Yooka-Laylee: First Impressions (Xbox One)

I’ve been waiting for Yooka-Laylee for a long time. About two years ago, Playtonic Games, a new studio made up of former Rare developers, launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie games. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it on this blog, but Banjo-Kazooie is one of my all time favorite games. Hearing that a new game in the style of Banjo by some of Banjo’s original developers was reason enough for me to finally contribute to a Kickstarter. I gave enough money for a copy of the game and access to the Toybox demo, and then I waited.

Reviews have been out for a little while now and they’re kind of all over the board. I’ve seen reviews in the 8 out of 10 range that claim that Yooka-Laylee is the return of the classic 3D platformer. I’ve seen reviews that were closer to the 2 out of 10 range that claim that the game is uninspired and that the industry left 3D platformers behind years ago for a reason. Well, after about six hours of play time, I land on the more positive side, but I’m not willing to say that it’s as good as the Banjo games just yet.

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The game starts off simply enough. Capital B, a human-sized bee with arms and legs, and his company have taken over Quack Corp, a science company run by a duck’s head in a jar named Dr. Quack. Together, Capital B and Dr. Quack activate a machine that sucks in all of the world’s books. It just so happens that our heroes, Yooka the chameleon and Laylee the bat, have recently found  a very special book in the beached pirate ship that they’ve recently turned into their home. The book gets sucked up, but not before it’s pages escape. Now, Yooka and Laylee must collect all the pages and stop whatever Capital B is up to.

If it feels like I kind of rushed through everything, well, I did. But so did the game. There’s very little actual context to what’s happening. I’m not actually holding that against the game too much though. It’s not like I played Banjo-Kazooie for the story or anything. I do feel like the short narrative at the front of the first Banjo game is handled much better though.

Once you gain control of your characters, you’ll find that your moves are pretty limited. You can move and you can jump, and that’s about it. Thankfully, you quickly run into Trowzer, a snake who wears pants. He’s the equivalent of Banjo-Kazooie’s Bottles the mole, a character who gives out new moves. He gives us our basic attack, which makes Yooka spin in a circle hitting anything around you. Although this move is free, you’ll have to buy more moves by spending quills, this game’s version of notes from Banjo.

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There’s a ton of similarities to the two Banjo-Kazooie games, as you probably figured out already. Like I said, quills are the new notes. The pages from Laylee’s book, called “Pagies”, are the new Jiggies. Trowzer is the new Bottles. Even some of the moves you unlock have direct parallels to the Banjo games, such as Reptile Roll, which makes Yooka roll up in a ball and Laylee run on top of him to roll him. When doing this move, you move much faster than you normally would and can go up steep slopes. So, the Reptile Roll is the new Talon Trot.

There’s even the return of transformations. In each level, you’ll find Dr. Puzz, who I guess is a squid or octopus? She was one of Dr. Quack’s employees, but after Dr. Quack stole all her work, she vowed to help stop him and Capital B. She has a machine that will transform your characters into different things. First, you must find an item called a Mollycool hidden somewhere in the level. When you give her the Mollycool, she’ll transform you. So, Dr. Puzz is the new Mumbo Jumbo.

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In the first world, you’ll transform into a plant. You can’t jump very high and your attack has been replaced with some kind of spray, but you’ll be able to talk to other plants that didn’t want anything to do with Yooka and Laylee. There’s a challenge to spray some plants and earn a Pagie, as well as some plants that give helpful hints. One told me of the location of one of the Ghost Writers.

Ghost Writers are the new Jinjos. Just like the Jinjos, there are five of them hidden in each level and finding them all awards you with a Pagie. Unlike them, however, each Ghost Writer has a distinct personality that you have to deal with in order to collect them. One just stands there, like you would expect. But, there’s another that attacks you, and you have to dodge and hit back before it’ll let you take it. Sometimes they can be a little frustrating, but I appreciate the attempt to do something different.

There’s another NPC, named Vendi, who is a vending machine. By completing certain tasks, like collecting a certain amount of quills, you’ll unlock different tonics. Going to Vendi will allow you to equip a tonic, which could give you more health or extra energy. Although the execution is different, this functions a lot like the cheats in Banjo-Tooie. So, Vendi is the new Cheato the Spellbook.

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One of the things the game does differently, however, is how progression through a world is handled. After you unlock a world by using the appropriate amount of Pagies, you enter the world and try to find more quills and Pagies. That sounds familiar, but you can also spend more Pagies to make the world bigger, enabling additional quills and Pagies to collect and new NPCs to interact with.

For the most part, I actually really like this idea. You can check out a world, and if you like it, spend some Pagies to do even more stuff there. Now granted, I’ll be expanding every world because I want to see everything the game has to offer. A more casual player may find that this is a great way to see the bulk of the game without having to devote extra time to worlds they don’t like. What bothers me, however, is that the totals listed in the menu for the collectibles per world is based on their expanded size. I would rather run around the small world and be able to check and see if I’ve gotten everything in the current version before I decide to expand. That way I know I don’t have to retread old areas.

One thing I very much don’t like is the quiz show segments. This was actually a stretch goal in the Kickstarter campaign, and one that I kind of just rolled my eyes at. In the original Banjo-Kazooie, right before getting to the last boss, you have to do a quiz show where you answer a ton of questions. Sometimes, getting one wrong will result in instant death causing you to start over. I hate this part, and it is a blemish on what might be an otherwise perfect game.

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In Yooka-Laylee, quizzes are used to bridge gaps in the hub world. I had to do one after leaving the first world and was on my way to the second. While it never got as crazy as certain questions causing instant death, some of the questions were complete nonsense. Most of the time, it asked about elements from the first world, and that’s totally fine. But one time it asked me what my current play time was. I knew I had played for about two hours, but it’s not like I’ve been keeping track down to the minute. One of the answers was just under two hours, and one was just over. How is anyone expected to know the answer to that? So, that’s not cool.

In the last couple weeks, a big deal was made over how the game ran on consoles. There’s a lot of footage out there of the game having constant frame rate drops, to the point of seeming almost unplayable. Thankfully, there was a patch issued before release that fixed most of the problems. I did notice a couple dips in the frame rate here and there, and I had a couple enemies glitch out and just kind of float in the air, but nothing that was actually game breaking.

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It really is a shame that the patch wasn’t available before the review embargo lifted. I feel like a lot of the harsher reviews would have turned out a little nicer if the patch had been out sooner. That’s on Playtonic though. I can’t blame reviewers for reviewing the game in the state it is when they’re playing it.

So far, my time spent with Yooka-Laylee has been very positive. I don’t know that it’ll ultimately end up matching the greatness of the previous games, but this seems to be a great foundation for the return of the 3D platformer. Hopefully, the rest of the game will prove to be just as enjoyable. If it doesn’t, I’ll be sure to post a follow up article on my feelings when I’m further in the game.

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