Video game review – Yooka-Yaylee (Playtonic Games, 2017)

Version reviewed: Xbox One

Yooka-Laylee has finally arrived on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, bringing to an end one of the most successful video game crowd-sourced campaigns of all time. Launched on Kickstarter on 1st May 2015, it reached its initial target of £175,000 within 38 minutes and its stretchiest of stretch goals (£1,000,000) in 21 hours. Clearly this indicated a thirst from the fans of the studio, Playtonic Games, which had behind it four of the key players from Rare’s heyday in the mid 1990s:  Chris Sutherland, Steve Mayles, Steven Hurst, and Grant Kirkhope. 

If you’re unsure, Rare was the video gaming powerhouse that came to prominence in the 1990s with games such as Goldeneye 007, Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark and Donkey Kong Country. Both Banjo-Kazooie and its sequel Banjo-Tooie were laced with a charm and humour typical of Britain, with sign-posted gags coupled with animation that stood out at the time as exemplary. The games were also a lot of fun to play through, with the right amount of collecting and story development to keep even the most easily distracted 10-year-old interested. 

So it’s understandable that the gaming community was so enthusiastic about getting a spiritual sequel to Banjo-Kazooie.

When I started up Yooka-Laylee, the memories of Banjo-Kazooie came flooding back. As these memories engulfed my mind I couldn’t help but wonder whether time hadn’t been quite as kind to the original games as my romanticised view of them. 

The opening sequence is extremely pedestrian, with the criminal mastermind called General B. at his headquarters called Hivory Towers. There is no big wow factor, just a bit of a conversation that introduces the characters. He has created an evil device that has stolen a magical book from our heroes. This book has golden pages and within a short while we are told we must retrieve all of the pages (named “pagies”) to restore balance in the universe. Or something like that. It’s a McGuffin typical of 1990s platformers – go to several worlds and collect everything to complete the game. 

The look and feel of the game is brilliantly nostalgic for an era that doesn’t often get treated as being retro, although sadly it definitely is now. It harkens back to the Nintendo 64 era, so it’s 3D but not as beautifully rendered as more recent titles.

This is both a good and bad thing.

I don’t know whether it was intentional, but the camera issues that blighted video games for years has come back to bite us again. It’s highly frustrating and was the cause of several issues in the opening world when all I was doing was simply jumping between platforms. It’s poor design that this can cause failure and unfortunately my patience isn’t quite the same as two decades ago – I genuinely don’t have hours and hours to sink into video games per week so wasting 30 minutes jumping up some platforms just isn’t something I enjoy.

The soundtrack, however, is on the positive side of nostalgia and one that brilliantly fits with the retro design of the game. David Wise, Grant Kirkhope and Steve Burke are behind it, and these were frequently involved with Rare’s most famous soundtracks. I’m annoyed I didn’t opt for the soundtrack option when I originally backed it, but I’m sure there will be a way to rectify this soon! 

Rextro can go swivel


As the game progresses, so does the difficulty. This generally means that the collectibles aren’t sat in such obvious positions on the level, hidden in holes and requiring more skill to unlock. By the final world, the frustration at poor controls and cameras comes back and you’re left wishing you’d never started the mini-golf challenge in the first place.

A key part of the game is the Rextro Arcade challenges, which take 8-bit-inspired gaming and set mini challenges to beat the game and then the high score. These largely provide a lot of fun to proceedings until the bugs take over and you’re left short of a high score through no fault of your own.

The end result on initial play through is one that almost hits the spot but makes me wish they’d had a longer player testing period. This often gets pushed back if programming overruns, and there will doubtless been a lot of back and forth between the coding and testing departments. I just wonder whether everyone’s view became muddied before the final release of the game.

Video game review – Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens (TT Fusion, 2016)

TT Games had a surprise hit in 2005 with their video game based on the Star Wars prequel trilogy. It offered fun for all ages, with a blend of humour and in-joke references mixed with gameplay complicated enough to keep grown-ups and youngsters entertained for hours; the perfect gaming experience for parents playing through with their children. This was quickly followed by another based on the original trilogy, which was met with even more success. Then came an Indiana Jones version along with Batman in 2008. Then Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean,, Lord of the Rings, more Star Wars, more Batman, Marvel, Jurassic World… The list goes on. It has to be admitted that the games have gone down in quality since that original triumph, but never has the result been as poorly executed as The Force Awakens.

The problem isn’t just that it’s trying to make too much of a small amount of source material, nor the lack of humour in the script (they chose to use dialogue from the film, a departure from the norm).

BB-8!

No, the biggest crime here is the terrible glitches that blight the entire game. These can derail you at any point, but tended to occur late in the levels with something simply not working, usually meaning the entire level needs to be replayed. One example is on level eight, “Starkiller Base”, which requires Chewbacca to throw an explosive to open a particular set of doors. The only problem was that the bomb couldn’t be thrown, nothing could help the situation and 30 minutes of gameplay had to be redone to progress. Similarly, on the level titled The Finale, there was a glitch whereby Finn snapped to shooting mode too early and couldn’t complete essential actions to progress the main battle between Rey and Kylo Ren. Again, 30 minutes of gameplay wasted.

Elsewhere, there were simple audio glitches with music getting looped or the whole game falling silent. All this contributed to a feeling that any time a puzzle wasn’t easy to figure out (in hindsight one of the best parts of the game) there was an assumption that the game had glitched and a restart was needed.

The fault of this, presumably, lies squarely with the testing team at TT Fusion. Remarkably, the list of individuals involved with the testing, according to the end credits, was huge. This game should never have been signed off from QA testing, but even worse is the fact that no patches have been released to fix these issues despite the number of people complaining across the internet. Just search “Lego Force Awakens glitches” to see how many people are suffering.

Furthermore, having been fairly diligent with retrieving the collectibles in each level, I was met with a score of 27.1% on completion of the main story. This serves to underline the mis-balanced nature of the meaty content of the game and a ridiculous list of collectibles that are clearly there to falsely inflate the amount of gameplay on offer.

The sad thing is that there is a good game here, buried underneath all the complaints and issues. Perhaps TT Games should stop spreading themselves so thinly, because there is no chance that I will be picking any more Lego games in the future unless I know they are glitch-free.