As more and more people worldwide pick up and enjoy Nintendo’s latest machine, the number of indie games appearing on the eShop increases by the day. As a result, it can be difficult to weed out the gems among the mess. In this new series, I’m hoping to shine a light on the best games from independent studios on the Nintendo Switch. This is Nintendo Switch Indiessentials.
In the interest of transparency, I have to disclose that I contributed to Yooka-Laylee’s initial Kickstarter campaign in 2015, opting for a PS4 copy of the game. I have bought Yooka-Laylee in Nintendo Switch, however, using my own money.
Yooka-Laylee is a 3D platform title from British studio Playtonic, a developer made up of former employers of legendary Leicestershire based studio Rare. Following the distinct lack of 3D platform titles since the genre’s heyday in the late 90s, the minds behind Banjo-Kazooie, Conkers Bad Fur Day, Donkey Kong 64, and so much more, set about reviving the forgotten era. Yooka-Laylee was successfully kickstarted in 2015, raising £2.1million against its original £175,000 target. The question is, how does it fare?
Yooka-Laylee follows the adventures of a chameleon named Yooka, and a bat named Laylee. As they enjoy the summers sun one fine day, aboard their house boat (Bat Ship Crazy), the pair happen upon a book with the intention of selling it. Before they even get a chance to read through it, the local factory, in the process of sucking all the worlds books into it, snatches it away.
Yooka and Laylee head to the factory, run by Dr Quack (a duck scientist) and Capital B (a giant Bee businessman), only to discover the pair are planning on claiming the worlds literature, and sell it for profit. Inside Hivory Towers, Yooka and Laylee must defeat Capital B and stop this from happening, I guess.
Yooka-Laylee is Banjo-Kazooie 3 in everything but name and character design. Yooka is Banjo, Laylee is Kazooie, Capital B and Dr. Quack are Gruntilda and Klungo respectively. You can take every character, collectable, and enemy in this game, and they are a direct comparable to Banjo-Kazooie’s cast of characters, collectables, and enemies. Even the save file screens and the in game font are similar. Remember this, because it’s very important moving forward.
Blast from the Past
When Playtonic put Yooka-Laylee up to be Kickstarted, they lead with the tagline “A 3D Platform Rare-vival!”. This alone tells you everything you need to know about what to expect from Yooka-Laylee. Playtonic wanted to make a modern day Rare platformer. And this is exactly what Yooka-Laylee is. The five worlds in Yooka-Laylee are littered with Jiggies…sorry, PAGIES to find, which are crucial in unlocking new worlds, as well as expanding those you’ve already unlocked. Feathers replaces Notes, and are the currency tendered when getting Trowzer (Bottles) to teach you new moves.
Outside of Pagies and Jiggies, Ghost Writers are the new Jinjo’s, and Dr. Puzz (Mumbo Jumbo) brings her D.N.Ray with her to each world, allowing Yooka and Laylee to transform into various objects.
In my Owlboy piece, I mentioned that it looked like an SNES game from your memory. Yooka-Laylee could well be an N64 game from your memory. A theme with these Indiessentials is that they’re all bright and vibrant, and that’s exactly what Yooka-Laylee is: bright, vibrant, and also everything has big googly eyes on them. Some of the character models look a bit shonky, it must be said, but the worlds traversed are beautiful. And, of course there is your standard swamp world, ice world, space level etc. It’s very 1998 in that regard.
Speaking of 1998, the composition on Yooka-Laylee is handled by Rare stalwarts Grant Kirkhope, David Wise, and Steve Burke. Wise and Kirkhope are sewn into Rare lore thanks to their stellar works on the Donkey Kong Country series and Banjo-Kazooie series respectively, however Burke wasn’t someone I was aware of. I’ve since been made aware that he worked on Viva Pinata (which is SUPERB). Either way, it is a truly all-star cast; a trio who understand what people want from a Rare-like title sonically, and deliver.
Each theme is sweeping and grandiose, adding depth to each (rather large) new world. Every effect and jingle is warm and sweet. If you close your eyes, you can honestly imagine this soundtrack being used in Banjo-Threeie, in some far off universe lucky enough to still have Rare working with Nintendo. This is some fine, fine work but some already revered musicians.
Not all plain sailing
I would not be doing my job if I didn’t mention the games shortcomings. Despite how overwhelmingly positive I’ve been so far, I have more than a handful of gripes with the game; the main involving the god-awful camera. While Playtonic did patch the game prior to the Switch release, the camera is still incredibly wayward and unwieldy.
This is coupled by the actual controlling of the characters. I played an early version of Yooka-Laylee way back in April 2017 at EGX Rezzed, and I was shocked at how…almost floaty the game felt? With platform titles, momentum and weight are absolutely key. Telling where things are in a 3D space isn’t the easiest thing in the world, so getting the *feel* of the game right is absolutely imperative. Yooka-Laylee doesn’t *feel* right, and that is going to be off putting to a lot of people.
I have to say that the mini games that Rextro Sixtyfourus offers as well are pretty poor, both in terms of controls and the actual quality of the games themselves. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if they weren’t required playing to actually complete the game.
So, what you’re left with is a beautiful looking game that controls poorly. How did such a game slip into the realm of “Indiessential”? Well, this one comes with a major asterisk. Yooka-Laylee is essential playing…for those of us that grew up and loved the Banjo-Kazooie series. Since the Microsoft acquisition, the bear and bird have been given one actual run out, and that was in a weird vehicle building spin-off. And don’t get me wrong, I loved Nuts and Bolts to bits…but it wasn’t really a Banjo game.
Yooka-Laylee, for all it’s faults (I’m certain many have many more issues with it), is a game I would deem essential playing for a *certain* group of people. Fortunately, I fall into that group. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you feel warm and fuzzy. Hopefully, it’ll lead to a future where the 3D platformer isn’t only enjoyed by an Italian plumber. And, hopefully, Playtonic are the ones at the helm.
Yooka-Laylee is available on the Nintendo Switch eShop for £34.99, and is also available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. If you wish to own a physical copy of the game, this is available on PS4 and Xbox One here through Amazon. Following that link doesn’t add on any cost to you, but it helps me financially, so feel free. I don’t believe Playtonic plan on releasing a physical copy for Nintendo Switch unfortunately.