Saturday, December 16, 2017

Review: Yooka-Laylee [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]


As someone who played the hell out of Banjo-Kazooie when it first came out I’ve had my eye on Yooka-Laylee, a seeming successor to that classic Rare adventure platforming throne, for some time. Banjo-Kazooie thoroughly enchanted me with its quirky sense of humor, varied gameplay, and creative differences that helped it forge out a path somewhat different than the one set by Mario 64. While almost all of those elements are back in Yooka-Laylee a combination of the genre moving on over the years and what I’d say is a lack of a consistent sense of craft holds it back from being all it can be.


Starting with what works the look, sound, and general feel of everything pretty well oozes that classic Rare feel. In the same way that the earlier Snake Pass was able to recapture many key elements (no doubt helped, in part, by the inclusion of a soundtrack involving Grant Kirkhope) of those classic collect-a-thons from the N64 era Yooka-Laylee hits a lot of nostalgic notes with details like the funky way everyone talks (down to the font of the text), the vibrant color palette, and much of the same trademark bizarre humor and situations you’ll come upon. Throw in the pretty snappy statements by Laylee and the game provides some great feels.

Another bright spot is the moveset, which starts pretty limited but then expands substantially over the course of the game. As you collect your Pagies on the levels you’ll be able to buy new moves from Trowzer. With these moves you won’t only feel more capable of dealing with enemies but you’ll also gain skills that give you access to new areas or ways to get to spots you’d seen before but couldn’t quite get to. It’s a classic mechanic that is generally well-applied, just be sure when you’re early in the game not to kill yourself trying to get everything, portions of the levels are there expressly for the purpose of returning to them later. In general it is well worth scouring the world for everything you can find as some unlockable extras like Rextro’s arcade games provide an extra bit of fun and oomph, even if not all of them are necessarily game-changers by any means.


Moving on to the downsides unfortunately there are some areas where a combination of the lustre of gameplay past fading and some shortcomings with the camera can’t be ignored. The level design among the 5 worlds is a bit of a mixed bag with some high points, some that drop to not being too great, and more vanilla than I would have hoped. In particular the fourth world feels a bit like the designers ran out of steam, but in general perhaps too many aspects of the game design feel like an homage to a time that more modern gamers have passed by. An injection of some additional riffs on what made that gameplay work without so much mimicking it may have helped the game from feeling a bit stale at times. It’s also worth noting that though the majority of the time I didn’t have a particular issue with the camera there were enough spots where I had to struggle with it a bit that I can’t give it a pass either.

With Yooka-Laylee I think there are two distinct audiences that need to be spoken to for the summary. For major fans of the classic Rare look and feel there are a lot of joyful notes that Yooka-Laylee hits and as long as you don’t set your expectations too high you should enjoy it. For people who are less familiar or enamored with classic collect-a-thons it’s a bit harder to recommend, especially now that the long shadow of Mario Odyssey is hard to ignore. Even if it may not be everything I was hoping for Yooka-Laylee is an earnest title that shows a lot of love and reverence for the classic Rare titles that have obviously inspired it, I just wish it had done more to additionally forge out its own path.


Score: 7

Pros:
  • Most definitely a spiritual successor to classic Rare titles like Banjo-Kazooie, perhaps even to a fault
  • Platforming and challenges that could probably be enjoyed by people of any age
  • Progression is generally handled well, with new abilities acquired as you go, and some nice secrets are out there to be found

Cons:
  • Some aspects of the gameplay and level design perhaps should have stayed in the past
  • It doesn’t seize the opportunity to innovate with and enhance the classic formula it is obviously enamored with
  • There are times when the camera is frustrating