Wot I Think: Yooka-Laylee

Yooka-Laylee

Yooka-Laylee [official site], the crowdfunded colourful 3D platformer, is essentially a sequel to Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie just wearing different pyjamas. Where Nuts & Bolts took the franchise in a slightly different direction, Yooka-Laylee is an unapologetic return to the N64 formula of cheeky humour, bright playgrounds and collectibles coming out the wazoo. Playing it is like discovering there’s an episode of a favourite TV show you somehow missed at the time. Here’s Wot I Think:

Yooka-Laylee is actually a buddy game where chamaeleon (Yooka) and bat (Laylee) are searching for a book stolen by the villainous bee, Capital B. Capital B is using a sort of global literature vacuum to suck books into his keeping and… I think he’s looking to use the golden pages from Yooka-Laylee’s book in particular to finish off a gold statue of himself? It seems so long ago now that all of that was explained.

What you are mostly doing isn’t really narrative-based, though. You open up worlds, collect Pagies (those golden pages) by performing tasks or completing minigames within the worlds and then use those Pagies to open up more worlds or to expand the content of the ones you’ve already found until you finally reach your showdown with Capital B.

Yooka-Laylee

Along the way you collect all manner of other bits and pieces – golden quills are a currency you use to unlock new special moves from a snake named Trowzer, ghost writers are these little coloured spirits which can be captured in particular conditions, other doodads will extend your life and so on and so on. You’ll also learn to shoot fire, ice, grenades, water as well as ingesting objects to take on their properties – cannonballs will make you heavier and stop you being blown away in windy areas. If you know the N64 games you’ll be able to mentally swap out Jinjos and Jiggies for most of the new vernacular.

Similarly, there’s Dr Puzz who offers to transform you into planes or boats or plants or whatnot if you’ll find the Molly Cule hidden in each world. She’s this game’s version of Mumbo Jumbo or Humba Wumba in the original and I’m glad they opted for this approach rather than trying to do anything with shamanism again. That’s one aspect of the older games I find myself wincing at even though I didn’t notice it as a kid.

Yooka-Laylee

It’s a testament to both the enduring appeal of Banjo-Kazooie and the faithful nature of the sequel that at some point I gave up calling it Yooka-Laylee and just started referring to the game as “Banjo-Kazoodle” as I used to when I was younger. You can probably also get a sense for how much Banjo-Kazoodle I played on the N64 and how successfully Yooka-Laylee recreates that mindset by the fact I kept accidentally trying to perform old moves like the Beak Barge and Bill Drill to solve problems. It’s like falling through a dimensional rift and playing an old favourite – familiar but different.

An interesting facet of this revival is that it recreates those old games for better and for worse.

I was delighted to see colourful Rare-esque landscapes again and read that familiar style of dialogue – teasing but not mean-spirited and with a bundle of innuendo thrown in. Properly delighted. I don’t think I’d realised how uncommon it was now or thought anyone would even try to bring it back.

Yooka-Laylee

I liked the manageable chunks of gaming you get in dividing things up into these minigames and I liked the way that the whole thing is geared around a manageable number of collectibles so the experience doesn’t spiral off into a tedious Ubi-esque collectathon strapped to a narrative. Collecting is the point of the game rather than the thing designed to compel you to clean up a map and stay in the game longer than you really want.

They’ve also done something good with the underwater segments. Underwater is generally the bane of my life in this kind of game but there’s a special move that lets you encase yourself in a bubble and thus run around underwater as if it’s on land. I was embarrassingly grateful for NOT having to swim if I didn’t want to.

Yooka-Laylee

The other pleasing thing is the expansion you unlock for the worlds. It’s a nice halfway house between Banjo-Kazooie, which had relatively small worlds, and Banjo-Tooie whose sprawl was genuinely impressive but also overwhelming. You start off with the basic version of the world and then collect enough Pagies to expand the book. That adds extra buildings/challenges/pathways… and so you go back in having got the lay of the land and start exploring the new bits.

On the less impressive side, there are a bunch of niggles. The most persistent of them is the camera. The camera angles are exactly as awkward and unhelpful at times as they were in the original. You go through a doorway and the camera is often facing you so the first thing you have to do is reverse your directions for a few moments while you re-orient yourself. If you’re on a section where the devs have decided a top-down camera is more useful it can be a right pain transitioning out of that – you go to leave, leaving switches to a new camera angle, the direction you’re heading becomes something different in relation to the new camera angle and you run back into the top-down view. Those are the most obvious issues but you’ll encounter camera wrestling at various points throughout.

Yooka-Laylee

Flying is a pain in the bum, too. It’s the new swimming. It can be really hard to tell where you are in 3D space, plus you also get a bunch of unhelpful camera angles as part of being airborne. There are also niggles like pulling back on the analogue stick (I will only play this on controller) generally meaning you want to go backwards but when flying it means you descend so turning is the most awkward thing. Oh, and through flying you’ll find ledges and platforms it looks like you should be able to land on, then reach them only to discover they’re invisible walls. Invisible walls are awful.

Some of the minigames really outstay their welcome, too. There are races you compete in with a little cloud and they just go on far too long, especially for the speed you’re travelling at. If you don’t complete them first or second time they become a truly boring slog. Same with the minecart races and the retro arcade games – I’d enjoy them if they were half the length but they just end up feeling bloated.

Yooka-Laylee

I should add that Yooka-Laylee continues the grand tradition of not believing in maps. It shows you things you’ve unlocked in relation to other things by zooming out from them with a cut scene/shot. But when you’re shown a lot of stuff (in the case of expanding a world, for example) it’s really difficult to keep track of what’s just happened. You can also lose your bearings if you unlock multiple new areas when in a different form. I was pottering round as a little ship and I blasted my way through several obstacles to open up new areas all in one go so I didn’t have to go through the palaver of transforming multiple times, and then wasn’t sure if I’d actually managed to find them all again in my regular form.

One final gripe is that the boss fights are dull. They’re the familiar rinse and repeat of doing a thing until the boss gets cranky, then doing variations on that thing until you defeat them. I actually enjoyed meeting them because their characters were generally amusing in that first instance, but going through the intro dialogue multiple times quickly lost any charm it once had. Same for the fights themselves.

The final boss fight is the dullest of the bunch which is a shame as at least the others aren’t mandatory for finishing the game. It both outstays its welcome by a long shot and fails to do anything interesting with the mechanics of fighting. You just run through an overlong set of repetitions of the various moves until you get to the next section of the fight. Unskippable cut scenes partway through, dialogue you can’t speed through, no checkpointing, no health refresh options, no kind of acknowledgement that you’ve mastered any of the components… these all come together to make defeating Capital B a slog which soured the end of the experience considerably.

Yooka-Laylee

This is the interesting part, for me. Not the part where I’m playing the game and being irritated by those things, but how inextricably linked to the whole experience they are. I’ve never had particularly rose-tinted specs for games I loved as a kid, I don’t think. I’m fond of them, but I also remember how cross these boss fights made me and how fed up I’d get not being able to make a jump or find a thing or get my bearings when swimming or flying or having to repeat a race for the umpteenth time. So when you make a game like Yooka-Laylee where you want to recreate the feeling of playing something like Banjo-Kazoodle what do you do?

If you strip out the annoying parts or rework them do you lose something crucial about the experience of the game as a whole? I think there are corrections that would be easy to make without disrupting the flow or the whole. Things like shortening those aforementioned races, or cutting out the intro dialogue from boss fights. The change to underwater movement was also welcome without feeling unfaithful.

Yooka-Laylee

Maps are a little more awkward because they involve adding a UI element that wasn’t present in the original as well changing the way you approach navigation. Generally the games trade in you seeing something interesting and heading towards it, or seeing a bunch of uncollected golden quills and knowing you haven’t been to that area yet. A map would remove that, but would also help guard against the feeling of wandering aimlessly which can set in when you’ve collected the obvious Jiggies Pagies and are trying to find out what’s left.

This is perhaps what the tonic system is trying to help with. Tonics are things you unlock by meeting various targets like stunning a certain number of enemies or collecting a number of ghost writers. You are allowed to equip one at a time and they do things like make your power bar fill up faster. One tonic helps you find collectibles so you equip it and if you go near a hidden extra you’ll get notified with some more game sounds. It doesn’t get rid of the aimless wandering, but it can reduce it a bit.

Yooka-Laylee

I’m aware that I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the things which frustrate me, but I want to make sure I say that I’ve been having a lovely time. It doesn’t quite get back the magic of the originals – the expansion system means it lacks the diversity of worlds for one thing, and for another you can’t recreate that nineties wonder of me feeling like “this is the biggest game I’ve ever seen!” when I’ve played Minecraft or Skyrim or DayZ or anything else in the intervening years – but it brings enough of what I loved about the older incarnations that I willingly binged on it over the weekend where usually I keep those days free from work tasks.

I’m far less sure of how someone without that attachment to the originals will perceive the mix of flaws and strengths. For me the chance to revisit one of my first game infatuations did reduce the annoyances, or at least they became part and parcel of going back – you take the irritants with the joys because without it it wouldn’t be the same.

But I want to end by highlighting that this is a friendly game regardless of whether you had an N64 two decades ago. That feels like a valuable commodity at this point in time. Yooka-Laylee is bright, it’s positive, it’s daft and it wants to play with you. And that’s lovely.

Yooka-Laylee is out on April 11th.

33 Comments

  1. peterako1989 says:

    It suddens me that I will pass on this game.

    • Ginsoakedboy21 says:

      Honestly if you want a bright colourful 3d game in your life, I’d say Snake Pass looks far more original and interesting than this.

  2. Snowskeeper says:

    I don’t think I can subscribe to the comments section of this article without commenting myself, so here’s me doing that. Don’t really have much to say, though; my memories of the old games are dim at best, and I don’t really have any plans to buy this one based on the description.

    • Josh W says:

      Nice to know you want to hear what other people think about it though.

  3. titanomaquis says:

    Camera issues really bug me in these games nowadays, but 10 years ago I was all too happy to fiddle around with the camera in Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie. It’s something I feel that I should be able to get past, but somehow I lost the patience to do so.

    Are there any good examples of this type of 3d platformer with actually good camera mechanics? I’m asking because I really don’t know, not to be a jerk.

    • TrynePlague says:

      Jak & Daxter, Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2, Rayman 2…

    • Urthman says:

      I prefer the Psychonauts method of pinning the camera behind the character and letting you look around with mouse or right stick like an Assassin’s Creed or other modern 3rd person game.

      I get why other camera views might theoretically make jumping feel more like the precision of a 2D platformer, especially if you are playing with a controller, but in practice even the Mario Galaxy games were constantly making me wish for a camera like Psychonauts.

      • Urthman says:

        Probably the best practice would be to keep the bits in Mario Galaxy style where they pin the camera to a side- or top-view when they think you will want a different perspective or the character’s back is against the wall, but always always let you tap a button to rswich to the over-the-shoulder view whenever want.

      • LessThanNothing says:

        I thought Psychonauts had one of the worst cameras of any game I have played. Anything involving speed (like the last-ish level jumping around meat) was near impossible because you had to manually adjust the camera after every jump. Amusing how different our views can be

  4. Banks says:

    I won’t even bother to activate my key. I feel bad for spending money on this now.

    • Kinsky says:

      Give it to me then! :D

    • skeletortoise says:

      Uh, why?

    • Hideous says:

      Err, what? If you have the key, you could at the very least give the game a try. Seemed a pretty good review to me.

    • Michael Fogg says:

      Probably refers to a recent controversy involving a popular Youtuber?

      • Banks says:

        Jim Sterling? I guess that I generally take his opinion into account but in this case I think that I’m just not interested anymore. Since I backed it all I’ve seen looked less and less compelling and I wish I spent those bucks somewhere else. Maybe some day.

        • Snowskeeper says:

          I think he was referring to JonTron.

          • pepperfez says:

            I know I have trouble playing games that aren’t associated with white supremacists.

          • Snowskeeper says:

            I certainly don’t, but that’s the only prominent, controversial YouTuber I can think of who was associated with this project.

          • pepperfez says:

            Yeah, you’re almost certainly right, and I absolutely didn’t mean to attribute the dumb nerd-nazi attitude to you.

          • pepperfez says:

            Oops, no, I think we both misread: The comment you’re replying to is the OP, and the ‘?’ is because they weren’t thinking of a particular Youtuber.

            Sorry Banks, I’m a sloppy reader and a jerk on the internet!

  5. Axyl says:

    Hehe. “Trowzer” snake. xD

  6. Urthman says:

    Great review. Might be less relevant to someone who never played the Banjo games, but as someone who also loved them, I waa glad to get your perspective.

    (Although I played them on an emulator with save-states and was able to quicksaveabuse my way past the tedious and enfurating bits. Too bad this game doesn’t offer an Easy Mode that gave you quicksaves.)

  7. Puddingbrummsel says:

    Sounds pretty much in line with my expectations. Banjo-Kazooie is one of my favorite 3D platformers of all time, and as such, this should be a fun time for me

    e: also I love the presentation

  8. Nevard says:

    I still can’t help but think that Yooka is a huge failure in character design. He just has like, no defining features at all. No points of interest. He looks precisely like a generic lizard NPC from a generic lizard village you might theoretically visit in one level, not the main character of the game.
    They picked one of the weirdest looking types of lizard to base their main character on (a chameleon) and all that this translated to was kind of a curly tail. Even just giving him pants, like Banjo, would have done something to break up the bland plastic action figure shape.

    They got it right with his companion, who has a huge red nose as a feature, and pretty much every NPC I’ve seen. Yooka’s got nothing.

  9. haldolium says:

    How would you compare it to the recent Poi?

    Yooka looks a lot more sophisticated in its details. Poi sadly didn’t have any feel of meaning to it, or any feel of proper traversal in its direct gameplay, making it a very shallow game without challenge or depth.

    Yooka does look like it goes more in-depth when it comes to mechanics or world design, but the review kind of put me off.

    • Shinard says:

      Why? It seems like a very positive review.

      • haldolium says:

        Yeah no it seems “good”, I just expected “great” and “awesome”… I guess I am going to play it anyways but I already quit Poi half-way through since it was just okay for some nostalgic moments but not much more.

        Issues like camera problems belong to the past imo and should never occur in todays more educated game dev landscape.

  10. Premium User Badge

    MajorLag says:

    I was somewhat intrigued, but it sounds just tedious enough for me to ignore, which is probably for the best. I never did get into BK, having only heard great things about it later in life and never having played it as a kid, when I did get around to it it felt like Mario 64 (good) but with clunkier controls (very not good when your game is all about moving around).

    • pepperfez says:

      The Rare 3d platformers being revived rather than Mario 64 is a travesty. No game has better translated the kinetic joy of the best 8- and 16-bit platformers from 2d to 3d like it, including its own Mario successors, but it’s not like it’s some lost document. Honestly, a brute copy of the M64 movement scheme in a pretty skin would be a pretty excellent game.

      • Premium User Badge

        MajorLag says:

        I have thought of making a ripoff of Mario64, but as a kind of MarioMaker thing with a simple Minecraft-like editor. I feel pretty sure it’d be the worlds greatest parkour game.

        But 3D games are like, an order of magnitude or two more work, and I’m just one amateur dev with shit art skills, so I haven’t done it and probably never will.

  11. Caiman says:

    Sounds pretty much exactly what they were pitching on Kickstarter really, so not sure what people were expecting. Dodgy camera comes with the territory. Still, I do think that Sumo may have outdone ex-Rare with Snake Pass, which evokes similar nostalgia yet really injects it with something very novel.

  12. haldolium says:

    I have to say so far I am rather enjoying it and do not miss the map (although keeping track of quests would be handy I guess) – camera feels okay and I kind of enjoy a non-littered overview of the world where the HUD only comes in very rarely.

    But what the hell is with the voice overs? Its the most obnoxious, ear-bleeding design I’ve ever heard. I use that method of starting over a sound withing milliseconds to *annoy* people not to VO an entire game with apparently hundreds of lines of text.

  13. Josh W says:

    There’s a friend of mine who is going to be very happy about this, backed this and mighty number 9, and given how that one turned out, I think he’ll be very glad to play this one.

    There’s a certain difficulty with being a fan of retro-exploring-collecting games, in that once you know where everything is, you cannot play it again. Or at least, not in the same way. Making new versions of the same game is a way for those who want to go back and play it to have an experience similar to those people who want to go back and play street fighter or something else more mechanically driven; the chance to fall back into a familiar loop, enjoyable in it’s own right but also a link to years of previous good experiences.