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Yooka-Laylee [Review]

Overall Feeling: 

Yooka-Laylee is the definition of "careful what you wish for." In the rash hatred for the changing ecosystem of game development when an old title, Banjo-Kazooie, got a face-lift on the X360 we created a vacuum that was filled by the crowd-sourcing craze and brought us exactly what we asked for: a '90s platforming adventure. Unfortunately, there's a VERY good reason these kinds of games don't exist anymore. We've moved on and games are infinitely more complex today and gamers will expect more.

The Pros: 

+Character design is adorable and the characters themselves are charming.
+The worlds are bright and beautiful, which is a nice contrast to the modern shades of brown and grey.

The Cons: 

-Game ignores all modern innovation on game design and plays like an N64 title.
-Issues with camera and control highlight a lack of innovation.
-Lackluster story telling and character motivation make collect-a-quests as boring as we might have feared from a true retelling of a '90s classic.
-Worst of all, this is what we were all asking for. It delivers '90s gaming and proves there's a reason we moved on. Nostalgia can hurt as much as help. Rating : 

A few years back, the Xbox 360 saw the return of a ‘90s gaming icon in Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts. It strived to bring the duo into the modern era and attempted to innovate on the tradition of the original title by adding the ability to craft different vehicles to platform in a new way, while trying to also stick to the original collectible nature of the original franchise.

Unfortunately for Rare/Xbox the game was not very well received. At the time, it seemed most the players complaining about the game didn’t like the direction the company had taken the gameplay, feeling as though they should have stuck with the classic puzzle/platformer collect-a-quest that the game (in its introduction level) even had the balls to make fun of; suggesting that the original title’s core gameplay was antiquated and dull.

Fast forward a few more years and the original designers of Banjo and his feathered friend heard the outcry and wanted to do something loyal to the original concept of the platformer title for their fans. The license now held by Rare/Microsoft now though, they had to branch out and so a Kickstarter started up with the simple pitch of bringing back the classic platforming adventure series under the guise of a new duo, similarly named, Yooka and Laylee.

Yooka-Laylee High-Five

To say the proposed game achieved their goal of funding a new-generation title with the original gameplay that the first two franchise offerings had is something of an understatement. Of the asked $175k, the Kickstarter page smashed expectations drawing in just over $2 million dollars in crowd-sourced funding. This lead the new development team, flying under the banner of “Playtonic” ample room to create the game they felt the franchise, and its fans deserved.

That was about two years ago now, back in the year 2015. The proposed date of release (at the time) being October 2016. It ended up taking a little while longer than originally anticipated and instead will release this week (April 11th, 2017).

In a rather unfortunate twist, this gamer now realizes why the original studio (Rare) had attempted to innovate on the concept of the 3D platformer/collect-a-quest style of gaming. There’s also a pretty damned good reason that games like Banjo, Gex, Crash, and a slew of other similar 3D platformers have gone the way of the Dodo: It’s outdated and over simplistic gameplay just doesn’t stand up against the modern generation and is so stale that it will get old/boring in just a few short hours.

Yooka-Laylee Run

I get it, people will be upset. Personally, I’m upset too. I was ready to fall in love with the genre and have the corporate overlords that turned down title offerings from game designers in this vain repeatedly proven wrong. Like the resurge of point-and-click adventure games has seen in the last couple of years, I thought this was just a genre that hadn’t been done proper service and if someone was bold enough to bring it back we’d all sing the praises of a game that was this generation's Mario 64.

It just isn’t the case though. There’s a reason that the Mario games had to evolve as they went along and that no two of the games looked too similar since they moved from the N64 days of 3D platforming being new and shiny enough to sustain our interests in of itself.

Being told to collect a couple hundred objects just so that you unlock the ability to collect a hundred more is a rather boring premise that runs its course by the third level unlock.

There’s absolutely no depth to Yooka-Laylee. Everything is exactly surface level: Collect objects to unlock new areas to unlock even more objects; rinse and repeat until the game reaches an arbitrary ending set by the “story” crafted by the game writers.

Yooka-Laylee Story

There are so moments throughout that’ll give you a little bit of the warm fuzzies you’d want from a nostalgic re-attempt of the classic platforming adventure game, allusions to the previous titles and recycled jokes that give you a quick hit of pride for knowing what they were talking about/referencing… but the gameplay that is supposed to be holding it all together is so base-level at this point it feels like it could easily fit into a browser or mobile-based game. There’s nothing here that takes advantage of the new technology available or the current generation of gameplay that the genre offers. The best I can say about this game coming from the ‘90s to 2017 is that the world and character design are bright and beautiful.

I do understand that some people will have a deep love of the genre that will extend by on my fleeting appreciation of this… a remake of the classic franchise entries. Sure, there are people that still play the old N64 games and will get a kick out of a new shiny version of ‘90s platformer adventure titles. However, most gamers will have, I believe, moved on. Personally, I learned a hard lesson booting up Yooka Laylee and feeling the warm nostalgia quickly fade into a dark grey of realization that things have changed so dramatically in the near 30 years since the genre was created that there are some genres that just don’t work anymore (unless they significantly evolve their gameplay, as has been the case of the Mario titles).

Yooka-Laylee Snow Plow

Technically speaking the game plays well enough. The controls work the way you would expect/want and bugs are rarely encountered. There have been, in the pre-release build, a couple of issues with the camera in certain places and some of the level design preventing advancement in the way that one would expect. These issues have been worked out, for the most part, over the last week since the game released to the early-adopters and press. By the time the game officially launches (tomorrow) a lot of the technical issues should have been resolved.

However, it was never the technical glitches and camera problems that I felt dragged down the score on the game overall. It’s the concept of trying to put a ‘90s game on a modern console and call it a day. It’s ridiculous game design to pretend like nothing has changed and the awe of 3D platforming is enough to sustain the interest of the modern gamer for more than two hours, max.

If there had been more thought put into how that gameplay would have evolved in the last 20+ years and how a modern incarnation of the puzzle-platformer might look I think we’d have something special in the characters of Yooka and Laylee. They are awesome character designs with personalities interesting enough to hold the attention of most gamers through a proper story. But when your only character motivation is collecting the pages of a book, which neither character paid any attention to before the theft of it, it’s really easy to lose player motivation two or three worlds of collecting in.

To the game's credit, the design staff did try to throw in a little something here-and-there to mix up the stale drawn-out platforming and item collection. There are moments in the game that allow the titular characters to transform into different objects/items to change up the gameplay a little and once or twice throughout the story you'll encounter moments of different gameplay like a quiz about the game to try and break up the monotony. 

However, getting quizzed on the "story" and the game so far feels like as much fun as a pop-quiz in High School and is another relic of story-telling in the late '90s that just does not hold up today. 

Quiz Time

Finally, there is a multiplayer mode attached to the game. This was probably the piece which the shine lasted longest on. The games offered in multiplayer are something akin to the mini-games in a party title like Mario Party. Short games with simple objectives pitting up to four players up against each other in gathering or racing games. Similar to the story mode itself though these games lack true variety and any real meat or substance. After playing through each once with a couple of friends, we didn't really feel any need to go back again for a second or third playthrough of the game modes we'd already experienced.

Again, I recognize my viewpoint is not one everyone will share. A few other sites have posted reviews and I’ve seen a wide range of opinions based on if people really wanted a new ‘90s platformer title or were disappointed by the lack of moderinzation/innovation of the title. Personally, I feel like if you’re going to make a new game, in 2017, it has to fit into that market appropriately. Even modern takes on classic genres have something to add to the current generation, plenty of those point-and-click stories have modernized to be something that takes advantage of the modern hardware in new interesting ways (be it the motion controls of a Wii/Switch/Mobile phone, or perspective shifts on 3D hardware).

Yooka-Laylee Multiplayer

If you want to play a game straight out of the ‘90s, tons of those already exist. You could just go back and play the original titles, rather than pay out 2 million to have someone up-rez the art design on an N64 cartridge and sell it as a new experience.

Nostalgia only takes you so far in a game experience, it’s a good tool to be used, but it can’t be the only brush you’re painting with when you want to create something new.

Review is based on a retail version for Xbox One, provided by the Publisher.

Publisher: Team 17
Developer: Playtonic Games
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), Playstation 4, PC, Nintendo Switch (Eventually)
Release Date: 
April 11th, 2017
Price: $39.99 (CDN)