While The Mario Brothers might have dominance when it comes to Nintendo’s platforms, back in the days of the N64 there was another platforming duo that was giving them a run for their money in the late 90s. I’m of course talking about bear and bird duo, Banjo & Kazooie. While they only released Banjo-Kazooie two games on the platform before they were purchased by Microsoft in 2002, both Banjo-Kazooie and its sequel Banjo-Tooie are considered by many (myself included) to not only be some of the best platforming games ever made, but some of the best games ever made period. Unfortunately for us, the franchise has been mistreated over the past decade and has only been redeemed with ports to the Xbox 360 and Xbox One. So when it was revealed that former Rare employees were working on a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, fans all over the world eagerly waited for any news of this game. The game’s title was revealed along with its adventuring animal duo in a Kickstarter campaign that raised two million pounds. Yooka-Laylee follows chameleon Yooka and bat Laylee in an adventure that we don’t know much about yet. Backers who donated enough were treated to a pre-alpha “Toybox” to explore some of the controls and gameplay mechanics before the game’s release in early 2017. I’ve had the chance to play with the Toybox and Yooka-Laylee isn’t just like Banjo-Kazooie, it is Banjo-Kazooie.
When you boot up the Yooka-Laylee Toybox several things immediately hit you if you’ve played a Banjo-Kazooie game before. The first thing I noticed is the music take right back to 1999 when I played Banjo-Kazooie for the first time. Greg Kirkhope returns to the project as the game’s composer and his wonderful scores with xylophones and trombones are back with a vengeance. Several moments I had to stop for a second and just appreciate what I was listening to. The second is that even though there are labels everywhere saying that this is all pre-alpha, Yooka-Laylee is shaping up to be a gorgeous game based on the characters alone. Yooka & Laylee have an almost Pixar-like quality to them and the Toybox’s other character, a robot named Inept, looks sharp. Though this could also be due to the world of the Toybox being just a bunch of coloured blocks with detailed assets, spread out across the world. And finally the moment you start to control Yooka & Laylee, every movement and action have the same feeling as they did in the Banjo-Kazooie games. In fact, as you play around the world you realize that you’re mostly playing a reskinned Banjo-Kazooie game.
Pretty much everything from the gameplay to the exchanges with Inept are familiar yet different when compared to Yooka-Laylee’s older siblings. In fact, I’ll list several parts of Banjo-Kazooie and list their Yooka-Laylee equivalent. Jiggies are now Pages, Notes are now Quills, Jinjos are now Ghost Writers (or just Ghosts, wasn’t entirely clear), and of course Banjo is now Yooka with Kazooie now Laylee. But it doesn’t stop there because even the small details are essentially the same too. Characters talk with the same jibberish that they did in Banjo-Kazooie, and even the pause menu is ripped right out of it too. Now to be clear, I feel that this all part of the fun, but I don’t know if anyone else will see it like that.
The similarities between the games are both Yooka-Laylee’s strength and weakness. For example, while I’m excited to play Yooka-Laylee, I also want a full HD remake of Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie as the graphics in Yooka-Laylee makes me want an updated Banjo title. On top of that, will all the nostalgia fans give way to monotony if it’s the same mechanics with little innovation? Trailers thankfully don’t seem to indicate this, but it’s too early to tell. As a comparison, unlike Bravely Default’s playing with Final Fantasy tropes to stand out, it’s hard to see if Yooka-Laylee will be different enough from the source material to feel truly novel. How do you that with a series that already had fourth-wall breaking writing and mocked video games tropes at its core? In any case, this is just a small taste of what we’re going to play when the game is released sometime next year. I know I’m going to enjoy Yooka-Laylee, I just don’t know if I’ll love it just yet.