Although Yooka-Laylee isn't an official sequel, the fact that most of the team at Playtonic worked on Banjo-Kazooie is very much apparent. With playstyles, audio and graphics all inspired by the titles that those in the studio made themselves famous with; it’s the closest thing that we will see to a true sequel at the moment.
Given the link, it’s inevitable that the two games will be compared and fans will want to know just how they stack up. Now, here at GameGrin, we like to give people what they want, (except my Mudkipz, you can’t have my Mudkipz), so just for a bit of fun, we’re pitting the two titles against each other. For the purposes of this article, “Banjo-Kazooie” is a reference to the original 1998 game, and I won’t be looking at the later sequels.
“A-Wa-a-wa-woo-waa-woo-wa-a-woo-waa-woo…” The garbled ‘speech’ that the characters in Banjo-Kazooie emit is something that the game became known for. It’s quite a divisive style; my editor hates it because it doesn’t mimic real speech patterns, I quite like it because it’s unique and a bit wacky. It returns in Yooka-Laylee and follows almost the exact same pattern, however it’s mixed up a bit with more variety of warblings this time. There was one of those sounds that I found particularly grating though: Butterfly Health Extenders communicate via a series of high pitched whistles, kind of like a Clanger, and I found it rather unpleasant. Fortunately, you won’t be talking to these things too much, but they make an appearance in the main menu so you have to hear them there.
Both games have chirpy little tunes running through the background at all times and both share a number of composers. In each case, the soundtrack fits the level it accompanies well and they’re both really nice, to the point where I’ve purchased both on Vinyl. The decider for me, then, is which of them is stuck in my head as I write this review, and it’s the Mumbo’s Mountain music from Banjo-Kazooie.
Result: Win for Banjo-Kazooie (0-1).
This one is probably a little unfair. Banjo-Kazooie had pretty decent graphics for the time, given the limitations of Nintendo’s system, but it’s still a near-20 year old game. The N64 may have had more bits than its competitors, but the hardware choices the Japanese giant went with didn’t give it the greatest graphical grunt, so it took a bit of effort to make games look good. Rare did a top job however, and the world looks colourful and rich, if a little barren in places, and with the muted colour that’s inherent in all games on Nintendo’s third home console.
By contrast, Yooka-Laylee is a super vibrant cornucopia of colour. “Clutter” objects are everywhere; with swaying grass patches, rainbows, flowers, and all kinds of background items making the world seem alive. It’s also presented in a much higher resolution, as you would expect, and those UHD textures look stunning throughout.There’s no frame rate cap either (at least not on the PC version which I have been playing) so it doesn’t suffer from the modern scourge of 30fps.
Result: A rather one-sided victory for Yooka-Laylee (1-1).
Banjo and Kazooie have had some time now to build up a legion of adoring fans. With three games to their name and a two decade head start, Yooka and Laylee have a lot of catching up to do. Fortunately, they do put on a good show, with the characters being just as lovable as their inspirations. Laylee is the cheeky loveable rogue just like Kazooie, and just as Banjo was the voice of reason in the first games, so too is Yooka
For me, the main difference is in the supporting cast. Some of the characters in Yooka-Laylee aren’t quite as good. For example, I thought that calling the snake who dishes out new moves “Trowzer” was a decent enough pun (I do love a good pun, it’s mandatory when you are a journalist), but I didn’t warm to him as a character compared to Bottles in Banjo-Kazooie. I know he’s meant to be comic fodder, but that doesn’t mean I have to actually like him. Gruntilda was also a better baddie for me than Capital B, although I did think that his sidekick Dr Quack was a nice addition.
Result: Banjo-Kazooie just edges this one (1-2).
Don’t expect to get your hand held in either game, these are old-school style. Sure, they’re not Dark Souls levels of hard, but they’re both designed to give a challenge that will last you a while, making sure you get your money’s worth.
The super-huge worlds in Yooka-Laylee are far more likely to get you lost than in Banjo-Kazooie, making simply finding your way around a bit harder, but that said, the core gameplay is a bit more forgiving. There’s no system of lives and a “Game Over” screen, and the enemies aren’t quite as hard as they were back in the ‘90s. There’s quite a few non-boss enemies in Banjo-Kazooie that I died to near instantly back in the day and that’s not something that I’ve experienced yet in Yooka-Laylee.
Judging which of these is better is a little hard. It’s very much a matter of preference here. I personally prefer Yooka-Laylee’s more forgiving style. I’m getting older now and I have less time for videogames than I did back when Banjo-Kazooie was released, so I prefer a game that I don’t have to practice as much to master. If you like a game to really challenge you though, then you’ll definitely prefer the steeper difficulty curve of the N64 title.
Result: A draw, this one is just a matter of taste (2-3).
This won’t take long. Yooka-Laylee has the option of co-op, which is kind of fun, but the second player will have little to do, like co-op in most 3D-platformers.
There’s also “Rextro’s Arcade Games” which are a series of mini games available in the single player mode, but can be played separately as multiplayer affairs with up to four players. There’s quite a selection of games and whilst they’re not of the greatest quality, they’re pretty enjoyable for what is essentially an added extra. The battle arena style Glaciators was my personal favourite; it was a short burst of frantic fun, just what you want from couch multiplayer.
A second player on Banjo-Kazooie won’t have much to do, as the game has no multiplayer mode at all. My long-suffering partner sat for an hour holding the second N64 controller and getting bored before finally storming off whilst declaring that she said this was a stupid idea in the first place.
Result: an emphatic win for Yooka-Laylee as Banjo-Kazooie fails to turn up (3-3).
This is the big one. A game can have all the graphical fidelity and aural pleasure that you like, but all that will be for naught if it doesn’t play well. So which game is more fun to play?
Honestly; the style is so similar it’s very difficult to tell them apart. Yooka-Laylee is a bit more open, so you have more to do at any one time, but that also means finding that last quill in a level is a bit more difficult than finding the final note in a Banjo-Kazooie level. The fact that you feel inclined to do both of these things though is a sure sign of addictive games. Both titles have given me a serious case of “just ten more minutes” syndrome.
Neither game is perfect. In both cases, there are some unnecessarily dodgy platforming sections where you will see your character just fail to reach the edge of a ledge. Both also have a camera system that is less than ideal on occasion (although the day one patch for Yooka-Laylee made this much better). These things aren’t deal breakers, just little foibles serving to remind you that nobody’s perfect.
It might seem like a cop-out, but I genuinely can’t separate the two games in this regard. Both of them are great fun, and each of them have sucked up multiple hours of my time, reduced my amount of sleep, and pissed off my now-livid partner who just wanted the TV back so she could watch Masterchef. It’s OK though, I like sleeping on the sofa; it’s comfy, and I’m closer to the fridge in case I want a midnight snack.
Result: Another draw. It’s almost like these two were made by the same people or something (4-4).
Well, who would have thought it? After all of this debate, we have a tie!
I came into this article as open-minded as possible, but my initial expectation was that Banjo-Kazooie would be the eventual winner. Not because I don’t love Yooka-Laylee, but because it has some massive shoes to fill. It’s a testament to all the hard work of the team that it stands shoulder to shoulder with their former work.
Playtonic’s spiritual successor to their nineties classic pays careful attention to what made the original good, and gives us more of the same. Because of this, it’s near-impossible to separate the two from each other in terms of quality. It might not bring that much which is new to the table, but when the source material is as good as this, why change a winning formula?