The reviews for Playtonic’s Yooka Laylee have been unleashed, and they’re… well, not great. A few sites, such as IGN and Destructoid awarded the nostalgic platformer reasonable scores of seven and eight out of ten respectively, with Destructoid stating that the game is “rough around the edges, but the center is so full of heart that it’ll melt away the more you play it”.
Other sites were not quite so kind, to put it lightly. Jim Sterling’s Jimquisition gave the title a scathing two out of ten, calling it “rubbish”. Laura Dale from Lets Play Video Games was similarly harsh, giving the game thirty five percent. The general consensus seems to be that although the game is a faithful homage to the 3D platform games of yore, it also comes with all the pitfalls commonly associated with the genre, with the camera controls being one of the most prevalent issues, along with poor level design.
The negative feedback follows in the footsteps of fellow Kickstarter project Mighty No. 9 – although it’s fair to say that Yooka Laylee has not been quite as lambasted as Comcept’s messy tribute to Mega Man. This is a worrying trend that will no doubt cause concern for backers of Koji Igarashi’s 2018 spiritual successor to the Castlevania series, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, which has already suffered from heavy delays. No pressure, Iga.
It’s clear that the primary duty of Yooka Laylee is to somewhat emulate 3D adventures such as Banjo Kazooie and Spyro the Dragon, in order to evoke some feeling of nostalgia in the player. But this is, in itself, a big part of the problem.
Let’s take a look at the definition of ‘nostalgia’ – “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past”. When we think back on the things we loved as a child – whether it be a game, a book, a film or a piece of music – it’s not necessarily always the medium itself that invokes a warm, fuzzy feeling, but rather the period in which it was experienced.
I played Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped the other day, a game that I absolutely rinsed as a child. I played it everyday after school, often bringing around friends or taking turns with my older brother (who at the time was markedly better at the game than me). I would have been nine years old, and beating Crash Bandicoot 3 was undoubtedly the most vital thing I could do with my life. It was a much simpler time.
Booting up the game again at the age of twenty seven, it’s clear that it hasn’t aged particularly well – the levels are overly simplistic, with basic enemy AI and patchy controls that often led to unnecessary deaths. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my time with it again thanks to the memories it brings of my childhood. I will however, be very interested to see how folks respond to the upcoming N’Sane Trilogy remaster.
Yooka Laylee doesn’t benefit from a legacy enjoyed by many of its 3D platforming ancestors, and instead we’ve got a game that just feels old without being particularly nostalgic – after all, it is a brand new IP, there’s nothing there for players to feel nostalgic about. Playtonic has clearly tried so hard to make a game rooted in the 1990s, but it hasn’t learned from the lessons taught in the near two decades since. The game is riddled with archaic gameplay design that may well have been acceptable twenty years ago, but unfortunately does not fly with modern day gaming.
My expectation is that Yooka Laylee will no doubt perform well thanks to a sizable amount of hype in the run up to its release. If a sequel is green lit in the future, Playtonic would do well to put strong gameplay at the forefront, and allow the new IP to flourish on its own terms.