Yooka-Laylee has one of the most interesting development cycles of any recent game. Firstly, it’s the highest funded Kickstarter game to come out of the UK (with over $2 million dollars in funding) and it’s also a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie created by members of the original team at Rare.
I’m going to get it out of the way nice and early. Yooka-Laylee is literally Banjo-Kazooie 3 without either Banjo or Kazooie. It’ll become abundantly clear as soon as you begin the game that the developers brought over absolutely everything that they possibly could without infringing any intellectual property.
The first issue with Yooka-Laylee is the way the dialogue is presented. The mumbling voiceovers from it’s predecessors return, but this time they feel as grating as ever. You’ll be forced to read dialogue box after dialogue box. This is compounded by the fact that I found it hard to care about the characters, who all feel quite dull. Yooka and Laylee can never muster up the enthusiasm as you would’ve had for Banjo and Kazooie. They themselves never feel like they care what’s going on in the world and honestly feel quite disconnected from the overall plot.
The villainous duo, Capital B and Dr. Quack similarly just don’t compare to Gruntilda. Such an issue is one of the biggest ones that I have with Yooka-Laylee. It’s clearly trying to replicate Banjo-Kazooie, but without those characters, it just falls flat. It’d be like creating a Mario game without any of the Super Mario characters.
Thankfully, the level design that made Banjo-Kazooie so great is also featured in Yooka-Laylee. There’s five worlds to explore here, ranging from a green forest to an ice world. Players must chat to characters in the world to figure out how to solve missions in order to receive Pagies. Much like Jiggies in the original Banjo-Kazooie, Pagies will allow you to unlock more worlds or in a one-off occurrence, expand the current one to unlock more missions. When you’re within these worlds is when the game is at it’s best.
Most of the missions, which range from races to collecting items and solving puzzles, are for the most part fun. It’s a small gripe to mention, but I wish that there were mission lists within the game. Some of the missions are quite extensive and involved – and when there’s 25 per world, it can be easy to lose track of them. The game also doesn’t highlight progression all that well, with it being vague on how to advance forward within the game as well. Compounding this with my lack of interest for the stories and characters, this definitely wasn’t a good thing. I was never sure exactly how or when I was supposed to move on to the next world, and this created some issues with the game’s pacing that really hurt the experience.
The platforming, on the other hand, is solid. Controlling Yooka and Laylee, you’ll find yourself rolling up a hill one moment to gliding between platforms the next. It manages to take all of these platforming design fundamentals and totally nails them. Despite this, the game also falls apart when it comes to combat and projectiles. I found most of the enemies in the game to be boring and annoying. Aiming projectiles feels clunky as well. From time to time, you’ll have to use Yooka’s tongue in order to grab snowballs and bombs to proceed in certain projectiles, but it always was hard to do so intuitively and consistently.
Contributing to this is the fact that the camera is pretty unruly to control. It feels like they’ve literally just taken the camera from the Nintendo 64 version and thrown it in without any adjustments. Camera control and management has come a long way in recent years, but not in Yooka-Laylee.
Throughout the game you’ll be able to purchase number of new abilities from Trowzer the Snake using Quills. These are drip-fed to you in a way that keeps the game feeling fresh, but even the way you’re forced to endure screens upon screens of terrible dialogue feels like an design decision that should have stayed in 1998.
The style of music that features in Yooka-Laylee was one of the design choices carried across from the older games that I was incredibly thankful for. It was a joy to listen to, and I found myself humming along to the Grant Kirkhope and David Wise composed soundtrack several times while playing the game.
Beyond the main game and the wealth of collectibles that there is to discover, there’s also Rextro’s Arcade which is a series of different arcade games which can be played by multiple people on the same console. These are fun, but you won’t be playing them more than a few times each. They’re a nice diversion and a cute way of lengthening your time spent with Yooka and Laylee, but nothing more.
Nostalgia will hit hard within the first few hours, but once this fades, you’ll realise that Yooka-Laylee is never able to live up to the brilliance that was Banjo-Kazooie. You’ll get some enjoyment from the open-world platforming aspects of the game, but the unlikable characters, coupled with a clunky camera among other redundant game mechanics will more than likely ruin the experience for you. I don’t doubt that even the biggest of Banjo-Kazooie fans will be left wondering what could have been.
The PlayStation 4 version of this game was played for the purpose of this review. You can read our review policy HERE.