This Week in Games - Yooka-Laylee

by Dustin Bailey,
Nostalgia's a tricky thing. If you're reading this, there's a pretty good chance you had some formative experience with a piece of media in your youth. I love video games because of Kirby's Adventure when I was five, and anime because of the Big O when I was 14. That's part of why the connections between online strangers over bits of geekery can feel so strong—we've shared so many of the same experiences from a young age that it's difficult not to feel that connection.

But I'm not really here to wax philosophical. The things you loved as a kid are universally better in imagination than reality, and pining for the good ol' days—bemoaning that they don't make 'em like they used to—leads to nothing more than disappointment, especially when you're confronted by the reality that things actually have gotten better since you were a kid.

First Impressions - Yooka-Laylee

I like Banjo-Kazooie. A lot. A big part of that is certainly nostalgia, since I was roughly eight when I first played it and at the time even enjoyed it more than its supposedly far better inspiration. I've come back to both Banjo and its sequel more than once over the years, thanks largely to the excellent remasters made available on the 360 and Xbox One. So yeah, when the people who made Banjo went to crowdfund a spiritual successor in 2015, I was all the way on board and more than willing to kick in and make the project a reality.

Yooka-Laylee is a lot like Banjo-Kazooie. No kidding, right? For a game whose entire pitch is its resemblance to a very specific forbear, the statement that Yooka-Laylee is like an N64 game will be unsurprising and unremarkable. But no, you don't understand—Yooka-Laylee is like an N64 game. It was billed a spiritual successor, but don't be fooled. This bears more resemblance to long-lost 64-bit ROM, remastered and rereleased for modern consumption. Not a single cell of this game feels like it belongs in 2017, and every single aspect of it from top to bottom is all slavishly devoted to recreating the exact look and feel of something from nearly two decades ago.

That precisely as advertised, but it's tough not to feel just a bit disappointed by the rigid adherence to ancient game tropes. The best retro throwbacks—games like Shovel Knight and others—are able to invoke their inspirations while improving on them. Yooka-Laylee is content to merely be a collection of new Banjo levels.

Just how close is the formula? Let's play a game of noun replacement. You play as the stoic music pun Yooka (Banjo) who's joined by a sarcastic winged companion named Laylee (Kazooie). You're out to thwart the plot of an evil capitalist (witch) named Capital B (Gruntilda) who taunts you as you explore the hub world with corporate jargon (nursery rhymes). You collect Pagies (Jiggies) to unlock new levels in the hub, and collect Quills (Notes) to purchase new moves from your pall Trowzer (Bottles). The levels also feature tiny Ghost Writer (Jinjo) characters to collect, and a mad scientist (shaman) who'll transform you into new forms with new abilities.

Like Banjo, Yooka-Laylee features a far less dynamic control scheme than you see in Mario, and that's a fact you might've forgotten 20 years later. There's little momentum to movement, no way to chain leaps together, and no joyful but pointless abilities like the sideways leap you can make after a sharp turn. There's a mechanical precision to these controls, and each new ability has to be purchased, then used in very specific circumstances to bypass very specific obstacles. What the Rare games had over Mario was a more colorful world filled with adorable but vaguely cynical characters spouting dialog with a very British sense of humor. That was great in '98, but it means that Banjo and its brethren have been treated far less than kindly by time.

Yooka-Laylee does all the same tricks that Banjo did, but with twenty years intervening the worlds that were once big and colorful now feel a little barren, and the characters who used to seem unique are now a little wooden. There are still some fun touches here and there, like the sentient googly eye enemies who possess nearby objects to attack, but even that's a callback to a long-running joke about character design in the glory days. The worlds—big, bright, and colorful as they are—feel now like the post-story stages of an open world game, where the plot is done and the characters have little to say, and your goals are to solve some puzzles and fill out a checklist of all the items you missed. There's a certain satisfaction to that process, but it does nothing for the vague air of lifelessness that nips at the game.

There are also parts that are just bad. Mediocre minigames, infuriating platform challenges, and an unfriendly content gate that requires you to continually move back and forth between levels as you learn new moves. Even with the caveats about the controls, some things just feel off—the roll move that gets you up steep hills in particular feels like a constant battle against unpredictable momentum. The hit detection is just off enough to make dealing with enemies frustrating, and grabbing some collectables is more difficult than necessary because an N64-appropriate use of sprites in a 3D world.

I've played a good bit on both PS4 and PC, and there's something about the console version that doesn't quite sit right with me. There's something just wrong with the framerate. I'm not a 60FPS or bust kinda guy, but there's a particular choppiness to the camera movement in particular that makes me feel very uncomfortable. I can't put my finger on it, and I haven't heard anyone else complain about it, but it was bad enough that I dropped the PS4 version five hours deep in favor of a switch to PC.

It's tough to knock Yooka-Laylee for its resemblance to a two decade old game when that's the entire reason it exists, but the real disappointment is a seeming lack of awareness for the flaws of its predecessors. Lots of games have invoked the glory days while subtly improving on classic designs and making them better than ever before. Yooka-Laylee, instead, is content to pretend that its inspirations are without reproach and worth recreating down to the finest detail, and as much as I love Banjo-Kazooie I can't sign off on that.

NEWS

BAYONETTA GOT A SUDDEN PC PORT

Apparently this has been building to a climax for weeks now and I've missed the entire thing. Sega released a free, tiny game on Steam for April 1st featuring Bayonetta in some single-screen, two-button retro action. The April Fools' joke was that this is what we would get instead of a proper Bayonetta port on PC, but that game in turn led to a countdown timer that ended with the reveal of—you guessed it—Bayonetta on PC.

By all accounts it's an outstanding port, and looks to be the definitive version of one of the best character action games ever produced. I'll be digging into it myself a bit later this week, so please look forward to more detailed impressions.

Bayonetta is terrific, but it's not the only PC port fans want from Platinum. It seems they're aware of those demands, but their hands are often tied by publisher decisions—at least according to Platinum spokesperson speaking with PC Gamer. ”However, most third party publishers nowadays realize the PC should not be ignored, so I believe we should be able to become more actively involved in the PC market from here on out.”

YAKUZA KIWAMI GETS A RELEASE DATE AND A BUDGET PRICE FOR THE WEST

Everyone's out here freaking out about the quality of 2017's video games because of stuff like Zelda, Persona, and Nier, and that praise is all justified. But don't sleep on Yakuza. The series is great, and 0 in particular is terrific, but if you're too good to go back and play a three-month-old game (you snob), there's luckily another option for you.

Sega recently confirmed the Western release date for Yakuza Kiwami, the PS4 remake of the game that started it all. That'll be out in North America on August 29th, and there's even more great news—it'll be at a budget price of $29.99. Play Yakuza, friends. You deserve it.

OVERWATCH KINDA SORTA GOT A STORY MODE

Overwatch is good—some might say the best game of 2016—and part of what's so great about it is the implied storytelling that has made the world of a 6v6 multiplayer shooter utterly captivating. So captivating, in fact, that the absence of a story mode feels like a significant letdown.

Well, no longer! Sort of. Overwatch's latest seasonal event is called Uprising, and its core is a game mode that explicitly sets out to tell the story of a robotic rebellion in the team's past. Four players get into the roles of Mercy, Torbjorn, Reinhardt, and Tracer to take on an objective-based mission and fight hordes of AI-controlled omnics. There's a more freeform version of the mode where you can select any character, as well as the host of skins, emotes, and other doodads, including a normal-skinned Widowmaker that's sure to start burning up the rule 34 charts any second now.

It's a neat addition (albeit a temporary one), and it would be great to see more like it in the future. Overwatch's cast is diverse enough in gameplay styles to make any number of small-scale PvE modes work, and it's a great way to deliver some lore for those story-obsessed players. The Uprising event is running until May 1st.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

THE DISNEY AFTERNOON COLLECTION
Developer: Digital Eclipse
Publisher: Capcom
Platform: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One / PC
Release Date: April 18
MSRP: $19.99

Licensing nightmares be damned, a half-dozen Capcom Disney classics are getting collected for modern platforms. The Disney Afternoon Collection includes Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers 2, DuckTales, DuckTales 2, Darkwing Duck, and TaleSpin. That's a great lineup, and even better this collection comes from Digital Eclipse, the makers of the excellent Mega Man Legacy Collection. That sets us up for perfect emulation and a big variety of historical materials and artwork—everything a retro fan needs.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
It's another indie-rific week with small games galore. Flinthook is retro roguelike(like) with 2D platforming and a grappling hook, Full Throttle Remastered modernizes a classic point-and-click adventure game, and Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom is a European developer's take on Japanese-style action RPGs. On top of that, the Silver Case remaster makes it to PS4 this week, Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap is seeing a full remake, and some lunatic decided that Voodoo Vince deserved a remaster.

Here's hoping at least one of those games outdoes its predecessors.


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