were trying to save Banjo’s sister, who had been kidnapped by an evil witch! When I was a kid, that sort of stuff made me care about the story as it felt personal. But in Yooka-Laylee, the goal is to get your book back. Actually until the very end, there’s very little to connect with here and unfortunately the story isn’t as good as I’d hoped.
What gets you through the and takes your mind of this is how satisfying the combat and getting around is. Essentially it plays the similar to the Banjo games. With your Roll to get around, like Kazooie’s Talon Trot, berry bushes akin to shooting and farting eggs, the invincible Sonar Shield (which drains your energy bar like Roll to stop spamming it) much like Golden Feathers, Flappy Flight and more! It’s taken what was good from the Banjo games and expanded on them, by making them more meaningful throughout each world.
Collectibles and Puzzles
As you may already know, Yooka-Laylee takes a lot from the Banjo games and as it’s supposed to be a tribute to the N64 era of platformers, it absolutely succeeded and I didn’t expect anything more or less. The game shows there is still a place for platformers in this day and age, with challenges that require a lot of practice and skill and a collectibles to hunt for. This is one of those games where using a guide is a crime! Most of the thrill is finding items and finally getting that feeling of finishing a world or getting those 200 quills you’ve been working so hard to find.
If you’ve played any of the Banjo games, you’ll notice very similar collectibles. There are Ghost Writers (Jinjos), Quills (Notes) and Pagies (Jiggies), which I expected as much. Personally I’m not a fan of the Ghost Writers as they don’t feel as personable as the Jinjos. They just seem to be there because they have to be. It’s also the sound they make when you collect them, and that’s the problem. The sound feels too generic compared to the ‘Jinjoooo — weee!’ sound in the Banjo games. Some of the sound I had a bit of a problem with actually, but I’ll get to that later on.
Largely, Pagies are fine, but give me some mixed feelings. Instead of the usual 10 Jiggies in the Banjo games, there are a whopping 25 to collect in each world. The issue is the sheer number you have to find. I found that some of the Pagies are very easy to find, even in worlds 3-5. You just have to stumble upon them and you have a few Pagies. It’s when you get to around 15 Pagies where it slows down and things are much more difficult to find. I feel it would have been better with 15 Pagies to make the pointless ones, well less…pointless.
Large and Creative Worlds
The worlds in Yooka-Laylee, while there aren’t many and have a few blank spaces which could have been utilised, I can’t fault the designs and atmosphere. Each world is completely different to the next and offer various challenges, increasing in difficulty. That’s part of what makes Yooka-Laylee, how each world has its own theme, almost giving them their own personalities and this is a vital part of the game as it’s a big part of the Banjo games. World 4 is probably one of my favourites because of how differently it works compared to the rest, with having to turn in coins for Pagies.
As I’ve said, each world is pretty large, perhaps even bigger than Tooie’s worlds. Each world has its own progression system where you’re constantly collecting Quills to purchase abilities. Although it does seem a little pointless when every ability is mandatory to beat the game.
Luckily it’s not just Quills that offer a sort of progression. The Tonic system is something new that wasn’t in the Banjo games and are a way of rewarding you with buffs and I love it. There isn’t a ‘best’ Tonic as most of them are useful in only some scenarios. This allows you to change them up to suit your needs, whenever you visit Vendi. Need an extra butterfly energy? The Willard tonic will help with that. How about some more ammo from berry bushes? Loaded will take care of that. Although I do think some tonics are ‘too beneficial’ in specific scenarios, like Livewire.
The Camera Conundrum
Yooka-Laylee is a very smooth game. The only performance issue (PS4) I keep having is with the loading screen, where it lags quite a bit. That’s all. I haven’t experienced any noticeable FPS drops or bugs during gameplay or at the main menu. Kudos to the team for making it a smooth as possible.
On the other hand, the largest drawback of the game is indeed the camera. But…it’s not as bad as some make it out to be. Depending on how you handle cameras and how you’re used to them, you’ll have a difficult time adjusting. Locked camera angles aren’t everywhere but they are in some important parts of the game. While they do help focus on an area, having the camera locked where it zooms in a bit too much makes it feel too restrictive. Here’s where they could have differentiated and left behind some of the locked angles. It’s not great, but it’s certainly doesn’t make the game unplayable.
Arcade Games aren’t so Fun
An interesting feature of Yooka-Laylee is the adorable Rextro and his arcade machines. An arcade machine is incorporated within each world, accessible through arcade machines and offer a Pagie if successful at it. The problem with some of the arcade games is how punishing they can be. Hurdle Hijinx for example lasts for roughly 2 minutes and 30 seconds, which is a very long time to concentrate on a hurdle game, especially as it doesn’t get difficult until the very last 45 seconds or so. Failing at that point will force you to do it all over again. The balancing isn’t good with these arcade games and that’s what makes them so dreaded. Have fun getting that tonic!
Boss Battles are back
Each world has its own boss battle that suits each the theme, and I actually really like them! Every battle is different to each other and so are the strategies to beat them. They also increase in difficulty as the fights go on, where you’re more likely going to make a mistake, which is where panic mode sets in when you start to rush. World 5’s boss however can be really punishing and requires some fine skill in controlling your character.
The battle against Capital B is a different ball game. At first I wasn’t a huge fan of this fight, but the more attempts I did, the more I loved it, and I still do. Like the battle against Gruntilda, there are multiple phases and additional phases within them, with the fight very much like a crescendo in a piece of music. This makes the fight progressively more difficult as you play on.
Capital B’s final phase is such huge spike in difficulty compared to rest of the fight, it almost requires a specific tonic to overcome it, which I’m not such a fan of. But this gradual, then sudden spike in difficulty is what gives this fight a similar feel to the battle against Gruntilda. I’d say the Gruntilda fight is much better in terms of how important of a battle it is, especially with the hectic music (I even had to learn the piece on piano). You’ve spent all this time in different worlds to get to this point , and it delivers. It’s just unfortunate that the story isn’t quite up to par in Yooka-Laylee.
The Soundtrack is what I expected
Yooka-Laylee’s soundtrack is superb. The composers do a brilliant job of showing how much care they have for these games. Each score takes you on a journey and when you enter a world, it sets the tone. They’ve kept the same style where the music matches what area you’re in, which sends off waves of nostalgia. And good ones at that.
Although I’m no music expert, I feel as if there could have been some more variation to the worlds to make them sound like they fit in. Let’s take Rusty Bucket Bay from Banjo-Kazooie for example. The music had ‘shipyard’ sounds incorporated to help you feel like you’re at an old dock. There were hints of this in each world but I feel it could use more. Obviously, you need to look at the size of the team and what’s realistic, which can be put down to that. That doesn’t mean the music isn’t good, I love the music enough that I had to buy the vinyl.
One thing I noticed straight away was how each move and item had their own sound in the Banjo games. In Yooka-Laylee, I feel that all of the moves sound similar to each other when executed, which doesn’t give them as much character or oomph when you use them. Maybe that’s just me and I’m comparing it way too much to the Banjo games!
Yooka-Laylee is the Spiritual Successor
The game is filled with nostalgia for those familiar with the N64 era and it’s a game that is supposed to give you that feeling again. It has some memorable characters, the classic humour, fantastic music and worlds, gameplay that capitalises on its strengths by serving you with a familiar style. Sure there are things lacking, the story, camera and a few sounds here, but every game has its issues, many even more so than this one. I’ve always wanted a sequel to Banjo-Tooie ever since I completed it years ago, and this is pretty much the closest we’ll get.
While Yooka-Laylee isn’t quite as stellar as the Banjo games, it’s still strong in its own right and Playtonic have succeeded with what they set out to do. That was to create a ‘spiritual successor’ to the Banjo games. That’s what Yooka-Laylee exactly is and it should be viewed as so. If you appreciate these types of platformers or are a Banjo fan, this is a must buy.
What are your thoughts on Yooka-Laylee? Let me know in the comments below! = )
Pros and Cons
- A solid tribute to N64 platformers, more specifically to Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Kazooie
- Creative abilities that are used throughout the game
- Memorable characters and worlds, with a charming soundtrack
- Collectibles hunting is as fun as ever
- Boss battles are the best aspect of the gameplay
- Camera issues and FPS drop during the load screen
- Story feels insignificant
- Some arcade games are too punishing and are annoying
- Some abilities should have more distinct sounds
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