For a long time, I’ve longed for the revival of Banjo and Kazooie, knowing full well that it would never happen. We got a small view of that when Nuts and Bolts released on the Xbox 360, but frankly, it wasn’t the same.
Yes, I purchased the two original Banjo games on the Xbox 360 store when they were launched, and repurchased them again with the Rare Replay release. But, I wanted something new, something I had not beat dozens of times. Enter Playtonic Games and Yooka-Laylee, the spiritual successor to the original bear and bird!
Skinning an Old Idea
With so many ex-Rare individuals working on Yooka-Laylee, you knew the ideas, concepts, and puzzles were going to carry over, not just from the Banjo franchise, but all of those classic N64 3D platform titles. As a long time fan of these types of games, it was great to see all these little Easter eggs pop up, whether referencing worlds from previous Banjo games, or specific puzzles that I fondly remember finishing over 10 years ago.
Yooka, the loveable green iguana, is a slightly more sophisticated version of Banjo, while Laylee, the hideous purple bat, is as vile and rude – if not more so – than Kazooiee ever was. From the first few minutes, you get the Banjo vibe, from the characters interactions with others, to how moves are passed along to you from Trowzer, to the way the characters voices sounds. Shoot, I could have even swore some of the music was lifted straight from the N64 classics – although for full disclosure, it wasn’t, although they did retain the original composer!
Jumping into the World of Yooka-Laylee
Yooka and Laylee are lounging in their pirate ship style home, sitting on a book which begins to rise off the ground and fly towards a mysterious factory like location. As to not ruin the story or any of the sometimes bland, but generally always funny side characters, I’ll leave it there. Your job is to collect enough Pagies – who are often locked in cagies – to put the book back together again. With 145 Pagies to collect over 5 worlds (and one hub), there is plenty to do in Yooka-Laylee.
When in the main hub, Yooka and Laylee can branch off and find the entrances to 5 distinct and unique worlds, all of which are fun to explore outside of an unforgettable Casino level. Each world requires a certain number of pagies to unlock, and once you’ve explored the world enough and saved enough Pagies, players will get the opportunity to expand the world and find even more items to collect. This was one of the harder things to grasp early on, as many areas on the initial map appear to be within reach, but are ultimately slightly out of reach. Turns out a level expansion is all that is needed to get to where you need to go.
Moving between the worlds feels much more fluid than in the spiritual successors. In the original Banjo games, you could move through each world, collecting everything there, before moving on. In Yooka-Laylee, some puzzles in World 1 require a move you won’t learn until later in the game, making it necessary to backtrack often to unlock more pagies. Since 100 pagies are needed to complete the game, you will want to grab as many as you can, as often as you can.
While I like the structure of completing each world on it’s own before moving on, the necessity to jump between worlds to achieve the illustrious 100% target is actually really great. It keeps you from over staying your welcome in one place for too long. This is one of the better improvements that the team has made from 20 years ago to today.
For collection fans, each and every levels adds even more for you to find, whether it be the 25 Pagies per world, the 5 ghosts – which rewards a Pagie when all are found, similar to the Jingos -, the 200 quills – used to purchase new moves from Trowzer – or the arcade coin, there is never a shortage of things to do and find in Yooka-Laylee. At times, repetition can set in, and not everything works as easily as you might like – aiming to shoot water / fire / bullets is particularly frustrating – the overall experience is very positive.
Carrying Over the Bad
While I’ve longed for another game that made the N64 era so great, I wasn’t hoping for some of the same technical and game play mechanic problems that plagued those early releases. Unfortunately, wonky cameras are just one of a few issues that carried over from the mid 90s to today, and for gamers who have only experienced the current generation of gaming, there is likely less forgiveness to Playtonic. Personally, I look past these issues to grasp some of that nostalgia that lingers from my early teens, but ultimately it will turn off a lot of potential customers, which is incredibly unfortunate.
Nostalgia will play a huge role in how well Yooka-Laylee will do at retail. I’ve listed below just a few of the ways that this game is so much like the original Banjo titles. Some may be stretch, but if you look down the list and feel that sense of longing for a game play experience like Banjo-Kazooie, go ahead and grab Yooka-Laylee. It’s a winner in my books, despite the problems that still exist.
Comparing the 90s to Today
|Bottles (Learned Moves)||Trowzer (Learned Moves)|
|Gruntilda’s Lair (Hub)||Hivory Towers (HUB)|
|Shooting Eggs||Shooting Water / Fire/ Bullets|
|Rude Kazooie||Rude Laylee|
|Humble Banjo||Humble Yooka|
|and the list goes on….|