Review: Yooka-Laylee — Addictive gameplay despite limitations

Yooka-Laylee is an open world platformer along the lines of Banjo-Kazooie which features a chameleon and a bat as they go on an unexpected adventure. The two embark on an epic journey to thwart corporate creep Capital B and his devious scheme to absorb all the world’s books and become all powerful—the math really isn’t sound on this one. While the game has a lot of charm due to its adorable characters, the lack of an engaging story and other technical concerns detract from the experience. What should’ve been a proper spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie comes across as a good effort instead.

The story revolves around the search for Pagies, special pieces of parchment used to unlock new worlds. Capital B, an evil industrialist and his duck companion, want to reshape the planet and need supernatural books to do so. The plot is very basic and is mostly an excuse to jump into magical tomes and be transported to new and varying environments. You have to accomplish a number of tasks like racing talking onions or climbing tall structures to recover more Pagies. The more Pagies you collect, the more magical books you unlock. There are plenty of boss fights, arcade games and quiz shows along the way. Each environment is jam-packed with content! The game keeps you coming back for more due to its collectibles.

Another mechanic which makes Yooka-Laylee unique is the ability to unlock new moves. If you collect enough Quills, the forgetful serpent salesman Trowzer grants you new powers. You start the game with only the ability to hit enemies, but by the end you’re an unstoppable force which can traverse the environment with ease, dispatching a multitude of foes along the way. There are also Tonics which can modify gameplay even further.

Yooka-Laylee runs at 30 FPS on Xbox One and this results in a platformer which feels restricted due to its controls. Jumping and navigating narrow pathways is by far the most challenging because you don’t have the precision you expect from modern games—especially a next-generation title. Had the frame rate been 60 FPS, this would’ve cut the input lag in half and tightened up the controls. If you miss one jump, you’ll have to start again from the bottom.

The game has witnessed significant improvements since the Toybox Demo though. The Toybox Demo was available to gamers who preordered the title when it initially appeared on the Xbox Store. The Toybox Demo suffered from floaty controls so significant optimization has definitely occurred since then. It’s evident in the controls when you play the two versions one after another. Unfortunately, it’s still not enough.

Yooka-Laylee isn’t a graphically demanding title so it’s a little confusing as to why it’s limited to 30 FPS on the console. A good comparison to illustrate this issue would be to analyze two of Disney’s remakes on Xbox One Backward Compatibility. Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse runs at 30 FPS while DuckTales: Remastered runs at 60 FPS. If you get the chance to play both titles, you should because the difference is night and day. DuckTales: Remastered—due to its high frame rate—offers one of the best platforming experiences around. Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse feels clunky and imprecise. This applies to all games because 60 FPS is superior in every possible way. With more optimization, the developers could’ve achieved a higher frame rate on Xbox One because the console can support it for less-demanding titles. This would’ve improved the controls and made the platforming sections less frustrating.

One of the most bizarre issues pertains to the sound effects all the creatures in Yooka-Laylee make. In any other game—which doesn’t feature dialogue—the “mumbling” sounds natural…natural in the sense that they’re organic sounds which don’t appear to be repeats of the same short clip. In Yooka-Laylee however, all of the characters sound as though 2-3 clips were randomly mashed together over and over again. While this may seem like an odd complaint, it just sounds very strange when you’re playing the game. It comes across as negligent on the part of the developers, not to mention how annoying it is.

As expected, comparisons between Yooka-Laylee and Banjo-Kazooie are bound to occur. Yooka-Laylee may be technically superior to the old games, but it doesn’t capture their appeal. Yooka-Laylee seems to be geared towards children because its humor isn’t meant for adults. Banjo-Kazooie appeared to be a title meant for children but it featured some pretty obvious innuendos and visuals. Remember “Grab-a-Sailor” night? Or the “How’s your nuts?” moment? As crass as that may sound, many gamers find it hilarious, adding to the title’s appeal to older audiences. Yooka-Laylee lacks that.

Overall, Yooka-Laylee is a good game which needs some more technical prowess on Xbox One. The platforming feels unrefined due to the movement and camera. Despite that, the soundtrack by David Wise and Grant Kirkhope gets stuck in your head and the co-op mode is a lot of fun. Yooka-Laylee is built on an incredibly solid foundation but has some growing up to do. Hopefully the sequel will address these concerns and appeal to a more mature audience just like the original Banjo-Kazooie did.

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