The year was 1998 and a child-sized Stacy was staying up till 3am most weekends with her best friend Lynette, playing the now Legendary Bird and Bear, ‘Banjo- Kazooie’. This game shaped my expectations of platformers to come. RARE games in general for the time were bold, vastly worlded, humorous, well rounded and very fleshed out. Then Microsoft bought out RARE and... well some would say it all went up shits creek without a paddle.
So, what do you do when you’re under new management? You GTFO of course. It made sense then that they would band together under the new banner of Playtonic Games and bring us their Kickstarter creation very reminiscent of RARE called ‘Yooka-Laylee’.
The player is introduced to Yooka a charming, green chameleon and Laylee a purple, sassy bat, very much the mutated love child of Kazooie. After their special, magical book is stolen by the dastardly, oversized bumblebee called Capital B and his obnoxious, sidekick, henchman named Dr Quack (very original), they are off on an epic journey. Their mission is to bring down Capital B’s crooked company as this book has the power to rewrite the universe and could do devastating things in the wrong hands, so it is pivot for you to scour the tomes (worlds) collecting it’s sentient ‘pagies’ to put it back together. Along the way you fight minions, battle bosses and gather ghosty buddies, all while collecting the 200 quills in each world that you need to use as currency. Ignoring those cute, little, pink butterflies could be your undoing as they aren’t merely decoration but supply you with health and energy boosters as you travel. Believe me you’ll need them.
The characters you encounter in this game are amazing. Typically, of a RARE game they ooze with charisma and quirks. So many funny inside jokes, whether it be the crudely named Trowser, a snake in trousers, to the little dig at shooters for their replenishing health bars, the gibberish subtitled dialogue has a nice Conkerish homage to the past.
The game is alive with colour. The graphics are fresh and the texturing is divine. The environments are thriving with shadows and complexity. The tribal jungles glisten with glittering waterfalls and rich green tropical foliage, while the Galleon Galaxy has a dark yet fluorescent nightlife, radiating a futuristic atmosphere to absorb. The whole time an upbeat, 90’s retro soundtrack supports the adventure making it feel like you are literally playing on a Nintendo.
This is one game where not holding your hand has been utilised effectively. There is no real tutorial, you take the direction of your own journey, making your way through worlds and unlocking new moves such as absorbing berries infused with powers, body slamming, flying with Laylee etc, when you can afford to buy them. This encourages you to revisit areas to unlock something you previously couldn’t do. Genius really.
The game really needed this feature as unfortunately, and much to my own disappointment the game only boasts 5 unique worlds to explore. Sure, you can use ‘pagies’ to expand them, but these take a while to achieve, through some tedious, mind numbing mini games, and at the end of the day the lack of environments sells short what Playtronic Games could have done graphically and creatively.
Speaking of the mini games, they just down right slow the pace of the game down. Some of these include retro arcade style games requiring high scores, while some with the very punny Kratos require you to Donkey Kong style cart your way through a track collecting stuff. These can be fun but just aren’t as good sadly, and when you are in a need of a page to unlock something, and you are continuously failing, they become tedious, just plain annoying, and leave you thinking... why am I doing this again? What’s this got to do with the story?
Despite some other reviews, to me the controls were seamless and the camera angles were near perfect, with none of the typical platformer problems of sticking cameras and clunking movement. The only problem I had in particular was the cloud racing , despite it quipping in game that ‘ it was soooo next gen’, it was in fact fumbly, and often didn’t register when I ran over butterflies I needed for the boosting. Very painful when you have lost the race about eight times in a row. That was one pagie I am yet to achieve.
In the menu which is a direct duplicate of Banjo-Kazooie, once you have had enough of the story and want to have a muck around, many of the retro mini games are available for yourself or up to 4 players to play. These are fun if you want to waste a bit of time, and I wish they had stayed in the menu rather than be incorporated into the game. (along with you cloud race... I hate you.)
Overall, Yooka Laylee in reality is a direct carbon copy of my 90’s heroes Banjo and Kazooie. Not a bad thing as the game is so much fun to play, however making a throwback in this generation just isn’t enough, it needs more. I loved this game but I feel they could have given us more initiation and imagination in the gamplay. In saying that, Yooka Laylee and Banjo Kazooie will now walk hand in hand (or bear paw in reptilian claw) as a great platformer that while steal the hearts of many.