Playtonic Games (studio)
04 April 2017 (released)
06 April 2017
Nostalgia can be a cruel thing. It can be a good thing for a game to carry some reminder of the past, but it can also be a curse if the past is all that game has to live on. It pays to not just live on previous deeds and merits, but to build on them, or better yet, merge them with something fresh and new so that all people can enjoy what you have to deliver, and not just people remembering old times.
It’s a shame then, that in an attempt to recapture the spirit of Banjo-Kazooie, Yooka-Laylee seems to fall into the trappings of memory lane just a little too much for me.
Now don’t get me wrong, to have a game that evokes the spirit of Banjo-Kazooie is something I will happily put my hand up in favour of, as I adored the first game as a young child. I have the fondest memories of playing that game non-stop on the Nintendo 64, but this game copies one note too many from that old loveable pair. Right from the off, anyone who’s played with the old bear-bird duo will notice the similarities: Pagies replace Jiggies, Quills replace Notes, the health bar is made of butterflies instead of honeycombs… it’s almost like when you change your own desktop, but all you change is the app icons. It’s just too much like the old games. Hell, this game even uses repetitive noises for when characters speak, and they become irritating fast, with some of the grunts being unskippable due to being in cutscenes. Being unable to quieten those noises, or just outright turn them off, only adds to the annoyance that these give me. While I was able to deal with them as a kid, as an adult they become a sort of ‘white noise’ fairly quickly.
Even the controls feel like little more than a retread of old times. The two titular characters may as well just be Banjo and Kazooie in disguise, as their basic controls and navigation are almost exactly the same, too. And this isnt a case of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' either. The way certain actions are performed feel like the characters themselves are wannabes. It’s sad that with characters that look on the surface like fresh charactets with personality, they have very little to offer that is their own. How ironic that, in a game that cracks a joke about 'focus test groups', its own characters almost feel like they were designed by one. But that’s not to say that it’s anything hard to deal with; things handle smoothly (for the most part) and even as you expand your moveset over the course of play, things are never too complicated that you’re scrambling to remember a key power at a bad time.
The world is undeniably very lush and beautiful to look at. While I did not get a look at every level in the game, what I have seen so far is varied in both layout and looks. Just about every bit of scenery in the worlds pops with colour, giving each its own style. However, the game does suffer from some stuttering frame drops from time to time, even in the beginning, and this can become quite noticeable in certain areas. Considering that the game doesn’t appear to be as heavy on the detailed textures as some other games out there, this perplexes me, especially as I played it on the Xbox One. It makes me worry how the PC port will handle.
It really disappoints me to see a game that had me genuinely excited with it's prospects be so... mild. This is not a bad game at all, and again i understand that this is made as a 'spiritual sequel' to Banjo-Kazooie, but even that kind of game needs its own identity, and this feels like it lacks that crucial piece.
If i want to play Banjo-Kazooie, I'll just download it on my Xbox One. People yet to experience that classic may get more mileage from this, but I personally dont need a carbon copy.
++ Good-looking worlds and graphics
+ Well-made gameplay and controls
+- Heavy nostalgia trip
- Frame rate unstable
- Game lacks identity, too much like Banjo-Kazooie
- Speech sounds unbearable after a while
An Xbox One version of Yooka Laylee was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review