Yooka-Laylee (Switch) Review

A Banjo-Kazooie Rare-vival!

Back in the Nintendo 64 era, 3D platformers represented the wave of the future. No longer confined to two dimensions, cute mascot characters ran amok through large, sprawling worlds. Lately, 3D platforming has taken a backseat. But Playtonic Games, composed of ex-Rare developers, were eager to revive the genre when it Kickstarted Yooka-Laylee, a spiritual successor to the team’s Banjo-Kazooie series. Replacing the famous bear-and-bird duo with a chameleon-and-bat team, and featuring huge colorful worlds with googly-eyed characters, the game is more than a throwback; it’s a love letter.

Here’s my Video Review for your viewing pleasure!


The story is basic: the big bad Capital B has stolen the all-important Pagies of a magical book, and it’s up to Yooka the chameleon and Laylee the bat to retrieve them. Sure, it’s a forgettable plot, but the characters are likable. Many of them have their own defining quirks, whether it’s a business savvy snake or an arcade-obsessed dinosaur. Shovel Knight’s cameo is a bonus. The writing is also a treat as the dialogue is littered with sarcastic quips and fourth wall breaking humor, and they’re all uttered in Rare’s trademark grunt noises.

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From bear and bird to this and that, here comes the new chameleon and bat.

The Rare influence goes beyond that. The gameplay faithfully follows the Banjo-Kazooie formula: large sandbox worlds with a hub connecting them, an extensive moveset that you must purchase to access, and loads upon loads of collectibles. Fans of the old N64 games will feel at home. That said, the controls are a bit clunky, and it can be difficult to maneuver around, especially when using certain moves such as the roll attack. At least the camera is cooperative, as I never had an issue keeping it focused on the action.

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These large worlds are filled with Pagies. So find them all and don’t catch those Zzz’s.

There are only five worlds, but they are much more massive than even Banjo-Tooie’s large areas. You can use your collected Pagies to either unlock a new world or expand an existing one. The smaller worlds are usually too empty to offer much in the way of needed collectibles, requiring you to enlarge them to make any headway. Most expansions change the stages considerably. However, they are almost too large and confusing to navigate. There are no maps, and the world design doesn’t particularly lead you along from one collectible to another in a clear manner. I would have preferred medium-sized worlds more densely packed with collectibles, as found in Super Mario Odyssey.

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So many moves, yet they don’t tire. From eating fruit to breathing fire.

With nothing but landmarks to guide me around large landmasses, I often got lost, which didn’t help when looking for collectibles. As you can expect, there are tons of them. Aside from the main Pagies, there are over a thousand Quills (which are used to buy moves) strewn about, not to mention other items that increase your stats or act as payment. The most annoying are the tokens in the casino level, which you must collect just to earn the Pagies within. You usually require a specific move to get most items. Since you must manually purchase your moveset, it’s annoying to come across a Pagie and not know why you can’t reach it. I actually found it most satisfying to rush through to obtain as many moves as possible, then return to a world and exhaust its collectible supply. That’s when I hit a nice groove.

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Each transformation grants a power. Like bouncing around as a flower.

While I’ve been ragging on the game’s design, I genuinely enjoyed Yooka-Laylee. Sure, there’s a nostalgic element to it, but the vibrant and colorful worlds were fun to explore, despite me getting lost. The moveset, gripes aside, was well-tailored to the chameleon and bat duo. Once I was on a roll getting collectibles, it was hard to put the game down. The challenges to get each Pagie are also incredibly varied. Beyond standard trials, there are races, puzzles, and clever boss fights, not to mention the arcade minigames and Banjo-Kazooie-style transformations. And of course, the notorious quizzes return. The setup here isn’t as eye-catching, but I liked being tested on my playthrough. The only challenges I wasn’t fond of were the ones that required you to painstakingly collect gems on a nonstop cart without falling or getting hurt. That’s one element Rare could have left out of its extensive repertoire.

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Some gameplay elements aren’t as strong, like this mine cart ride from Donkey Kong.

It took me about 20 hours just to get the bare minimum to beat the game, and several more to clean up each world. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a reward for collecting everything, beyond a small bonus and personal satisfaction. Also, it’s frustrating to have only one missing item and no clue how to locate it, so achieving 100% is best left to the completionists. There is some local multiplayer, but it’s very light. Two people can play cooperatively, but the second player only controls a honeycomb reticle used to collect items. Otherwise, up to four players can experience short minigames together, but that’s unfortunately it.

Though there have been reports on poor performance of the game on other consoles, I had very few issues with the Nintendo Switch version’s presentation. The loading times are very long and there were a few brief moments of slowdown throughout, but nothing too distracting. While the game’s lush worlds aren’t quite as beautiful in handheld mode, it was worth being able to play on the go. Finally, the music, composed by the fantastic minds behind Rare’s classic soundtracks, will sound instantly familiar to anyone who’s played the company’s games. Grant Kirkhope and David Wise’s musical styles are just that recognizable and pleasant to the ears.

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Will you try to stop Capital B, with the team of Yooka-Laylee?

Conclusion

Yooka-Laylee doesn’t branch too far from its obvious Banjo-Kazooie roots. It simply takes a “bigger is better” approach that doesn’t always work in its favor. Despite its flaws, it’s a joy to explore the worlds and collect every goody. The game may not be the most polished platformer around, but Playtonic Games has created an enjoyable love letter to ‘90s collectathon platforming. Hardcore fans of the genre will want to set their googly eyes on this one.

Score: 8/10

Note: A review copy was used for this article. This review was originally written on DarkStation.

What do you think of Yooka-Laylee? If you’ve played it, how does it compare to Banjo-Kazooie and other Rare games? What are your favorite 3D platformers? Please share any thoughts, questions, and rhymes you have in the comments section below! Thank you so much for reading and watching!

28 thoughts on “Yooka-Laylee (Switch) Review

  1. Wawawawawoo (that means great review!) This is quite the homage to the classic bird-bear pair. I never thought a bat and chameleon would partner up, but it works. I also like the ukulele name pun to boot. The worlds look beautiful and fun to explore. Too bad there’s no overview map to guide you. I certainly get lost in games without them. I like the zaniness of the supporting characters, too. How does a snake wear a pair of shorts anyway? I don’t think I’d have the perseverance to collect every last goodie, though, especially for little reward. More power to the completionists out there! I vote for a wolf-dragon combo for the next throwback! Or maybe a panda-dragon? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. HuhHuhHwhuh! (That means thank you!) Thanks so much as always for your support and encouragement! It always means a lot to me! 😀 You liked Jak and Daxter, so I think you’d enjoy playing Yooka-Laylee, and I mean the single-player, not being the bees. 😛 One day, we should play through Banjo-Kazooie AND Banjo-Tooie (maybe even Nuts and Bolts?) together, and then cap off with this game! I love your ideas for new animal teams, especially the panda-dragon! How would that work? Would the crystal dragon be in the panda’s backpack hahaha! And of course, it would breathe fire! ;)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If the reviews I’ve read of this game are any indication, I get the impression that fans like the game a lot more than critics. It kind of makes me wonder if this is a case where the latter group got it wrong. I might end up checking it out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t necessarily think any one side got it wrong. It’s a flawed game in the modern age, that’s for sure. But for fans who really loved the old 3D collectathon platformers, I think Yooka-Laylee really struck a chord with them. For me, the game isn’t perfect, and I certainly didn’t overlook the issues. But the overall fun factor and gameplay were positive for me. And if a critic doesn’t find it fun, then there’s no reason for that person to regard this highly. I think part of it was also performance issues on other systems. The Switch version played mostly great, so I didn’t have much of the problems other critics claimed to have.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I think there was even more ruckus when it finally did come out on the other consoles! But I owed it to myself as a fan of 3D platformers to give it a try. And while the game has flaws, it’s very much classic Rare! And the game definitely looks great! Looks like what Banjo-Kazooie would have evolved into had it not gone the Nuts and Bolts route.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am glad I am not the only one who enjoyed the game quite a bit. I would be totally up for a sequel, and I hope the guys at Playtonic will be able to make that happen.

    The only point on which I had an experience that was quite different from yours was in relation to navigating the worlds. I liked the fact there was no map, because I have always felt figuring out the world is a big part of the collectathon experience; and I thought pagies were nicely distributed within the worlds, as I felt that wherever I went I found something of interest.

    Anyway, different punctual experiences aside, I am happy you liked it, and I enjoyed the review. Great work! =)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words and comments as always Matt! 😀 Playtonic may have not made the best, most accessible game by modern standards, but boy did they make a fine N64 game! Haha!

      That’s a great point, and I’m glad you shared your experiences with the collectathon aspect! The original Rare games didn’t have maps, and I thought they were great. In Yooka-Laylee, my main issue was with that the worlds were even more massive and needed a map more so than even Banjo-Tooie. I also liked the figuring out the world aspect, but not when it came down to finding the last few Pagies or Quills. For completionists, it’s not as user-friendly. I guess I’m also spoiled by Super Mario Odyssey, which had maps! That game had even more collectibles, but I found it approachable thanks to the map and other hint-giving characters. I didn’t get the same sense of joy from randomly exploring in Yooka-Laylee, but at least playing and beating the game, especially if you have all the moves, is a blast, especially for 3D platforming standards!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are welcome! =D

        And you are right on both accounts: they did make a fine N64 game; and the worlds of Yooka-Laylee are indeed bigger than those from Banjo-Tooie, so a map feature would have helped.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Making an N64 game in this age certainly deserves some merit for Playtonic! While there may have been better 3D platformers out there (I’m looking at you, Super Mario Odyssey), they don’t actually fill the same niche Yooka-Laylee does. There aren’t really any other Rare-style collectathons like it anymore. A Hat in Time comes closest, but I enjoyed that game for what it did differently from the norm, while I liked Yooka-Laylee for the nostalgic memories it brought back.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve been looking forward to this one and I’m glad it (mostly) lives up to the hype! I miss this style of games! I wish one day they’d work out out the legal mumbo jumbo ( = and release the Banjo series on the virtual console. This looks like a really good spiritual successor though!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve heard a lot of mixed things about this game, but I still intend to buy it at some point. You definitely enjoyed it and the game sounds pretty solid from your review. I never got to play the Banjo games so at least I won’t have have to even compare it to that iconic series

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As far as 3D collectathon platformers go, Yooka-Laylee is pretty solid. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good, albeit flawed representation of what it looks like to revive the genre. Other games have done it better in the same year, namely A Hat in Time, and of course, Super Mario Odyssey. But I still had a lot of fun with Yooka-Laylee as someone who has enjoyed 3D platformers for a long time. By the way, I would definitely recommend playing Banjo-Kazooie if you ever get the chance, whether before, after, or instead of Yooka-Laylee. It’s pure Rare at its finest.

      Liked by 1 person

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