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Friday, April 14, 2017

When Kickstarters Get Kicked In The Ass (Part 4)

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - It turns out that Yooka-Laylee is a mess in every way.

This was supposed to be the reliable Kickstarter project with minimal risks and excellent rewards: Take the creative talent that used to work at Rare Ltd., put them in a company of their own creation in Playtonic, and let them loose to make a spiritual sequel of Banjo-Kazooie to bring back 3D platforming!

Funded by an EXTREMELY SUCCESSFUL Kickstarter, Yooka-Laylee was extremely promising. As recently as mid-2016, KoopaTV staffer and Yooka-Laylee backer (he's not writing this article because he's lazy that's a conflict-of-interest) RawkHawk2010 sung Yooka-Laylee's praises based on screenshots and videos:
“Overall, the game looks good. Good gameplay, good graphics, good music, good dudes, good everything. It looks gooder than Banjo-Kazooie. It looks waaaaay gooder than insipid slog Banjo-Tooie.”
Yooka-Laylee was supposed to be at least be good. It has now released on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on April 11, 2017 to the world. But... according to majority opinion ranging across the reviewing spectrum (critics and users alike), Yooka-Laylee doesn't reach good-status.

Yooka-Laylee Metacritic scores reviews PC PlayStation 4 Xbox One
As of writing, the user scores are as follows:
PC: 6.2
PS4: 5.9
Xbox One: 5.4

(By the way: An average score is around a 7, not a 5.)

You see in that above screenshot that Yooka-Laylee was supposed to come out for the Wii U, but it ended up being cancelled because of “unforeseen technical issues” and will be released on Nintendo's next console, the Nintendo Switch. But back last year when Yooka-Laylee was officially delayed, it was also revealed that Playtonic's development team was personally working on the Wii U version (and PC version), while Yooka-Laylee's publisher, Team17, would be porting the game to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Makes you doubt Playtonic as a developer, doesn't it? I sure don't trust their extensive experience if they can't work with the console the game was supposedly being designed for. I'm sure Playtonic cared about the Wii U backers...

So not only do we have extensive experience delivering quality releases within this genre, but we’re also well versed in working under the pressures of strict deadlines, budgets and high expectation. We’re very confident we can deliver a game that lives up to fan expectations, on time and on budget.” - The Yooka-Laylee Kickstarter's risks and challenges section.

We don't know what those unforeseen Wii U technical issues are, but many speculate that Playtonic fabricated it so they're not caught releasing the last game on the Wii U. However, there are a bunch of “unforeseen technical issues” existing on the just-released versions of the game, especially the Xbox One version. The Day 1 patch does a lot more than just remove JonTron's irrelevant and ridiculously controversial mumbles!

(If you want to hear more about that, then listen to JonTron's original mumbles compared to the post-patch mumbles. Both scenes are insufferable, so they're not getting embedded.)

What complaints do people have? Lack of polish. Bad and uninspiring level designs. No new ground tread. Inconsistent soundtrack quality. A frustrating camera, and frustrating challenges in general. Many of the characters are unliked and not memorable. The game lacks many niceties, such as a map and some kind of interface that is helpful to your collection progress.

I'm sure the guys at Playtonic KNOW how to make a great game. They know how to make a good 3D platformer, and they've done more projects since Banjo-Kazooie 20 years ago.

So... why? Why is everything surrounding Yooka-Laylee so negative, if it was supposed to be in good hands?

Yooka-Laylee rap Yooka Laylee in cage Pagies cagies
There's some analogy between how indie developers feel about corporate oversight, and Yooka, Laylee, the Pagies, and the cagies.

In my view, a lot of the problems with Playtonic stem from their lack of corporate oversight. I've made that similar point before with other independent game-developing start-ups as well. Oh, they're free to pursue their artistic vision now without a paternalistic Nintendo or Microsoft keeping things on-track! Isn't it wonderful? Rare's creative talent can now be uninhibited by those guys in suits and pursue their indie dreams (of retreading the same ground they were at 20 years ago)! Why, they even did the ultimate indie thing and included a Shovel Knight cameo! Nothing says “this is an indie game” more than Shovel Knight! (Which is a reason why I didn't want Shovel Knight in Super Smash Bros. 4. Wright, not Knight.) 

Yooka-Laylee Shovel Knight cameo appearance
From left to right:
The protagonist of a successful Kickstarter that resulted in a good game..
The protagonists of a kicked-in-the-ass Kickstarter.
(Image credit: Right from Yacht Club Games.)

Indie developers don't have the quality assurance and testing capabilities that large gaming companies have, so a lot can fall through the cracks. That's not just on a bug-testing front, but also a fun-testing and an I-am-stuck-here-so-I-don't-want-to-play-anymore-testing. What former Rare professionals might see as natural, amusing, and obvious... everyday people might find confusing and anachronistic. Yet they admit to being their biggest self-critics.

Playtonic's Gavin Price believes that Playtonic delivered to their Kickstarter backers exactly what they asked for. Do you think that's the case? People wanted what's basically a “Banjo-Threeie” on their Nintendo home console. Instead, there's no release on a Nintendo console, and the game is more of a fan-made derivation of Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie (Playtonic tried to merge those two games’ philosophies), rather than a real spiritual sequel that moves things forward.

To test if this article is on-base, Kamek purchased Yooka-Laylee (he wasn't a Kickstarter backer) on his Xbox One and will be streaming it on his Twitch channel... sometime. He said he'd be streaming it right now... yesterday. Well, whenever he does that, we'll re-share this article and I'll watch his stream. If I'm wrong about what I wrote, I'll update this article accordingly.

Here is an embed of his stream:

Watch live video from Ultralink1000 on

After streaming and playing the game for two and a half hours (and I watched it all), Kamek described the experience as “it's not a laugh out loud blow your mind fun, but a real sublime and easy pleasurable experience. It invokes a true and even genuine curiosity that you don't get in current games. Like I  want to go back and explore that section of the tropic world and find out what other things were there.”

He also has now realised just how much hand-holding modern games give you. While Yooka-Laylee technically has a tutorial, he says it teaches you about yourself, not the world. He was also pleased by how every time he looked around a corner, there was something new waiting for him. (He really liked World 1.) And he could do it all at his own pace.

Kamek had played Banjo-Kazooie in his childhood, and repeatedly said that playing Yooka-Laylee was like his 1990s self was getting to play games again. He's not used to it right now, but if he was playing 20 years ago, it'd be very much right at home.

Ludwig believes that the Nintendo Switch version will just conveniently never exist and that its cancellation is upcoming. He could be wrong, of course, but it wasn't in the Switch-oriented Nintendo Direct that just happened. The lesson from this article, and the lesson from all of the other When Kickstarters Get Kicked In The Ass articles, is to be careful about crowd-funding games. Ludwig's never funded one and doesn't plan to.

Part 3 of the failed Kickstarter series is on Mighty No. 9, which is very interesting to compare to Yooka-Laylee.
Part 2 of the series doesn't carry over the themes of this article, but hey, it has Kim Jong Un.
Part 1 is a lot less related to this one, and deals with Ron Paul.
Yooka-Laylee hasn't delivered (so far) on the N64 shaders they promised in their Kickstarter, but does anyone have nostalgia for THAT?
Ludwig's beliefs are wrong, and the Nintendo Switch version was released.
Kamek continues streaming Yooka-Laylee into the start of 2018.
KoopaTV gives Yooka-Laylee a very middling score in this review.
Yooka-Laylee gives another game in its series: Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, which isn't burdened by a Kickstarter.


  1. I've seen enough positive reviews (plus some negative reviews complaining that it feels like an N64 platformer) to make me not judge Yooka-Laylee until I get a chance to play it for myself.

    1. See, that's another thing.

      A lot of these negative reviews are from people who aren't the target audience for the game (N64 platformer diehards).

    2. It reminds me of when Alien: Isolation came out, and several reviews criticized it for backtracking... which just made me more convinced it was the type of survival horror game I hoped it would be.

    3. Right. Most people out there aren't N64 platformer diehards (and probably less are survival horribles), so most reviewers won't be, either.

      The issue is that some N64 platformer diehards out there aren't the most happy fellas either.

      Kamek was supposed to stream it Saturday night now but I wasn't around to tell him he should go ahead and stream it so it was never streamed. :x

  2. It seems to me that the devs of this were too enthusiastic about being true to EVERYTHING about those days of the genre, including, perhaps even ESPECIALLY, the flaws, ie the wonky camera. They were so fixated on making "The Banjo-Three-ie gamers should have gotten in the first place" that they forgot to make a GOOD game.

    But then, I am one of those people who hasn't played it thanks to the Wii U cancellation. I probably won't EVER be able to play it really, so I can't claim my opinion is meaningful.

    1. The tenor of this article will remain the way it is (since it's a fact that Yooka-Laylee is getting its ass kicked by people), though my personal opinion about whether or not Yooka-Laylee deserves it is still subject to change.

      If they promised a flawed game in the Kickstarter phase (and I just re-read the whole thing — it depends whether or not you believe a “revival” is where you bring a dead genre back to the modern world without bringing it up-to-speed, or you take a dead genre and make it palatable to the modern world) then they've done exactly what they've promised. (Besides the whole “we're going to release the game on the Wii U” part.)

      Weirdly, every user review, positive or negative, nuanced or poorly-written, has below-50% users-found-this-helpful on Metacritic. Sounds divided. (Then again, lolMetacritic user reviews.)

      A more respectable source of user reviews (verified purchase) comes from Amazon, which is actually a lot more positive.

  3. I've seen a bit of stream footage as well by now, both from your Kamek and others, and I would venture to say that I don't believe it's a BAD game. I even think that it is in fact a worthy $40 game, taking into account the usual standard for such games these days is $60--the quantity of content is definitely there, you get enough "bang for your buck." It's probably not a GREAT game, but I'm pretty sure it's a good one. If it had been given more polish, it would have been great though. Might even have been awesome.

    1. So I noticed that I was smart in writing this article in that I technically didn't say my opinion on if Yooka-Laylee is “good” or not. I said most people don't think it is. But that's not my own opinion.

      My own opinion of it, from sitting through Kamek's stream, is that all of these reviews were underrating it. Does that make the game great? I dunno. But it's certainly not awful. It has a lot of charm, and I find it hard to fault a game with that much spirit when that same sort of spirit is what KoopaTV's own projects and games rely on.

      The only thing I did say in this article, opinion-wise, is that I implied Playtonic Games itself is a typical dysfunctional indie company. I'll stand by that and it does show in the game.


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