Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Archive for the tag “Banjo Kazooie”

Yooka-Laylee for PS4, Xbox One, PC, Linux and OS X

I still remember the day I got my N64. My mum was pretty strict when it came to game consoles; she didn’t approve at all and was pretty keen to keep controllers out of my hands. My dad was a big softy though and we went to go pick it up from Toys-R-Us for Christmas. This was the UK in the 1990s and the PS1 was culturally dominant in a way I think lots of people have forgotten, but I had eyes only for the N64. My best friend had one and we’d spent countless hours playing together, but one game had caught my eye above all others. Not Super Mario 64, not Ocarina of Time; Banjo-Kazooie. I obsessed over this game, collecting every Jiggy, every Note, every Jinjo. I’ll never forget the day Nintendo Official Magazine published the secret codes to unlock the enigmatic, but ultimately pointless, Ice Key and Special Eggs, ringing my best friend to share my discovery. I awaited Banjo-Tooie with a fervour, and even though with hindsight I can see that it’s a less tight and strong experience overall than the original, I still loved it to bits at the time. The point is, cut me and I bleed Banjo.

It’s 2017 now, and I’m not far from 20 years older than I was when I first played. Some things haven’t changed; I still have Grant Kirkhope’s Spiral Mountain theme etched into my skull and the childhood best friend was my best man, but one area that has changed is gaming. It’s not 1998 anymore. Yooka-Laylee’s reception was likely disappointing to Playtonic, formed largely by people who left Rare after not being able to handle anymore of Microsoft’s bullshit, who demonstrate clear passion for the collect-a-thon genre and a style of game that no longer exists. Yooka-Laylee is quite clearly a labour of love, which makes it all the sadder that it ultimately fails. Some have snapped back at the criticism of Yooka-Laylee by saying that it simply does what was promised, to recreate the gameplay, style and aesthetic of Banjo-Kazooie into 2017. Those criticising it are simply not the target audience.

Unfortunately, I think the issues with Yooka-Laylee run deeper than simply being a matter of personal taste and nostalgia. Banjo-Kazooie was a big, epic game, but it was very tightly designed. In terms of pure square footage, the levels really weren’t that big, but were packed to the rafters with stuff. There was a sense of wonder, as each world felt radically different to the others, offering unique style, gameplay and sweet, sweet Kirkhope music. Yooka-Laylee has fewer worlds than Banjo-Kazooie, only five overall, plus the hub world. This wouldn’t be a problem in of itself, but they’re also much bigger and, overall, have far less personality. There is probably more content in each world than in Banjo-Kazooie, each of which can be expanded, but it’s far less interesting to gather. Yooka-Laylee aims for Banjo-Kazooie, but it lands on Donkey Kong 64.

The Banjo games were never known for complex plots, but you still had a clear motivation. Banjo’s sister has been kidnapped by an evil witch who wants to make herself young again. In Yooka-Laylee the villain is Capital B, an evil businessman who creates a machine to absorb all the books in the world, to horde knowledge to then sell back. He steals the pages from a magical book in the possession of chameleon Yooka and bat Laylee, so the two set forth into his lair to get the pages back. The writing is still good, funny and silly and irreverent and oh-so-very British, as it was in Banjo. An element I really liked is that the whole game can be interpreted as a dig at Microsoft, with constant jokes at the expense of corporations and capitalism. A boss clearly modelled on Microsoft’s Kinect was particularly genius, as perhaps nothing symbolises how far Rare has fallen, or was dragged, than that useless bit of nonsense. Whilst I like the idea of Capital B, he ultimately feels like less of an engaging presence than Gruntilda, whose constant taunting and rhymes during the original game is pretty much iconic.

Although the level design is lacking, most of the core mechanics themselves are really solid. Yooka simply feels fun to control, running at a good speed and with tight platforming. Similarly to the talon trot of the Banjo games, Yooka can roll up into a ball and be ridden by Laylee for extra speed and to climb slopes, with controls that feel tight and responsive. Many people have knocked the camera, but I can’t say I ever had any major issues with it. The sheer joy of movement that 3D platformers really need is present here, even if what is layered on top of these mechanics feels lacklustre.

Yooka-Laylee has moments of greatness and charm but it is lacking something. The writing, music and strong core mechanics of Banjo are there, but the level design, variety and, ultimately, heart are not. This is clearly a labour of love and I’d like to see Playtonic have another shot; I think there’s a solid foundation here to build upon, but I’m as diehard a Banjo-Kazooie fan as you could imagine and Yooka-Laylee fell flat for me.

Yooka-Laylee_cover_art

The Last Tinker: City of Colours for PS4 and PC

So, we can all agree that, no matter the quality, nostalgia will ensure we will have a fondness for the games of our adolescence. The 3D platformer is a dying genre, but once it was my bread and butter. Super Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie were my everything. I even loved the less well received ones like Donkey Kong 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. It’s a genre I really adore, and The Last Tinker promised itself to be a return. Sadly, it’s not quite there, but I had a very good time with it nonetheless.

The Last Tinker takes place in Colourtown, a city split into three districts based on colour; red, blue and green. Although the residents of each district once lived in unity, now they’ve grown suspicious of each other. The player controls Koru, a monkey, who accidently unleashed a force known as ‘The Bleakness’ which steals colour from the town, draining it to white and turning the residents into stone. Koru must unite the three colour spirits, and Colourtown in the process, to stop the Bleakness.

Ok, so it’s all nonsense, but it’s quite sweet and the writing is gently funny in a Banjo Kazooie esque way. The whole thing is a hilariously obvious message about racism, which would be cringworthy if it wasn’t so well meaning and oddly sweet. Not much else to say about the story; it’s as you expect in games like this.

The Last Tinker disappointed me almost immediately in one respect; the lack of manual jumping. The platforming is achieved just by holding the right trigger, which I got used to, but was a little disappointing. The platforming lacks weight or technique, and just involves holding a button and moving in the right direction. The combat is surprisingly decent, with a range of different attack types and enemies. Overall though, few of the gameplay systems work particularly well, although I did enjoy sections where you need to guide weird mushroom men around, which can be interacted with in a variety of ways to get through the environment. One of the worst offenders is a hideous grinding mechanic, which is a shame because I love grinding sections in platformers! It’s the only really successful mechanic in the game, but The Last Tinker is very much an experience greater than the sum of its parts.

The overall experience was, in the end however, very positive one. There’s a certain charm and exuberance to The Last Tinker which shines through, the feeling that the developers enjoyed making this game. The environments are varied, and there are some quite cool set peace boss fight moments. When taken apart, it’s quite clear that The Last Tinker doesn’t really work, but wrapped up all together in a package it ends up being a very enjoyable experience.

The game looks incredibly charming, with a handcrafted aesthetic which is highly appealing. The music is lovely too, and the little noises made by the characters as they talk reminded me fondly of the old Rareware games back in their prime. Without this level of visual polish, I doubt I would have enjoyed The Last Tinker nearly as much. There are occasional frame rate drops, which is a shame considering that this isn’t exactly a hugely demanding game visually.

The Last Tinker is difficult to recommend due to the huge number of things it doesn’t get right. The actual platforming is weak and the combat is bland, but something about it really appealed to me. If, like me, you’re an early twenty-something whose childhood bread and butter was games sort of like this, perhaps you’ll like it too.  19324

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