This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Yooka-Laylee.
Twenty years ago, before real life started to feel like a late-night sitcom that got renewed past the point any of the writers gave a shit about it and is now seeing what it can get away with, there existed the "mascot platformer", a staple of that weird transitionary period between 2D and 3D graphics when we hadn't quite internalized the fact that platforming is enhanced by 3D gameplay the same way bobbing for apples is enhanced when you've got a bear trap stuck on your head, and when most protagonists were big-headed cartoon mascots because the attempts at realistic characters looked like used toilet paper origami. A more innocent time; certainly a more colorful time before graphics improved and every protagonist became a short, brown-haired, white, middle-class dude, which would only serve as a mascot for the Kansas City Dullards. But this era saw such wonderfully varied titles as Banjo-Kazooie, by Rare; Donkey Kong 64, also by Rare; Conker's Bad Fur Day, by Industrial Light and Magic (just kidding; it was Rare again).
You know what? Let's forget about examples; this isn't fucking TV Tropes. Let's focus on Banjo-Kazooie, because this new game I've been playing, Yooka-Laylee, is to Banjo-Kazooie what Mighty No. 9 was to Mega Man: proof (if proof be needed) that there is no sector of nostalgia so obsolete, nor so loose in its interpretation of the spirit of copyright law, that you can't get a couple thousand people on Kickstarter to pony up for a thinly-veiled copy-paste with the names changed.
Banjo-Kazooie was a 3D platformer in which you gather collectibles around a pseudo-open world to unlock more areas and skills, not to be confused with Conker's Bad Fur Day, which was a 3D platformer in which you gather collectibles around a pseudo-open world to unlock more areas and skills, and also, there's tits in it. Yooka-Laylee is consequently that very thing as well, minus tits. Like Banjo-Kazooie, you play as an animal sitting on top of another animal, or perhaps you're playing the animal the other animal is sitting on top of. Talk about an identity crisis! You're collecting golden prizes that have been spread throughout the land by a villain for some unimaginably-contrived reason, and every single character talks by making one specific noise in a variety of different pitches like they've got synthesizers lodged in their throats.
And also like Banjo-Kazooie, the game devotes about half a pinky finger's effort to holding up the fourth wall before giving up and repurposing it as a coffee table. "I mean, yes, on the surface, the baddies have stolen our magic book and we have to find all the missing pages, but the real reason for doing so is because it is a video game, and we aren't shy about mentioning it at every opportunity." I always find something obnoxious about this "too cool for school" kind of dealio; it's like walking into a Santa's Grotto to find a slouched and disinterested Santa, beard askew, who jerks a thumb towards the bag of toys on the floor before returning his attention to his copy of the Racing Post. Hey, more power to you for your irreverent subversion of my expectations, but you still charged me ten bucks for this shit! It's like farting in a lift and acting like everyone else is the weirdo for noticing. No, actually; it's like farting in your own face and sarcastically rolling your eyes at the smell.
But hey, the list of backers in the end credits takes about half an hour to get past the Aarons, so clearly, this is what the people want. In contrast to Banjo-Kazooie being a bear and a bird, Yooka and Laylee are a lizard and a bat, nominally different, but functionally the same: one thing that flies, one thing that would annoy your sister if you left it in her bed. You've got your hub world and you unlock new themed worlds with a set number of Jiggies, I mean, Pagies, I mean, mundane objects turned into exciting collectibles by means of sticking "-ie" on the end of the name. Then, if you pay the game even more Stapleries, it'll unlock each world a second time, adding more content and collectibles with the high-minded entrepreneurial spirit of a heroin dealer.
One might reasonably wonder why they don't just unlock all of the world in one go; I suppose it could be to pace things out a bit and give you a reason to come back to previous worlds to collect more Crystal-Meth-ies, but there's already a reason to do that: some of them are out of reach until you've unlocked certain abilities. You can only get the Allen-Wrench-ie that's sitting on top of a giant, erect cock, for example, once you acquire the Blue Balls attack and it gets you into World 4. But then again, another of the things Yooka-Laylee doesn't give much of a shit about is sequence-breaking, and if you don't have the Blue Balls attack, you can still do a prolapse pogo off a bit of brickwork that's not technically a platform, but they didn't put an invisible wall around it, so go nuts, and get on top of the giant, erect cock that way.
I applaud that because it makes things a bit more organic, but later in the game, once you unlock the ability to fly, we discover there weren't any invisible walls on the ground because they all got arranged into a ceiling instead. Sometimes, if you see a tall thing, you should fly to the top of it to find the hidden distributor cap from a Ford-Anglia-ie. At other times, we were supposed to intuit that the tall thing was just window dressing and the invisible ceiling will smash you back down into the dirt where you belong.
Getting the flying power is also the point that the bottom drops out of most of the challenge with an audible "thunk!", since half the activities are platforming-related. But if I were to put my finger on the major defining problem with Yooka-Laylee - the pulsating orange hernia that dangles most prominently from betwixt its legs, as it were - it would be inconsistency. (And incidentally, it's a bad idea to put your finger on people's hernias.)
Yes, inconsistency; the rules seem to keep changing behind my back. You've got your bog-standard spin attack for dispatching enemies, but as for whether it will actually work on an enemy can only be determined through the scientific method. "No, you see, that guy wasn't vulnerable at that moment; he was moving 1.3 times faster than he does when he is vulnerable. Oh yeah, and your sonic blast can shatter ice blocks except when it can't, and here's another power that lets you take on the qualities of things you touch with your tongue." What does that mean, Yooka-Laylee? 'Cos I've been licking this picture of David Hasselhoff for hours and I don't feel any more virile. "Oh no, it's just some things, like you can lick a fire to become a fire lizard and walk through fire barriers". Yooka-Laylee, I just hurt myself on a flaming torch. "I didn't mean any fire, ugh." This is like figuring out what the in-laws want for dinner.
Sadly, I came away from Yooka-Laylee in a profoundly negative mood, but it was mainly because the final boss was an absolute pig. You can tell they put the effort in for it, 'cos the two prior interludes where one would have expected mid-game bosses instead contained fucking trivia quizzes like we were having to take the fucking DMV knowledge test, but we finally get an actual boss fight, and it just goes on and on with phase after phase, and which of your fifty different attacks will arbitrarily work for each new phase can only be determined through trial and error. It's a shame, really, that all the diverse fun up to then should be ruined by a boss that shows up and pisses on everything. Oh, bugger! I was hoping to avoid gags about American politics.
- A weasel on top of a pig: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I won't bring up the inherent problem with a cold-blooded creature being able to survive in a snowy level if you don't
- Hernia prevention is everyone's responsibility