Yooka-Laylee: What Could Have Been

Today marks the two year anniversary of Yooka-Laylee! Many were anticipating Yooka-Laylee as it was not only the first notable multi-platform 3D platformer (try saying that five times) in years, but it was from the creators of genre classic Banjo-Kazooie. Did it live up to the hype, or did it lack what made Rare the behemoth it is today?

Right off the bat, the thing that stood out about Yooka-Laylee was the controls. In every classic platformer, one of the reasons it’s so fun is because the controls feel tight and intuitive, and Yooka-Laylee hit this out of the ballpark. Just running around the opening area was a ton of fun, and if you’ve created the type of character that you can put into an empty room and still find them a joy to use, you know you’ve struck gold. Within minutes I found myself discovering combinations of animations that I could use to boost my speed or smoothly transition from jumps and rolls, and even just the act of playing around with that was enjoyable. It reminded me of games like Ratchet & Clank and the jetpack into sideways flip speed boost technique I had learned years before, so to be on that calibre that fast made you know this was made by people who had been doing this a long time.

The other thing that stood out right away was the writing and humour, which also reminded me of Ratchet & Clank in regards to the child friendly aesthetic masking the adult innuendos being tossed around everywhere. I mean one of the first characters you meet is a snake called Trowzer; this kind of subtle crudity adds loads of personality to the game, and as such I found myself feeling immediately at home just because of how warm and likable the game presented itself as. Lastly, the graphical style was also really nice, as the bright colour palette fit the whimsical tone of the writing perfectly and landscapes are generally vibrant and lush.

Throughout this review you might have noticed that, outside of the controls, I don’t compliment the actual gameplay in any capacity, and this is where it all falls apart. While it’s true the slick controls made the game enjoyable just because of how smooth they felt, once the novelty wears off the game needs great gameplay mechanics, levels, etc. to maintain the satisfaction, and Yooka-Laylee’s levels didn’t quite click. The game goes for an “open hub world with sections in” approach, and while a lot of games have done this well, the levels in Yooka-Laylee just feel bare. The Casino level is especially problematic, as it feels like there’s so many areas that they just forgot to put anything notable in. A lot of the levels feel rushed and unfinished.

While that’s a big issue, the thing that irked me most was the overall goal the game was trying to achieve. Rare kept noting how much of an homage this game would be to the classic 3D platformers, and in that regard it excels. The issue is, most of those games wouldn’t hold up in 2017, which is why Yooka-Laylee fell flat because it didn’t attempt to innovate the formula. It shamelessly copied its predecessors but didn’t add anything new. The reason the old games it’s inspired by became classics was because they took the standard 3D platformer formula, nailed that, but then flipped a plethora of aspects on their head to create something fresh. Yooka-Laylee just felt like something I’ve played before, and while that initial nostalgia is nice it, just like the good controls novelty, needs something extra to sustain itself.

Overall, despite the most important part of the game, the gameplay, failing to capture my interest, I do look back on Yooka-Laylee fondly. It was oozing with charm in a way that few games have managed to capture this generation. If they just gave it more polish and, most importantly, put more ambition into it beyond playing on people’s nostalgia, I believe Rare would have an incredible experience on their hands. I think this is the first time I’ve badly wanted a sequel to a game I was largely underwhelmed with which proves that, despite the shortcomings, the Yooka-Laylee brand has the potential to be a classic.

Rating: Trowzer Snake/10

What did you think of Yooka-Laylee? Do you consider it on par with Rare’s previous efforts, or do you agree with my assessment? Let me know in the comments below or via my Twitter profile @JoshsJots. And if you love 3D platformers, make sure to follow me as I’ll be covering another one having its anniversary tomorrow.

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