Yooka-Laylee

yooka

Yooka-Laylee (2017)

You don’t need to know me particularly well to gather that I’m almost allergic to spending money. The way I see it, every little penny that I’ve tricked people into giving me is a hard-earned penny indeed. I’ll squeeze dosh from any man’s coffers – government, ignorant employers, family, the lot. I’ve even eyed up beggars’ cups on occasion – that’s how far I’ll go for a few quid.

But living like this has its disadvantages, dear readers, because suddenly every financial decision no matter how seemingly minor becomes a grand-arching game of monetary chess. I’ve got to think twelve moves ahead. “If I spend this Euro here, will I sit and agonise about it later and wish I’d just gone hungry that day?” and so on and so forth.

I snort derisively at people who actually buy bottled war – in fact I’m so miserly I’d do the same to people who don’t immediately vroom off once they’ve put petrol into their cars. What, you’re saying all I have to do is evade police capture and I’ve saved myself a fiver on fuel? Get in!

One area where I am absolutely justified in keeping a vice-like grip over my hard-earned dosh is when it comes to concert tickets. Christ, when Def Leppard announced that they were gracing Dublin with their elderly presence, but would be charging each punter at least 65 clams for the privilege, out came another of my now famous snorts. You’re all jesting, aren’t you? You were last relevant forty odd years ago, and have never even had a following in Ireland to my knowledge.

Assuming the whole gig is a sellout (and unless you are absolutely below z-list then it will do, given the size of most of our concert venues) then we can obviously forget all about getting these thin wheaves of gold at point of sale from those dreaded shysters at Ticketmaster. Those tickets are going on sale at 8 AM and if your worthless, lazy backside gets onto that e-queue at 8:01 AM then you’ll have had it. Your only recourse at this stage is ticket touts and third party merchants (non-Ticketmaster backed of course) and that is never ideal.

If your eyes had already been made to water at the initial RRP, their banks will positively burst by the time you weaken and meet the tout’s asking price. Add in VAT and another mysterious “booking fee” and your eyes may very well pour out of their sockets, along with your soul, until the only part left of you at the actual show on that fated night is your bereft carcass, stripped of its rent money, dignity and free will.

Well so much for all that. Why bother? For an unforgettable experience, a chance to see a living legend perform and come away with a story that will last a lifetime? Well, yes, but… why not go to a tribute act instead? No, I’m serious. Or how about somebody who just does cover versions of almost all of Def Leppard’s back catalogue and thinks they’ll make it that way?

We don’t mind going off-brand for bread and milk, the essentials in life, so why not do the same with music artists? I will remind you that by going off-brand with bread, up to 37 cent can be saved weekly, so I’m pretty sure I’m on to something here. And the mold is fine, so long as you toast the bread thoroughly and possibly eat around some of the more fungal bits. As for that non-kosher milk… you are able to tell green from white, right?

My point is that maybe the originals aren’t always the best option and that perhaps they can be improved upon or presented better, even if they carry their own warts? Or maybe I’m being ridiculous and those popular established works and artists have nothing to fear from those who imitate their initial blueprint almost down to the letter.

Well, which of these is Yooka-Laylee purporting to be? Quite honestly I still don’t know what this game is trying to be in relation to the Nintendo 64’s Banjo Kazooie, the game it most closely emulates. And I’m not sure I’ll ever quite figure it out either.

In a world of moribund first-person shooters, indie detritus and a wacky Nintendo console that wasn’t doing the biz saleswise, a group of the lads from that old banter workshop Rareware all met for a traditional Rareware Friday evening of pub, pints, darts and curry.

“Here lads. Isn’t it a bit galling that Microsoft took us on, promised us little, and relegated us to programming lowly avatars? ” one of the wags opined. “I’m glad I got out,” another of the lads agreed. “‘Ey up, balls to that,” Grant Kirkhope probably shouted, six pints deep. Then the chaps overhead some Melvin in the toilet going on about Kickstarter and big money donations. Intrigued, they battered poor Melvin for info and then retired home each wielding a zweihander doner kebab and talking incessantly about ideas for the Banjo 3 that they could finally get together on and make.

But whoops! They obviously didn’t have the rights to hire in the now largely neglected bird-and-bear. But no problem, it’s not as if big bad Microsoft now hold a monopoly on a sort of dim yet nice-to-a-fault main character and is endlessly sarcastic female mobility device, is it? Mind you, it has to be said that Yooka the Chameleon is more than a bit of a personality vacuum and Laylee the Bat falls into a common pitfall that traps most of the game’s cost – constantly self-referential meta humour.

But rejoice, fans of ninny game elements – every single character in the game, and many more non-characters besides, use the classic garbled sound effects as their speech noises. And it’s almost worth playing the game just to how hear how each snowman pipes up.

That’s one good part of the game wrapped up, and now time to talk about the bad… but only mildly. Yes, for th same reason that I am too weak and mousy to devastate solo or indie developers by attacking and spitting on their babies, even a game with as much developing pedigree onboard as Yooka-Laylee gets leeway from me. Mind, the game made in excess of two million dollars off its Kickstarter, eight times the initial goal of £175,000 once currency conversion is taken into account.

God knows how far they could’ve stretched a game budget of 175 large and still made it 3D and HD, because even being at my most generous I’d have to say that there are a few times where the lack of all-important polish makes it frighteningly easy to point out where the money had run out. It’s also a shame that there’s only 5 levels against Banjo Kazooie’s 9, although they are quite large, if a little aimless. By example, when I first rolled and flew (and more often than not, uncontrollably slid) around the first gameworld, where probably half the budget and dev time went, I was beginning to think that some structures and platforms simply weren’t loading or rendering for me.

I tried to use my camera efficiently to see if I was missing anything here, but the camera snarled back at me like a pitbull terrier at all my attempts to cajole it into helping me, almost like it was in disbelief, couldn’t believe the disrespect I’d given it. So I pretty quickly stopped trying to get a good look at where I was going.

I quickly learned that, almost from the moment you enter a new world, you can spend Pagies (the main collectible) to expand the world and bless you with those hallowed platforms and deathly structures that I was so badly missing previously. It’s an interesting little feature, but at least let me know the score beforehand, guys.

And don’t have me fight through an isometric-styled ice maze only to be confronted by an object that looks veeerrryyy suspicious, and will have me throwing my fragile chameleon at it for half an hour – only to find out that this requires a special move that I’ll not be picking up for quite some time. Backtracking is perfectly fine in a game, I encourage it even, but all the way to the deepest, forgotten parts of a massive earlier level? Leave it out. And I’ll not even mention either the Rextro Arcade “Games” or the ubiquitous Mine Cart challenges as they are quite simply ghastly and ought to be used as a form of neo-medieval torture.

Hmmm… plenty of faults here, isn’t there? But it’s not all bad, I promise you. In terms of the Banjo Kazooie template, it’s got varied and expansive worlds, it’s got the humour (a lot of it hackneyed, but what were you expecting?), it’s got loads to collect, it’s got new moves for you to learn, it’s got boss battles (actually they’re almost as ghastly as Rextro and the mine carts, so scratch that for now), it’s got challenge, and thanks to its backers it’s got the longest credits screen in the whole world… but loose controls (especially where the transformations are concerned), a particularly belligerent camera, some dreadfully frustrating segments and an overall lack of refinement all add up.

Just when you thought 3D collectathons were back to their best, they turn out to be… moreorless exactly that, if last year’s Super Mario Odyssey is anything to go by. As a tribute act to Banjo Kazooie and other 3D platformers, Yooka throws out bum note after bum note – but is still such a refreshing sight that it gets your toes thumping. We could both go on about its faults, but likewise gush about how it reignited memories of those N64 classics Banjo and Donkey Kong 64. Perhaps Yooka trades on little more than nostalgia. But as an experiment, a proof of concept in 2017, or even as an unashamed throwback, that’s good enough for me. At a budget price, this is one tribute act definitely worth the cost of entry.

23 January 2018

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