4/15/2017

The Obvious Yooka-Laylee Comparison

 I am planning on making a video about Yooka-Laylee, a short video in which I don't compare Yooka-Laylee to the games it is obviously trying to call back to. In that spirit, I am compelled to make a blog post about the comparisons that everyone is making: Yooka-Laylee vs Every Rare Game from 1997-2002. I didn't look up those years for accuracy, I wonder how close they are. Obviously the comparisons are justified but not everyone has played the games that set up Yooka-Laylee's existence, so I think at a certain point, we should look at the game on its own before slamming it up against a 15-year old wall, granted again, it's justified to do so considering they made this game obviously tugging at nostalgia of consumers.

 I haven't beaten Yooka-Laylee yet, but I have sunk in about 5-7 hours. That was more time than I expected to spend in such a short time span, but still I'm only in the beginning. So I'm going to compare Yooka-Laylee to some Rare games that inspired the creation of Yooka-Laylee.

 The four main games that come to mind are Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie, Donkey Kong 64, and Conker's Bad Fur Day (although you could make some pretty loose Donkey Kong Country comparisons and still maintain some illusion of sanity, in my opinion). We could compare it to Battletoads, Jet Force Gemini, and Goldeneye, but that's obviously not what Playtonic was trying to do, so for the purpose of this blog post, it would be stupid to do that. Interesting otherwise perhaps, but for this cause, pointless. DISCLAIMER: I haven't played Banjo-Tooie very much at all so it isn't on the list. So I'm actually just going to compare Yooka-Laylee (Yooka for short) to its spiritual predecessors Banjo-Kazooie (BK), Donkey Kong 64 (DK64), and Conker's Bad Fur Day (Conker).

BANJO-KAZOOIE

 I have no nostalgic ties to Banjo-Kazooie. In fact when I played Banjo-Kazooie for a very brief period of time when I was a very young child, I remember hating it. I gave BK a fair chance in my early twenties... I'm still in my early twenties... it was a few years ago. I beat 99% of the game and thought it was great. I never felt bored. I never felt that the game had no direction. I only stopped when my gaming guilt kicked in. I have gaming guilt by the way. The longer I play video games by myself, the more I feel like a piece of shit for playing video games. Through fantastic level and overworld design, Banjo-Kazooie felt like one strung together experience to the very end. Although some things were arbitrary (how many things were collectible in each world and the note doors), they were arbitrary for the sake of having a constant sense of progress without having to go to the pause menu every other minute to find out how many collectibles you still needed.

 Flip everything I just said and you have a poignant list of my complaints with Yooka-Laylee, some bigger than others. I'll elaborate, because if I were reading this, I wouldn't go back and try to figure that statement out either.

 One similarity: I have no nostalgic ties to Yooka or BK. So when I play Yooka, I see a video game that is mechanically a sequel to BK, which in itself I have no problem with at all. Yooka has a lot of things in it I find a lot more boring in comparison to that of BK. My first time exploring a world in BK is like waking up late on my day off after a long week and realizing that I have a bunch of Lucky Charms and just also happen to be in the mood for Lucky Charms. Everything is set in place in an exciting and constantly rewarding way. A string of notes will lead to nearby feathers and eggs in case you are low on those. They are probably put in that place because another puzzle nearby requires them, or more scattered because a certain puzzle may have you going across the whole map in a short span of time (a la the Gobi's Desert flying missions... or most of the flying missions). Although the camera is easily controllable for the player, the initial camera angles that the game defaults to are not just a static default camera angle, but one that gives you a photo-worthy glimpse of where you are in this new world and in turn can hint at what to do next, which as stated before creates a domino effect in your brain to keep doing everything that the world has to offer, provoking you to keep going and keep being satisfied by your efforts. Once the world has been drained, you want more. I don't feel this at all in Yooka. Quills (the equivalent to notes) seem to be set across the map to signify a place you haven't been before, so if you are looking for something later, and you don't find quills, you probably already searched that area. This isn't a bad idea, but there are sluggish missions where you are required to go back and forth to different corners of the world. Along the way you find other missions to trigger, and it all becomes a mess, on top of the fact that you have to remember where everything is and the worlds are enormous. Yooka also has a camera issue that I kind of mentioned but didn't elaborate on. The default camera angles sometimes show you more than just Yooka's ass in the form of a shiny landscape, but even a bird's eye view of the stage won't show anything of use because the missions and their layout in the stage are so spastic. Instead of making maybe ten (give or take a few) worlds, each with a unique theme and set of memorable missions, Yooka has five overly huge worlds that you have to make even bigger by expanding them, requiring you to crawl through the same locales for hours, picking up litter. Sorry, did I say litter? I meant quills and whatever. Just kidding; I meant litter.

 There are a few things I think I do like more about Yooka than that of BK, but they aren't drastic and they are scarce. I feel more in control of Yooka than Banjo. A lot of the stressful moments in BK, for example all of Click Clock Wood, were more of a matter of me trying to keep Banjo in a path where I didn't steer him into trouble or hurtling to his death. Yooka walks around a lot smoother I feel and the camera controls are objectively better. However, these factors don't make the game better. Banjo in BK didn't feel overly clunky, I'm not trying to imply that, but a lot of things you did with Banjo felt more risky because the notes would reset every time you die or exit the level. Yooka doesn't even have a life system. Yooka's punishment is solely wasting your time. In the first world where you transform into a plant, there are only so many ways to transform back to normal, but since there is no consequence for fucking anything in the game whatsoever, I just jumped off of a cliff when I was done. This is because not only is there no consequence, but the plant transformation was stupid and ultimately not fun. It was funny that the game is implying that you are a male flower jizzing plant juice on a bunch of lonely and horny female plants, but that didn't make up for the horrifically sluggish movement of the plant transformation. In BK, even the termite form had a wide mobility and could actually do some things easier than normal Banjo, so if you weren't done with the world, going back to Mumbo to transform again just felt like something you had to do, but not an egregious mess.

 BK is the aforementioned Lucky Charms analogy. Yooka is when I'm done eating breakfast and go to my office to work on things, only to realize that every single cable of every device around my desk is impossibly tangled. However somebody is showing me pretty pictures and telling me jokes along the way. It doesn't make the mechanical flaws forgivable, but it makes them slightly more tolerable and gives them a somewhat memorable and endearing soul.

 I could go on about how much better Banjo-Kazooie is than Yooka-Laylee and do another rant on how nostalgia is a stupid concept, but I'm going to move on to a different game. This is as good a time as any to clarify that so far I don't hate Yooka-Laylee, but I'm finding a lot of people on the internet saying that it is on par or better than BK. Said people are entitled to their opinion, but I myself cannot see that. Using a simple Venn diagram, you will find that the lesser points of Yooka-Laylee far outweigh that of Banjo-Kazooie, and that there are (probably) way more rage-inducing and/or tedious parts in Yooka-Laylee than there are in Banjo-Kazooie. This is not the kind of blog where I actually go out of my way to make that diagram though.

DONKEY KONG 64

 I do have a bit of nostalgic ties to Donkey Kong 64 but this is primarily for the multiplayer mode. I actually never really played the single player mode very much at all as a child. I bought a copy about six months ago, still haven't beaten it, but had a genuinely good time with it. In terms of arbitrary collection and the fact that none of your totals reset, I would say Yooka is a lot more like DK64 than it is like BK. I know its supposed to be "Banjo-Threeie" so saying that it is more like DK64 than BK is taboo, but that's stupid because that isn't even a bad thing. In a world as expansive as the worlds in DK64 or Yooka, it would be cruel to make the player start collecting things over again every time they died. But let's talk about why that works better for DK64 than it does for Yooka because I'm an asshole and I'm trying to say I don't hate Yooka, yet have a lot of negative things to say about it at the same time.

 The tiny colored bananas that you collect in DK64 are a trail of breadcrumbs for exploring the stage. This makes DK64 more like an amusement park which makes Yooka more of a metaphorical abandoned stadium. There are signs for fun things to do at an amusement park, which are the subliminal purpose of the bananas in DK64. Some are colored differently for different monkeys, which makes backtracking very tolerable and for the sake of the amusement park analogy, we will say that these are signs that lead to different subcategories of entertainment or perhaps even restaurants, or in this case upgrades to your characters. Trowzer in Yooka is always just in some stupid place because it doesn't matter where he is because you buy upgrades from him and you're done with him forever. Yooka just has a bunch of scattered quills laying around in arbitrary groups. This is stupid. Oh, was that too harsh and opinionated? Yes. Oh well.

 When I swing from vines over treacherous areas in DK64 it mixes the euphoria of being a child swinging on a tire swing with the risk/reward system of speed and clunkiness that I mentioned in BK. Yooka doesn't have either of these things, at least not for me.

 I can't think of a staggeringly great thing that Yooka does over DK64. It is widely accepted by the public that DK64 is not as good as Banjo. I know that is all subjective but that's why I don't understand why people are blindly accepting Yooka to be on par with more focused and cleverly designed games like BK but somehow miles better than DK64, when mechanically there are so many smarter mechanics and more focused attention to detail moments in DK64 than Yooka.

 On that note I love Grant Kirkhope but the Yooka-Laylee rap is fucking trash. It makes me want to bury myself alive. That's probably a fine point to transition with.

CONKER'S BAD FUR DAY

  I haven't played too much of Conker because that game is more expensive than antiperspirant for church-going hookers, but I think I got about halfway through it and enjoyed it for the most part. These are a bit harder to compare because I have always seen Conker as more of a cinematic adventure platformer whereas Yooka-Laylee is a collectathon. That said, I think Conker's world is something that Yooka-Laylee should have taken a few hints from. You could say this about Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64 even more but I think Conker is a pretty prime example because of its source material. Conker is an average story about an average man in the form of a squirrel and the first main world after the intro and tutorial is a barn, and yet it is endearing. The worlds also have you doing a bunch of menial tasks for silly characters while fighting equally goofy enemies, but the way the music and visuals are set up make it feel like a polished experience (again the camera helps as well). Conker is not a collectathon like BK, DK64, and Yooka, but knowing this helped the developers make more concise worlds with less fluff because the focus was more on the story than the collectibles, and every story needs some kind of memorable setting. There are so many classic moments in Conker because from the beginning the game sets up Conker as a bit of an anti-hero, or at least an ironic hero. His selfish disposition makes the player wonder whether or not they actually want Conker to succeed. Whoops. I started rambling about good points on Conker. Yooka doesn't do any of that. I think the theme set up with books and whatnot is actually done fairly well but they could have done so much more with it. That potential, in my opinion, leaves a bleeding black hole present throughout every second of the game. If all the worlds are books then why is one world a boring, generic ice world after a kind-of-okay Aztec-themed world? They should have done something more like Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time where each world has a different theme that you would want to explore based on an overall theme in the game. Thieves in Time is a cartoony game starring criminals featuring time travel. Visiting old west America, ancient Japan, Prehistoric times, and so on and so forth is all endearing and each world in turn has memorable themes, mechanics, and landmarks as well as gimmicks all based on the theme. Yooka-Laylee has no fucking theme, and the fact that the worlds are so pretty yet have no inherent personality shows this. Conker literally has a world made of shit. There is a shit world in Conker and it is memorable for all the right reasons. When this happens, things that make the game obnoxious (swimming past swimming blades for example) are in turn more forgivable. On the other hand you have Yooka, where the good points don't feel very satisfying or poignant so moments you find displeasing are what you remember more when you put the game down.

 Again, at its core, that doesn't make Yooka a terrible game, because in the moment I think there is a lot of good in Yooka, but ultimately the more I think about it, the more disappointed I am in the game. I'm also disappointed that this is how far the concept of nostalgia has grown that a game this cloying and unapologetic not only gets a free pass but is praised for being cloying and unapologetic. All of the fourth-wall breaking video game jokes in the world can't save it from itself.

CONCLUSION (finally)

I could probably go on but those were the main points I wanted to make and they were easier to make in the form of other games, which in itself is a testimony to how Yooka-Laylee is not its own experience and why I would rather recommend Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64, Conker's Bad Fury Day, and Banjo-Tooie (which I pretty much haven't even played) over Yooka-Laylee. Somewhere in development, Yooka-Laylee lost its soul in the form of trying to clone the soul of games from the late 90's/ early 2000's. If you haven't played Yooka-Laylee... hmmm.... If you are a huge enthusiast of platformer games like I am then Yooka-Laylee is very interesting, I'm just not sure it's worth $40 because it is $40 of arbitrary fluff. If you are looking for a solid platformer that you will actually want to revisit for FUN later on in your life, save yourself the money and order DK64 on Amazon. Or if you haven't played Banjo-Kazooie, the game that Yooka-Laylee rips off in the guise of an homage, what the actual hell are you waiting for? Banjo-Kazooie is awesome!

Maybe my next blog won't be a big angry game rant. I just honestly don't have a positive note to end on.

Oh! Yooka-Laylee has a Shovel Knight cameo. If you haven't played Shovel Knight, spend all the money on it, because that is a rare example of a crowdfunded game that actually delivers on everything it promised and is an actual solid experience that you can actually enjoy without having fogged up nostalgia glasses! I said fogged up. Oh, right, this is a blog. In text... well buuyuyyyyeeeeeeeeeee

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