A chameleon and a bat — what’s up with that? That’s a question being asked by many gamers, with the answers being far more complicated than anybody imagined.
The game “Yooka-Laylee” — developed by Playtonic Studios — seems to be dividing audiences more than any game in recent memory. Reviewers everywhere paint a wildly varied story about the game, ranging from glowing reception to scathing condemnations. As a spiritual follow-up to the Rare-developed Nintendo 64 classics, “Banjo Kazooie” and “Banjo Tooie,” the game received an insurmountable amount of hype. And as a result, die-hard fans, casual gamers and reviews can’t seem to agree on whether the game is good or bad, and whether it’s a worthy retread or a nostalgia trap. So, what’s the deal?
The storied history of Playtonic and “Yooka-Laylee” tells a tale as surreal and fairytale-like as the game’s world itself. A team of key ex-Rare employees band together to make a throwback to the glory days of 3D platforming? Check. That team funds one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns in history? Check. The characters of “Yooka-Laylee” — adorned with cheeky puns and goofy voices — fit perfectly within the colorful legacy of the Banjo games? Check. Wait a minute: Grant Kirkhope and David Wise — two of the most legendary Rare composers — are on board to compose the soundtrack? Super check. And as gameplay demos roll out, and release day draws near, the game looks and feels to be exactly what those pining for a “Banjo Threeie” wanted all along? Check.
The anticipation for a project of this magnitude is almost unbearable, but therein lies the danger: romanticizing an unreleased “Yooka-Laylee” due to the rosy nostalgia felt for its predecessors. How could the game possibly live up to the hype?
My answer: for some it can, for some it can’t. Some gamers, such as myself, absolutely adore “Yooka-Laylee” and what it managed to accomplish — in only two years — as a Kickstarter game. But the cardinal rule of life still applies: you can’t please everybody. Tastes inevitably changed in the two decades since the Banjo games. One of the most substantial battles in the “Yooka-Laylee” debate lies in players disagreeing with reviewers who lacerate the game, calling for them to be “objective” in their reviews. As perceived professionals, gamers believe a reviewer should be as fair and impartial as possible, analyzing the mechanics of any game as objectively as possible. So, with that in mind, are reviewers allowed to be subjective?
Of course they are. Who are we to decide who can or can’t have a subjective opinion about something — especially a piece of entertainment media? You can certainly attack “Yooka-Laylee” reviewers for their scathing words, especially when they openly admit they didn’t play or like the original Banjo games. The cries for reviewers to be more objective in their reviews sounds good on paper. But if every video game reviewer assessed every single game on purely objective grounds, wouldn’t they reach the same conclusions, with little or no variation? The cries for reviewer objectivity now become futile, because not only would reviews lack variety the entire concept is fundamentally impossible because objectivity does not exist.
Let me get a little philosophical here. For any reviewer to be truly objective in their reasoning, they must be only assessing “Yooka-Laylee’s” game mechanics, visuals, and presentation in terms of what they are, what their function is, and how they manifest for players. Doing this provides more of a summary than a review, meaning a critical analysis must then occur. A reviewer analyzing “Yooka-Laylee” doesn’t just look at mechanics as they manifest, they analyze how well they function, finally representing their assessment with a calculable conclusion in the form of a number or percentage score. Each reviewer will have a distinct schema for what “good” and “bad” gaming design entails, as well as where exactly to draw that line. This will always inform reviews with even a minor level of subjectivity, for the very idea of an objective reality is a subjective perception — see, I did learn something from philosophy class.
Playtonic clearly put in a lot of passion into this project. No fan of the Rare-designed “Donkey Kong Country” series, “Banjo” series or “Donkey Kong 64” imagined the same group of designers would “get the band back together” to make a spiritual sequel like Yooka-Laylee. In a way, they committed sacrilege by doing so. But they made the most out of the game’s development, and as an avid Twitter follower of each Playtonic member, they couldn’t wait to make it happen. They hoped all fans would give the game a chance, regardless of whether it could live up to the hype or not.
Sadly, some devout followers of “Yooka-Laylee’s” development — Kickstarter backers, even — abandoned the game as the initial mixed-to-negative reviews trickled in. And just as much as fans cried foul over biased reviewers, others simply took their reviews at face-value, refusing to determine the game’s quality for themselves. As somebody who was skeptical about “Yooka-Laylee,” I gave it the time of day to determine my own opinion — because I believed in Playtonic’s passion. I believed in their genuine desire to usher in a new age of 3D platformer games. And if other gamers want more wishful and wistful projects like “Yooka-Laylee” to materialize in the future, they must support the developers — like Playtonic — to make it happen.
So, to gamers everywhere, stop taking reviews at face-value. If a game looks good to you, play it. If a company like Playtonic wants to passionately revive more nostalgia-fests like “Yooka-Laylee” in the future, give them the money to make it happen. Regardless of any review score, they gave the game their best shot. And as a lover of the games that inspired it, isn’t that worth your time and money?