Like many gamers around my age, my gaming prime came on the Nintendo 64. Those late adolescent/early teen years of my life were spent pouring hour after hour into the medium’s first 3D worlds, and few experiences hold as special a place in my heart as the action-platformers on Nintendo’s system. Driven to grab every collectible, I’d spend hours watching counters go up as I crossed items off, only to start a new save file and do it all over again. One of my particular favorites was Banjo-Kazooie, and so I was nothing if not intrigued when I found out many of the minds behind that classic from my youth had started a new studio, and successfully Kickstarted a throwback to that era titled Yooka-Laylee. While it was fun to walk down an updated memory lane, Yooka-Laylee is also a reminder in some ways of how far we’ve come in gaming, and how some things are better left in the past.
Yooka-Laylee follows the titular duo of a chameleon (Yooka) and his best bat friend (Laylee) as they enjoy a relaxing day at their new home Shipwreck Creek, which is just outside the corporate Hivory Towers. Meanwhile, the head honcho of the Hivory Towers, Capital B, sets in motion a plan to steal all the world’s literature as he looks for one special, magical book. It should shock no one that the book is actually in Laylee’s possession, and she and Yooka don’t take kindly to having it suddenly taken away from them. The book’s pages—dubbed “Pagies” in the game—don’t take to this idea either, ripping themselves from their bindings and scattering about the tower. Now, Yooka and Laylee must race to collect all 145 pages, put the book back together, and stop Capital B’s plans once and for all.
Yooka-Laylee is a textbook spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie. The names have changed, the worlds have changed, and even some of the powers have changed, but playing Yooka-Laylee is like forcing yourself to feel déjà vu for 10 to 20 hours depending on how many collectibles you go after (a one-hundred percent run took me almost 20 hours) and if you ever played those original games. For me, this was great, because I love the colorful characters, the tongue-in-cheek British humor, and the puzzle solving and platforming gameplay that served as staples for Banjo-Kazooie (and continue here). But, after wiping the nostalgia from my eyes like crud caked onto them after oversleeping, I realize there are also some problems with living in the past like Yooka-Laylee does, since the game largely ignores the 20 years of progress games development have made.
The first (and most) evident problem is the camera. Even after the day one patch, I still felt like I had to wrestle with the damn thing like it was 1998 all over again. Here I was, swearing at the TV that the angle wouldn’t let me see what I wanted to see, or that it had pulled in too close while Laylee was using her flying power, or that the perspective suddenly shifted, and so too did the controls. The good old days, right? It was a common and accepted occurrence back then, but we’ve progressed past that as an industry for the most part—yet here was this nuisance from the past cropping up once again.
The controls are also looser than all the bowel movement jokes worked into the game. While they’re rarely bad enough to ever actively get in the way of you beating the game, they can get frustrating—especially with Laylee’s flying or Yooka’s roll move that allows you to traverse steep inclines—when trying to grab collectibles as you just barely over or undershoot your target because it feels like you’re fighting the controls more than you should be.
Another favorite problem is the game-breaking glitch. Banjo-Kazooie had one that was never fixed (even when it was re-released with Rare Replay) called the Bottles Puzzle Glitch. This would make it so if you did a particular puzzle before collecting all 900 music notes in that game, some of them would magically disappear, and you’d be stuck just shy of 100-percent.
In Yooka-Laylee, there seems to be a similar glitch in world four, the Capital Cashino. In order to obtain most Pagies in the level, you need to collect 10 coins on various casino-based mini-games, a fun change of pace that adds variety to the experience. I discovered late in my playthrough that by destroying out of order slot machines, you could grab a bunch of coins at once. Thanks to that, I wound up cashing in four Pagies worth of coins at one time, after which the little auto-save icon popped up and then faded away. I ran around for a few more minutes looking for (but never finding) more coins, and then I proceeded to turn my game off for the night. To my horror, when I returned to Yooka-Laylee the next morning, not only did I not have all four Pagies I had cashed in my coins for (I only was credited with two of them), but the coins and the out of order slot machines themselves were gone from the world. So, too, was every other coin I had already collected from the world.
Now, this wouldn’t stop me from beating the game, but it’s clearly a glitch that prevents you from getting 100-percent in the end (like the Bottles Glitch). I believe the autosave point happened in-between the Pagie counter increases but after I cashed in all the coins at the same time. It was unfortunate, and it’s—admittedly—a lot of speculation on my part to the hows and whys of the matter, but after several hours I resigned myself to starting a new game, beginning from scratch, and cashing in 10 coins as soon as I got them every time in Capital Cashino—then getting my full clear on that playthrough.
Yooka-Laylee does do a fine job of following in its ancestor’s footsteps on the positive side of things as well, however. The worlds are absolutely gorgeous, with colors that you didn’t even know existed just popping off your screen. As well, the soundtrack is amazing; I’m still humming the opening theme while writing this, and honestly you’d be hard-pressed to get the Capital Cashino theme out of my head.
The worlds are also absolutely massive. There may be only five of them—six if you count the main hub—and they may start out at a size comparable to what we were used to in the N64 days, but Yooka-Laylee adds variety by allowing you to spend Pagies to quadruple the area of each world, offering up hours of additional puzzle-solving and keeping each world from growing stale as a new cavalcade of characters are introduced with even more quests to complete.
And, my glitch notwithstanding, each collectible feels challenging, but not ever unobtainable. This is a difficult balance to strike to get people to keep playing and not be bored of the collection process, yet Yooka-Laylee makes it feel effortless. There’s also a great open-endedness to each challenge, which is something I had forgotten I loved about these games. You can bend the rules once you have the proper tools at your disposal in order to circumvent some of the difficulty. In fact, I’d recommend doing the bare minimum to open up each basic world and concentrate on obtaining the full repertoire of Yooka and Laylee’s moveset. Once you unlock all their abilities, you’ll be able to find faster, more efficient ways of solving puzzles and beating bosses when you subsequently backtrack.
Speaking of powers, Yooka and Laylee also have a bevy of transformations courtesy of a character named Dr. Puzz that would put Mumbo Jumbo’s magic to shame. Plant, animal, and even vehicle forms allow the duo to explore every nook and cranny of each world. There’s also an additional power you can utilize over the course of the game called Tonics that offer everything from more health to more special ability meter, or even just fun stuff like giving Yooka familiar-looking blue pants to wear—but you can only ever have one active at a time.
One other minor addition sees Yooka-Laylee borrow something from the modern era: multiplayer. A polygonal dinosaur character named Rextro is the purveyor of old-school arcade games inside the main campaign, and he also offers up some local co-op and versus multiplayer options for up to four players on one couch. It’s a nice touch from a crew that supposedly always wanted to add a multiplayer component to the Banjo games, but could never do it back in the N64 days.
Finally, there’s the writing. Personally, I loved much of the tone of this game. It never takes itself too seriously, and the toilet humor finds an interesting sweet spot between what we saw in Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Banjo-Kazooie—including in the very first level, where you need to loosen the bowels of a talking cloud in order to get it to rain or snow in the world to unlock new challenges. I also liked many of the characters, like the aforementioned Rextro, and Trowzer, the special move-selling snake. Heck, even the loading screens make fun of the game itself, or how games used to be back in the N64 era. You could potentially alienate some of your younger audience with references back to the days of memory cards and cartridges, but I found it to be charming.
Yooka-Laylee was a fun stroll down memory lane, but it also serves an unintentional purpose: It reminds us how much better things have gotten in games over the years. While still being solid in its own right as an action-platformer, its humor and style won’t resonate with everyone, and there are definitely some technical issues holding it back. However, for those of us who grew up with Banjo-Kazooie, our rose-colored glasses can remain mostly intact as we hunt for countless collectibles, even as our tastes have matured along with the industry. Hopefully, those unfamiliar with the roots of this game will be able to forgive that, sometimes, we older gamers just wanted a talking, constipated cloud to change the world around us, and focus on the platforming instead.
Some long-forgotten issues from way back in the day crop up again in this throwback action-plaformer, but even if you aren’t playing it through the nostaliga of someone who grew up with Banjo-Kazooie or other adventures like it, you’ll still find a solid game to play in Yooka-Laylee.
E10+ – Everyone 10+
|Yooka-Laylee is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version played was for Xbox One. Product was provided by Team17 for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.
Ray has extensive roots in geek culture, as he’s written about videogames, comics, and movies for such outlets as Newsday.com, ESPNNewYork.com, Classic Game Room on YouTube, Collider.com, Comicvine.com, and of course EGM. His main goal in life? To become king of all geek media, of course!