Video Game Review: “Yooka Laylee”

   Yooka-Laylee has modestly been on my radar since its release in late-2017, harkening back to an earlier era when 3-D mascot-platformers were more prevalent. The reason I hadn’t played Yooka-Laylee until now mostly had to do with uncertainty, as well as the lukewarm reaction received from critics and audiences alike. As much as I enjoy the genre and yearn for series’ like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, and Ratchet & Clank to inspire a comeback, I’ve never had the same affection toward Banjo-Kazooie, a videogame developed by Rare. Former key personnel in Banjo’s development were involved in Yooka-Laylee, and, in many ways, Yooka-Laylee acts as its spiritual successor. Part of it is because I don’t have the nostalgic lenses for Banjo-Kazooie the way I did for some of the other titles I’ve rattled off, but a lot of it has to do with its simplicity and repetition. I enjoyed the control-scheme and aesthetics, and I found some charm in its execution, but I always found it lacked in other key fields. Nevertheless, I hoped Yooka-Laylee would take what I did enjoy about Rare’s beloved series and optimize it. Does Yooka-Laylee introduce the latest plat-forming icon, a solid entry in the genre, or a disappointing dud? Here are my thoughts…

   Developed by Playtonic Games, Yooka-Layee received significant media coverage and gained support from hopeful gamers through a very successful Kickstarter campaign, garnering enough pledges to accumulate a total of over two-and-a-half million dollars. The videogame follows a chameleon named Yooka and a bat named Laylee in their quest to find all the pages (dubbed “Pagies”) from a magical book and thwart the diabolical intents of an evil corporation.

   The graphics in Yooka-Laylee are colorful and decorative, accomplishing a nostalgic, thematic allure for anyone who ever once coveted a 3-D platformer, be it Banjo, or somewhere thereafter. They don’t offer the most detailed character-models and it may not succeed in having its own unique, distinct identity, but it does reward pledges with the aesthetic advertised to them. Yooka-Laylee looks breezy, light-heart, and easygoing, akin to its spiritual predecessor. Its simplicity in execution feels dated, but charming, and it does feel like a labor of love in how everything comes together. The level-design, character-models, and soundtrack all feel fleshed out and consistent with the retro approach intended, meaning a lot of your enjoyment will depend on how you enjoyed experiencing them in earlier games.

   This is a double-edged sword, because while Yooka-Laylee fondly reminisces over classic titles of yesteryear, but no matter how earnest the intent, there’s a fine line between coming off as a noble throwback and a counterfeit knockoff. The game-play in Yooka-Laylee is nearly a cut-and-paste of the Collect-a-Thons from the Nintendo 64 and the Original PlayStation, and if you squint hard enough (enough to blur the enhanced graphics), you might even think you’ve stumbled upon a gem of that era. Levels harken back to Donkey Kong Country and others, and many times, you’ll find the hands involved in Yooka-Laylee’s creation helped create the very thing influencing them. Self-emulation isn’t an indefensible offense, and it happens a lot in the videogame industry, especially if that’s what’s demanded. It’s simply a factor in whether this is a recommendation or not.

   Yooka-Laylee tries to incorporate different abilities, like “sky soaring” or “tongue whipping,” but a lot of them feel inconsequential, and other times, they can exacerbate certain other issues like an uncooperative camera-angle (which isn’t as detrimental as, say, Super Lucky’s Tale, for instance, but can be finnicky at times). The characters shine through at times, but it’s rare (no pun intended). The humor misses more than it lands, but I would say that it’s from the same vein as what Yooka-Laylee pulls from. I will also say the voice acting, which isn’t so much voice acting as they are squeaks, squawks, and sounds (similar to Banjo) swiftly overstay their welcome like Freddy Krueger’s claws combing down a chalkboard. The storyline is nonexistent and boss battles are straightforward and indistinct. Certain puzzles feel overtly ambiguous (I spent a while trying to find a way up a large, icy hill, only to discover I needed to “attack” a beehive to coat myself in honey, making myself sticky enough to ascend).

   My experience with Yooka-Laylee was very casual, and I think that’s how a lot of people will engage with Playtonic’s game. It wasn’t something I could sit and play with for more than an hour or so, but, in small-doses, I had fun when I played through it after working a shift, or when I was tired and wanted to turn my brain off for the day before bed. Yooka-Laylee satiates in that respect, accomplishing a lightweight pastime where I can chase down collectibles and not have to actively engage with a storyline.

   Yooka-Laylee will, hopefully, satisfy backers and fans yearning their Banjo-Three-ie? Banjo Four-ie? or, whatever it’d be called, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have liked. Yooka-Laylee’s vast, nonlinear landscape and vibrant color-palate enticed me for some, even if it was nothing I hadn’t seen before, but its familiarity, repetition, and lack of innovation some-twenty-years later, left a lot to be desired.

Placement on the List: The Decents

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