When I first started up Yooka-Laylee this past week, I had a huge grin on my face and was practically shaking with excitement. I grew up with the likes of Banjo-Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day (the last of which I had no business playing at a young age), so I guess you could say I have a fondness for developer Rare and their signature style of 3D platforming.
Sadly, as the years passed, these types of games slowly disappeared into the ether.
I’ve been waiting for well over a decade for a platformer to come along and capture that same sense of wonder I enjoyed with Rare’s older games, which is why I was in high spirits when I learned of Yooka-Laylee’s existence. Yooka-Laylee is developed by a team known as Playtonic Games, which happens to be comprised of several of the people who were part of Rare in the glory days. When they announced that they were making a spiritual successor to their work from the 90’s, I was ecstatic. If anybody could make the platformer I craved, surely it would be them.
After playing through 90% of the game, I can firmly say that Yooka-Laylee is everything I remembered from the classic days of 3D platformers, as well as everything I had forgotten. Our heroic duo are brightly colored pals with a sense of humor and an arsenal of abilities to discover, which should make them feel welcoming and familiar to fans of Banjo-Kazooie. Likewise, they also speak with Rare’s signature gibberish nonsense, complete with subtitles. Unfortunately, this was also where the game started to fall apart for me.
You know there’s a problem when the first audible thing you say well playing a game is, “Oh, God…”. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t caught off guard by the mumbles, squeaks, and murmurs of the characters. I knew they were going to be present, but I instantly realized I had been looking back on the old games with rose tinted glasses. While this style of voice over is definitely a call back to the past, it’s a call that should have been left ringing. These voices were tolerable in the beginning, but they quickly wound their way under my skin and drove away my sanity. It’s interesting to grow up and actually analyze your nostalgia, especially when you realize that things you once loved simply haven’t aged well.
This wasn’t to be my only issue with Yooka-Laylee.
Before starting this game, I imagined everything I would be doing. Running and jumping through colorful worlds, meeting silly characters, grabbing scores of collectibles, etc. These were the aspects I remember loving from the old games, so naturally they were what I was hoping for in the new one. While all of these features are indeed present in the game, little to nothing has been done to polish them up to modern standards.
I will give the game a nod towards its world designs, which I genuinely thought were marvelous, but everything else tastes of bitter disappointment. The movement, for example, is the most frustrating I’ve encountered in the last decade. Just running around and jumping through the environments feels adequate, but traversal options gained from your special moves are infuriatingly annoying. You can roll Yooka up into a ball and roll around, but what should be a fun movement option instead feels aggravating to control. You have little to no precision while in this mode, but the game loves to throw you into scenarios where you need pixel perfect accuracy in order to complete objectives.
There’s also the ability to glide, which has the worst turning controls I’ve encountered in maybe forever. I can’t stress enough just how poorly this game controls, but the worst thing is that the camera loves to get stuck or move by itself, making it even harder to navigate through the world. I lost track of the times I would have to glide over to a small area and not only have trouble getting Yooka and Laylee to turn in the right direction, but had to wrestle a stuck camera just to see where I was going.
I have a pretty strict rule where I try to finish every video game I start, regardless of how bad it is. Well, Yooka-Laylee is the first game in years to make me break that rule and throw in the towel. Look, I tried. I tried really, really hard, but I just couldn’t take it any longer. This post is as close to a full review of the game that I’m willing to do. I got to the last world of the game (I know, I was so close!) but my happiness, sanity, and time are more important than being able to check another game off as “finished”.
I wanted to love Yooka-Laylee, but all it ended up doing was frustrating me and souring my opinion on a genre I thought I enjoyed. In fact, Yooka-Laylee might just be The Phantom Menace of 3D platformers. With the amount of issues and annoyance that fill every inch of this game, I honestly can’t recommend it. It kills me to say this, but you’re better off skipping this one.
– Zack Burrows