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Playing Yooka-Laylee feels like a well-timed exhale. It’s charming, but not twee; unthreatening, but not toothless; relaxing, but not dull. 3D platforming enthusiasts will enjoy themselves, as will the unconverted. But it’s not going to light anyone’s world on fire — if you’re looking for an honest challenge, you will be sorely disappointed.
First off, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts was a good game. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, Yooka-Laylee is just a new Banjo-Kazooie game without that license. It’s not like a team with the Rare pedigree got together to make another good game, these people have made a reboot in all but name. To their credit, Yooka-Laylee was pitched as an unofficial Banjo revival, so this isn’t really a surprise. Rather, let’s take heart in the fact that another video game Kickstarter project seemingly came through on its original promise.
Yooka-Laylee feels so evocative of the mascot platformer era that I’m almost bummed it’s not a Nintendo Switch launch exclusive, just so all could be right with the world. It’s like when Spyro went multiplatform — it just doesn’t feel right! The character models are colorful and chunky, there are all kinds of jumps and rolls, there’s an attack move where you spin around and bust up some goblin; if you play video games with any regularity, I’m willing to bet you’ve played this exact game at least once in your life.
Even if you haven’t encountered the mascot platformer, you might enjoy yourself! Yooka-Laylee is a “collect-a-thon,” a game where there are plenty of doodads and trinkets to grab, each one bringing you another inch closer to an ever-growing completion percentage. It’s one of the better examples of the genre, as each collectible feels attainable in some capacity. I spent a good portion of my demo going for one or two small items I didn’t want to miss, even when it would have been smarter to explore more of the level. If you’re susceptible to an incomplete completion percentage like I am, definitely block out a couple weekends if you decide to give the game a shot.
I would feel a lot better about collecting every piece of garbage if the game controlled just a little bit better. You play as the duo of Yooka and Laylee, in a setup that will sound familiar to anyone who’s played Banjo-Kazooie. In fact, it will sound very familiar, because movement and camera controls are mapped to the left stick like this is a N64 game. You can still control the game with the right stick, but turning Yooka and Laylee with the left stick also turns the camera. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s definitely not the way I’ve been conditioned to play 3D platformers.
Once you come to terms with the movement, Yooka-Laylee is fairly enjoyable! It’s not as tight as some platformers, but it’s not too imprecise. There’s always a well-defined path to your objective, and getting there isn’t difficult. Once you know what you’re doing, it takes very little effort to execute a plan. That ties into the attainability of the collectibles — if you feel like you can actually earn that coveted 100%, you’ll likely have more fun.
There’s a structure to the game, in that there are 5 “worlds” (think one part hub world, one part enormous level) that can be expanded by collecting pages. Those same pages also unlock new worlds, forcing players to choose between digging deeper into the world they already have or moving on to the next segment of the game. Since this is a collect-a-thon, you’ll probably be able to see everything, but it’s a neat way to make the collectibles feel impactful. Personally, I think I’d lean towards unlocking new worlds. The part of the game I saw looked gorgeous, depicting a forest area in brilliant, deep greens, populated with a colorful band of characters, like an octopus scientist or a safari snake. I’d love to see that art style and sense of humor applied to other aesthetics.
Yooka-Laylee will likely be my equivalent of a TV golf game on a Sunday afternoon — something easy to pass the time between lunch and bedtime. I can’t imagine anyone will be truly amazed — it’s just too simple to be impressive — but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. Yooka-Laylee is a very likeable game, sometimes that’s enough!