It’s a damn shame that the launch of Yooka-Laylee back in April wasn’t heralded and applauded a lot more than it could have been. To be fair, there was controversy regarding one of the voices being removed, it didn’t run as good as it could have on the PC, and the bar was set impossibly high. When you promise people “like nostalgia but better,” you really have a rough road ahead. And then the WIi U version was canceled, much to the chagrin of the faithful who were supporting Nintendo at it’s core. But we’re not here to look at all of that which, frankly, affected my life exactly zero. I’m here for the Nintendo Switch version, which, as far as anyone should be concerned, stands on its own and actually delivers a pretty solid effort.
Yooka-Laylee is the story of a chameleon and a bat who are friends, and that alone could be enough for a storyline when it comes to a NIntendo game, but wait, there’s more. An evil corporate overlord is looking for a book that will give him power over the entire universe, and that’s bad. More specifically, this book will convert ALL books into cash, and is definitely not a parallel to people nowadays forsaking literature in favor of profit and quick, immediate satisfaction. Yooka and Laylee, not interested in seeing the world go to hell and wanting to get kids to read again, set out on a journey across multiple fantastic worlds and locations to seek out the pages of this mystical “One Book,” as well as find about a thousand other things.
In the vein of Mario Odyssey, Ginger and even Unboxed, Yooka-Laylee is an unabashed 3D collect-a-thon, and I mean that in an enormous way. Starting out as a fairly straightforward idea (get Quills to pay the snake for new abilities), it quickly evolves into getting pages, coins, fruits and God knows what else. If you’re afraid it’s as bad as Starfox Adventure, rest assured that nothing will be as trivial in OCD collecting as that game, but it’s still pretty intense. Trowzer, the snake (light canned laughter) lets you know there’s 200 Quills in each world you visit, and nothing is immediately fully available. I’d explain the entire premise of the game as it works, but that seems really contrite and just like I’m rehashing the game instead of critiquing it. So let’s jump into the main ideas of everything.
Mechanically, Yooka-Laylee does a good job in creating both a drive and a reason for collecting everything. Yooka and Laylee each have some interesting and fun abilities (usually interacting with each other) but you can barely do a damn thing at the beginning. By having the need to get every single shiny object to unlock more abilities that get more shiny objects, the game supports itself and every new addition adds a different facet of gameplay. Players who unlock enough will find that they can approach enemies, obstacles and traps in different ways, and it’s actually shocking how many varieties of “take out the simple bad guy” you can amass with just a bit of elbow grease. Not to mention that the actions all have their own unique animations and effects, which makes them visually appealing for all people to find and unlock.
It’s also really cool how the discovered pages allow for the choice of a new world or an expanded world. Yooka-Laylee caters towards either those wanting to fully 100% each place or those who simply want to move forward in the game and see what’s coming next. It’s cool that I can decide how I want my gameplay to go, and it does, in essence, control how long or short my total gameplay becomes. Of course, those looking for the 100% experience will be doubling back to see what else their newly unlocked abilities can get from old arenas. Not that I wouldn’t want to double back anyways: some of the stages and worlds are absolutely gorgeous, and they really perform well on the Switch’s (arguably limited) hardware. From the jungle to the casino and several lairs in between, it’s completely worthwhile to spend time and find out just how far and how much you can get in certain places.
The character scripts of Yooka-Laylee range from informative and witty to downright groaning, just peppered with childish jokes and pseudo 4th-wall humor. I didn’t mind it entirely: after all, if we’re capturing the feeling of playing an N64 game, the interactions weren’t exactly the most memorable or engaging moments that people remembered. However, it’s important to note that part of the appeal of this game for newcomers is to give reason to want to help out the neverending rogue’s gallery of characters. So when I sort of feel like I couldn’t care less about the predicament of a talking cannon, for example, it drops off my radar in terms of “help immediately” and ends up in the pile of “if I do everything else.” But this game is all about prioritizing what’s important to YOU, because this is your game.
Finally (yes, already), the game as we know it is something that merits a lot more replay than I originally had thought. There’s been a bit of a backlash in general, which caused some spotlighting to happen on the flaws of the game and blowing everything out of proportion. As someone who didn’t really jump into the Banjo Kazooie moments, I actually really enjoyed Yooka-Laylee, despite some of the fetch-quest saturation. There’s nothing that’s going to beat Odyssey on the landscape of 3D exploration right now, but this does a pretty decent job of bringing something original and fun onto the Nintendo Switch. This isn’t a garbage fire or a diss to people’s memories of other games, it’s merely a game unto itself, and I’m sorry that folk have been reacting so harshly. Of course Kickstarter backers have a different opinion, but they paid for a dream and a concept, not a product, and the product is perhaps different than they imagined. But embittered players and YouTubers looking for easy hate-clicks shouldn’t paint a game as particularly terrible or dreadful. The Yooka-Laylee team has taken a lot of criticism that’s legitimate and baked it into the Switch release, making for a tighter game, better performance, single JoyCon support for the arcade games and generally presenting their best foot forward when they were finally ready for the Nintendo debut. And it succeeded.
If you are deadset against playing this game due to “Reasons,” my review won’t sway you and no one else’s will either. But players who are intrigued or at least curious should make a point to investigate on their own and check out a variety of reviews for this game. Yooka-Laylee isn’t as long as it could be (though it’s still quite long) and the footprint is still pretty honkin’ huge, but it’s fun, expansive and gradually becomes more involved the longer you play it. There’s reasons and incentive to keep playing and to go back and try again from the beginning after you’ve accomplished your goal. Don’t dismiss this duo for the crimes of the father: let the product stand on it’s own.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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