Close your eyes for a second and take a trip back to the golden years of gaming in the 90’s. You head to the nearest game shop and start hunting down a new game to pop in your Nintendo 64. Since this is before the internet became the megalodon it is today, you grab the game that looks most appealing based on the box art. Lo and behold, you notice a familiar logo on the bottom corner of the box that you grabbed. That little logo says Rareware and instantly you know that this game is going to be something special. The game that I ended up grabbing was Banjo-Kazooie, which is arguable the greatest platforming experience of the 90’s. Yooka-Laylee embodies everything that made Banjo-Kazooie great, with the addition of modern controls and a beautiful HD coat of paint.
Yooka-Laylee is — in everything but name, a Banjo-Kazooie game and a damn good one at that. This is the Banjo sequel we’ve been waiting nearly 20 years for. You won’t find any car building mechanics or anti-platforming “jokes” that were prevalent in the abomination that was Nuts and Bolts. Yooka-Laylee is a collectathon at heart, but instead of Jiggies and notes, you collect Pagies and quills, which essentially fill the same role. You need to collect Pagies in order to unlock new levels, but original to Yooka-Laylee is the ability to expand opened worlds with the use of Pagies. This means an already expansive world will unlock new areas to explore.
The game truly hit the mark with the feeling of nostalgia I got when playing. From the witty, fourth wall breaking banter, to the garbled grunts that characters make when talking. There were moments where I actually felt like a kid again, sitting at my Nintendo 64 without a care in the world. Some people may have a problem with that, but I’d wager a lot of gamers who have an interest in Yooka-Laylee are looking to get that feeling of nostalgia. I believe that this adds a lot of incentive for people familiar with Banjo-Kazooie, while also offering a completely fresh experience for people unfamiliar with collectathons.
Building upon the collecting aspect that made prior platformers so great, Yooka-Laylee adds abilities to the mix that expand how you traverse worlds. There’s a certain snake who wears trousers that provides you with new abilities (and the occasional broken flat screen) for a nominal fee, within each world. Abilities offer tons of new ways to tackle obstacles you had problems with in earlier worlds, while also being crucial to reaching new parts of expanded worlds. Basically, you’re going to want to be collecting a lot of quills if you want to explore every nook and cranny.
Controlling both characters is an absolute breeze and the rolling ability makes longer treks much more bearable than walking. Early on, you’ll gain the ability to eat certain object and fire them as projectiles. This transitions the game into an over-the-shoulder perspective that feels a bit finicky when aiming with a controller. Coupled with the occasional frame-rate dip, it can turn into an annoying situation.
Within each world, there’s an NPC that gives you the option to transform into a different creature or object. This is where the controls can go from good to bad. Within the ice world you’ll be able to turn into a snow plow to drive through big ice mounds. The controls for the snow plow are like a slap to the face. Imagine driving a warthog in Halo without any precision when you accelerate or turn. Beyond that, the controls for every other transformation work absolutely fine.
NPC’s in Yooka-Laylee are hit or miss for the most part, but the characters that are fun to interact with, really outshine the bad ones. Both of the major villains — Capital B and Dr. Quack, are both entertaining and add a ton of personality to the game. When you’re within Capital B’s lair, he’ll talk to you over the intercom and talk about microtransactions and sequels, which add a hilarious meta commentary on the modern game industry.
Possibly the best NPC in the game would be Rextro, the embodiment of 90’s arcade culture wrapped in an adorable dinosaur body. Rextro can be found in every world of the game alongside a unique arcade cabinet that lets you play a new mini-game. These games aren’t the most fun, but do offer a nice breakup between collecting and net you an easy Pagie if you beat the high-score.
Each world contains at least one boss and perhaps the weakest aspect of Yooka-Laylee. Now, I’m not saying that Banjo-Kazooie had the worlds greatest boss fights, but each one was memorable and fun to play. None of the bosses in Yooka-Laylee were inherently bad, but they also didn’t offer anything fun in terms of gameplay. The first boss is more frustrating than anything. He requires you to long jump over giant logs, but controlling the jump distance and speed within a top-down perspective was excruciating. Take this with a grain of salt though, I haven’t fought all the bosses yet, but so far I have not been impressed.
Yooka-Laylee is visually stunning, especially the ice world which offers a beautiful night’s sky and giant moon that I took a good 10 minutes or so admiring. Everything within the game is vibrant and colorful, which is fitting for a platforming collectathon. While most of the time, the game runs at a smooth 60fps, when you shift into shooting mode, you will get the occasional frame dip, but it doesn’t impede the action and only lasts for a split second.
Equipped with both David Wise and Grant Kirkhope, it’s easy to say that the soundtrack for this game is out of this world. Not only does it capture the soul of their prior work on the Nintendo 64, but every song in this game sounds like it was tailor made for the Banjo Threeie we never got. Take a listen to the Hivory Towers Theme and tell me it doesn’t feel like you’re in Gruntilda’s Lair again. I could gush about the music all day honestly, but to sum up my feelings, yes this game features a phenomenal soundtrack and I love it.
Both the writing and dialog are great and banter between characters will usually make me chuckle. Laylee is definitely the star of the show, just like Kazooie was in her game. There’s a lot of references to other games and game mechanics, but nothing feels tacky or forced like you might find in other games. Yooka plays the straight-man and is much more go get ’em when compared to how lethargic Banjo was. The dynamic between the two is great and the duo definitely feel like worthy successors to Banjo and Kazooie.
If you’ve been hankering for a platforming collectathon like I have, you’re more than likely going to have a good time with Yooka-Laylee. This is the game I’ve been waiting for since I beat Banjo-Tooie all those years ago. Playtonic Games has done a fantastic job capturing what made their work at Rare so great, while also building upon that formula. Yooka-Laylee is an addictive and nostalgic platformer that manages to be contemporary despite some minor hiccups, and marks the comeback of the collectathon.