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Yooka-Laylee: Banjo-Kazooie Nostalgia Comes A-Calling

Bear and bird give way to chameleon and bat

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While at EGX I had a few minutes of hands-on time with Yooka-Laylee [official site], Playtonic’s love letter to older 3D platformers like Banjo-Kazooie. It even shares team members with those older games. It was a strange experience, if I’m honest. Bright and daft and instantly evoking those hundreds of hours of play as a child in Rare’s worlds. But at the same time I found myself not really playing so much as constantly drawing the parallels with the older games – oh, that’s this game’s version of a Jinjo, oh, that’s this game’s version of a Mumbo Jumbo transformation, oh, that’s what Banjo and Kazooie would look like if you had to use a chameleon and a bat instead of a bird and a bear…

Obviously I only had a snatched snippet of time on a busy show floor so I’m willing to play the game when it’s released on 2017 and see how I feel, but the impression I currently have is that rather than this being a new game it’s very much like finding an alternate universe’s version of Banjo-Kazooie and playing that.

There are characters talking in rhyme, collectibles all over the place, wisecracking, none-too-subtle gaggery like the snake who teaches you about your abilities whose tail coils through a pair of khaki pants because he’s a trouser snake. Called Trowzer. There was a scientist who, when you bring her a molecule (I think that was called Molly Cule?) transforms you into something else – in the level I was playing that was a plant and I could then chat with plants, so she’s basically Mumbo Jumbo/Humba Wumba. You can get Kazooie Laylee to eat berries and then spit them out as projectiles. The level structure… the music… the noises the enemy mobs make…

Essentially I’m writing this post because I’m still trying to work out my reaction to playing it. On the one hand it’s gorgeous and I’m glad to see a current gen version of games I loved and which were vibrant and funny. On the other hand it didn’t feel new at all so it’s weird going back to read the Kickstarter page and seeing the phrase “Introducing our all-new buddy duo” because it’s like, well, you kind of redid Banjo and Kazooie? I mean, I know there are new moves and things but the basic idea seems the same and the dynamic is similar, right? Laylee seems less of an out-and-out berk than Kazooie maybe (Kazooie is my spirit animal) but… it’s Banjo-Kazooie, right?

What I’m getting at is that I can see the appeal – I’m not immune to nostalgia, plus those games were good (I think I’m also fonder than most when it comes to BK2) and I would like to see them get new audiences. But in the same breath, I didn’t see anything in my time with the game that actually felt new or which took me by surprise. I was just marking off the elements from the older games as they popped up, getting a pang of recognition and then noting the difference in this game’s version.

The best way I can currently think to describe it is like when you tell someone about a dream and try to explain “You were in it but it didn’t look like you but I knew it was you.” My current worry is whether, once the initial glow of nostalgia fades, it will continue to sustain my interest as a game in its own right, not just a tribute. From the EGX demo I feel like it’s something I would show to a kid, hoping they got out of this what I got out of Rare’s games when I was little but not something I would prioritise for myself.

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Philippa Warr

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