We’re in the middle of a flood of “remastered” retro games, and one consistent problem is the slavish replication of the games of the past include all their flaws, from bad controls to poorly considered mechanics. But those games have historical preservation to hide behind. What’s Yooka-Laylee‘s excuse?
Yooka-Laylee ($40, PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC)
As a game, Yooka-Laylee is bright, clean, and cute. It won’t shatter any graphics benchmarks, but it’s a well-designed cartoon you move through, with the cheery music and art you’ve come to expect. It is, perhaps, a bit too cute in places (“Pagies?” Come on), but that’s far from a cardinal sin. There are a few issues, however, not the least of which is the game’s obnoxious tendency to overlay a series of grunts or animal noises with dialogue, and sometimes it tries to do too much; the overly busy loading screen can freeze and chug, for example.
Similarly, the game’s sense of humor and story veers wildly from ridiculously broad characterizations to in-jokey metahumor that doesn’t really fit. Everybody seems to know they’re in a video game, and yet they act like they don’t, and it turns the whole thing into a bizarre rollercoaster that keeps the jokes from landing.
Innovation is decidedly not the goal with this game. This is supposed to be a Banjo-Kazooie game with the serial numbers filed off, and that’s really the whole problem, here.
Playtonic can’t be faulted for a lack of ambition. Yooka-Laylee is huge, stuffed with play modes and secrets to uncover, and the game will get bigger as you play. And much like the story, that puts the game all over the place. You can go from platforming to slot machines to a kart race in minutes in this game. They stuffed the game until it burst and then stuffed it some more; you’ll get your $40 worth, by that metric, one supposes. And in the basics, it’s fun; running around cheerful worlds finding stuff never really gets old, and as you unlock more areas and more powers, the game opens up beautifully.
The main problem is that this is exactly like Banjo-Kazooie, warts and all, and the intervening decade have made those warts a throbbing bright red. Early on, I attempted to use the camera to look at something in the environment, only to have it jerk suddenly back behind our heroes, and I felt a red flag trip in my brain. Sure enough, all the stuff we didn’t like about Rare’s classic platformers is here, along with what we did. Finicky cameras, fussy jumps, increasingly obtuse puzzles… did anybody really miss this stuff?
Furthermore, the controls are just flawed enough to be annoying without making the game unplayable. Jumps are just a touch too floaty to feel responsive. Your roll move is just a bit too sluggish to control, making what should be a simple task like rolling in a straight line tougher than it should be. It doesn’t ruin the game but it does feel a bit odd considering how much work clearly went into it.
This game can easily take up thirty to forty hours depending on how fanatical you are about finding every last collectible and beating every last mode. The main question is really whether its flaws will overwhelm its virtues for you.
Yooka-Laylee is a solid platformer, and to be fair, it fills a niche that other publishers aren’t. We need more bright, cheerful video games. That said, why, precisely, this game is so stuck in the past when it had an opportunity to move forward is baffling. Yooka-Laylee is likely to do well, but if there’s a sequel, it should accept that gaming has had some good ideas since the beginning of the century.
Verdict: Worth A Chance
This review was conducted with a retail copy of the PS4 game.