With April 11th finally upon us, it’s time to sink our teeth into one of the most anticipated indies of the year, Yooka-Laylee. Essentially, Yooka-Laylee was developed by Playtonic Games which boasts a group of some of your favorite creators from back in the Rareware days. Believe it or not, these are the guys who made some of the very first 3D platforming masterpieces back in the 90s.
The list of games credited to these devs is pretty lengthy, and you’ve likely heard of just about all of them including Donkey Kong Country, Battletoads, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, GoldenEye 007, and of course, Banjo-Kazooie. They pretty much perfected the platforming genre while also introducing some of the best FPS titles to the Nintendo 64.
Yooka-Laylee looks to follow in the footsteps of its predecessors, and serves as a nostalgic romp that never shies away from its roots. Especially those found in another iconic staple, Banjo-Kazooie. In Yooka-Laylee, you play as a chameleon and bat duo who feel reminiscent of Banjo-Kazooie’s bear and bird combo.
Both games are unabashed platformers, where you’re required to jump past obstacles and use special moves to advance through the game’s various different stages. Yooka-Laylee and Banjo-Kazooie are platformers comprised of interconnect worlds all accessible through the use of a singular hub. In Yooka-Laylee, that hub is Capital B's hangout, Hivory Towers.
Each world has a unique terrain and aesthetic, and can be completed at the player’s discretion. The order in which you unlock Pagies in Yooka-Laylee, for example, is left entirely up to you for the most part. Aside from the moves you purchase from Trowzer the Snake, of course.
Both games are filled with an ample amount of collectibles capable of making even the sourest of completionists salivate. Like other Rare games, Yooka-Laylee swaps out Banjo’s musical notes and Donkey Kong Country’s bananas with its own theme and vibe. Here, you’ll stumble across a written realm full of Quills, Pagies, and Ghost Writers, to name a few.
While the process of gathering them via puzzle solving is reminiscent of Banjo-Kazooie, Yooka-Laylee always holds firm to its own identity. I really enjoyed the artistry behind the in-your-face humor, and most of the visuals were right up my alley save for the Pagies themselves who feature tiny little faces that have a weird way of creeping me out.
When I strip everything away, I feel like the heart of Yooka-Laylee beats with the same rhythm of Banjo-Kazooie, even though each heart is housed in a different body. For example, in Banjo-Kazooie you had Bottle the Mole teaching you tricks.
In Yooka-Laylee, you have the hilariously named “Trowzer Snake.” I feel like in this, Playtonic revealed just who they’re creating the game for. Adult Banjo-Kazooie lovers like myself who can appreciate a little sneaky trouser comedy. Additionally, both Banjo and Yooka have to face off against some pretty memorable villains. However, I will say that Capital B is a bit less imposing than Gruntilda the Witch.
I found myself bonding with Capital B in a weird way, though, as this wealthy old stooge embodies the the very corporate overlords many adults face on a day-to-day basis. Oh Capital B, you just want to suck up all of the world’s literature to turn a profit. You’re like an awkward Gru from Despicable Me, and I can’t help but love you!
Overall, yes Banjo-Kazooie and Yooka-Laylee have more than a few things in common. There’s no denying this fact. Whether you’re talking about the protagonists, the exploration, the collectibles, and puzzles, it all has a similar vibe. Nevertheless, this doesn’t make Yooka-Laylee any less fun or enjoyable.
You can easily spend hours trying to track down every Pagie and chuckle to yourself at some of the off-the-wall humor courtesy of characters like Rextro (he’s been waiting for his buddies since 1997, cut him some slack).
The game warms my soul in the same way that Mario 64, Donkey Kong Country, and yes, Banjo-Kazooie did all those years ago. Despite this, I feel like you have to be pretty heartless to trash Yooka-Laylee just because it reminds you of Banjo-Kazooie. These are the same people, and Banjo-Kazooie was one of their platformer babies.
So what if they want to harken back a little? Many of us do the same thing unconsciously when we flip on an old album we used to dig back in the day. It’s not a movie reboot, it’s another entry in a long line of awesome games. My small list of critiques mirror those others have stated, namely the camera wrangling.
“Member fighting to see where your character was going in the 90s? Oooh yeh, I member.” Apologies, couldn’t help throwing a little South Park in there.
Let’s wrap this up. There’s been a huge outcry for a game like this ever since Rare started to fade away. I mean, the game was crowdfunded through Kickstarter in the span of mere minutes, hitting over a million British pounds in a day! This makes it the highest funded UK video game in Kickstarter history.
Maybe I’m soft because I grew up playing Banjo-Kazooie, but my gut doesn’t feel like I’m being unfair. Yooka-Laylee and Banjo-Kazooie are similar, yet different enough to occupy two distinct spaces. Each feature their own humor, charm, and will likely sway you if you’re on the fence due the game’s initial mixed reviews.
I say, pick this game up and give it a try, especially if you’re a fan of Rare. It’s currently available for PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and hopefully the Nintendo Switch sometime in the near future.