When does retro become too retro? We’re in the middle of a number of big re-releases and memory shakers right now, and whilst some deliver new and exciting spins on the old formula (Disney’s NES collection or the remastered Wonder Boy), others are caught trying too hard to be like their forefathers (anyone play that Double Dragon sequel?). In the case of Yooka-Laylee, a colourful and faithful Banjo-Kazooie style adventure, it’s unfortunately a little more of the latter.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m really enjoying Yooka-Laylee so far. I’m a few worlds in and, despite a few issues here and there, it’s got all he hallmarks of what came before that I appreciated growing up. It’s a welcome distraction from all these open world behemoth’s and shoot everything in sight action titles of the modern age. But I can’t help but feel as if the development time could have been better spent trying to evolve the genre instead of just mimicking it.
Of course, the whole point of Yooka and Laylee’s quest was to revive a long dormant genre, or more specifically a series. Playtonic was formed from the remnants of old Rareware ideals, of crazy characters and unusual worlds (as opposed to Kinect sports games). Whilst Rare continues to produce very little from their immense back catalogue of characters, Playtonic Kickstarted a new idea formed from plenty of old ones.
Here in rests my one big problem with Yooka-Laylee. Despite all the neat little touches and reminders of a glorious past, Playtonic have developed a game that also brings with it all the problems we may have tried so hard to ignore (or were too young to notice) along with them. Awkward camera controls, slippery movements, weird and cheesy dialogue … it’s all there in abundance.
Maybe it’s just a sign that I’ve grown old, that the things that never used to annoy me are starting to grate even more so than before. Like I said, I’m still enjoying the experience, but I’ve had that constant nagging feeling of ‘why couldn’t they just add this’ or ‘why did they have to be exactly the same as that’, to the point where I’m constantly putting it down in my comparisons with its predecessors instead of enjoying said callbacks.
Let me put it this way. Shovel Knight, a similar indie title that references the past, was able to evolve from its predecessors and provide a new experience despite its retro themes. It helps that it’s just so damn entertaining, but there’s an element of evolution there, of improving on existing ideas. Yooka-Laylee just doesn’t feel that way at all, which is rather disappointing. Kinda funny, really, that Shovel Knight makes a cameo appearance here …
I’m not the only one who considers Yooka-Laylee in such a light. Many reviews seem to agree that Playtonic have done an admirable job recalling the past, but in doing so they haven’t considered the future. Kids these days like something with a little more meat on its bones instead of just a traditional collect-a-thon, like Minecraft for example. Then again, was it really made with kids in mind? Obviously the Kickstarter would not have been a success without all the adults hoping to recall fond memories of gaming days gone by.
Yooka-Laylee is a game out of time, clinging so desperately to past glories it doesn’t seem to understand the Earth kept spinning after the N64 was discontinued – The Jimquisition
It’s also firmly disinterested in twenty years of forward progress, doubling as a paean to Banjo’s banal challenges, mushy control, and distressing tedium. It’s tough to feel bitter—Playtonic delivered what was promised—it’s just awfully easy to feel chafed and bored, too – Digital Chumps
Ultimately, Yooka-Laylee had a lot to live up to and has seemingly fallen a tad short. I’ll keep playing, as long as the boss battles don’t annoy me as much as that first world (man, what a pain that was), but I do hope the team get a chance at a sequel that can really up the ante a little. If Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts proves above all else, you don’t need to completely change the game world in order to be a success. You just need a little polish, a little extra imagination and a pinch of modern game design … just in case.
I am grateful, however, for the opportunity to revisit a part of my youth. All issues aside, it’s the kind of game I wish there was more of.