Review Summary: Remember the good ol' days?Yooka-Laylee
burst onto the scene with something to prove. It was an announcement, a battlecry to revitalize a genre of video games that many thought had been lost to the aether. The collect-a-thon platformer was coming back, and developers Playtonic Games were steering the ship. But as anyone who grew up the N64 years knew, the collect-a-thon had a musical identity as well. It’s not so much a specific instrument or specific genre, but more a specific mood. Playtonic Games wanted to produce that same mood, so they brought on three Rare alumni to produce music for their new game. Steve Burke
, David Wise
, and Grant Kirkhope
took on the task of giving Yooka-Laylee
its soundtrack, and the end result is a tug-o-war between nostalgia and invention. For better or worse, the OST to Yooka-Laylee
sticks close to its influences the whole way through.
’s soundtrack has three composers helming the tracklist, each one having contributed music for Rare. Steve Burke (best known for his work on Kameo: Elements of Power
), David Wise (best known for the Donkey Kong Country
soundtrack), and Grant Kirkhope (composer for Banjo-Kazooie
, Donkey Kong 64
, and many more). Each composer gets their time to shine across the track listing, but it’s clear that Kirkhope was meant to be the forerunner. Of the 38 tracks, 21 of them are by Kirkhope, with most of them consisting of level themes and their respective variants. While Kirkhope is a notable composer in the industry, especially when it comes to Western-developed games, it’s still a bit off to see so much of the tracklist under his name.
To make matters worse, Kirkhope’s contributions are disappointingly underwhelming. He’s created some of the most memorable level themes in gaming history, but any Kirkhope fan knows that he’s known to recycle some melodies across games. Kirkhope’s tracks for Yooka-Laylee
lack creativity and constantly sound like imitations of his past work. “Shipwreck Creek” has a fluttering string portion that sounds eerily similar to “Fungi Forest” from Donkey Kong 64
, while most of the World themes use many of the same instrument choices as any level theme from Banjo-Kazooie
. “Hivory Towers” is easily the biggest offender when it comes to redundancy, as its use of bouncy rhythms and a subdued intro are dangerously
close to outright emulating “Gruntilda’s Lair” from Banjo-Kazooie
. This being said, Kirkhope manages to spice things up a bit, like the superb theme to World 4, one rich with swing elements like smooth bass and jazzy percussion. The boss themes also manage to feel surprisingly fresh, especially “Frosty Fray”, which parallels its nimble instrumentation with bombastic horns. The main theme is another highlight, giving itself an identity beyond past Kirkhope scores with the titular ukulele and a timid recorder. Still, Kirkhope’s contributions to Yooka-Laylee
’s soundtrack rarely branch into uncharted territory. It sounds like imitation, and coming from him, this is very disheartening.
Steve Burke’s productions fare far better. “Skiffy Skirmish” merges bombastic orchestral tracks with digital effects and soundbytes, producing a dense, chaotic spiral of sounds. In fact, the use of electronic elements invigorates many of the tracks, like the superb “Bee Bop”, which goes from minstrel strings to electronic bleeps to pounding drums over the course of a minute. “Glaciators” and “Bag the Flag” are more down-to-earth tracks, thanks to a straight-up chiptune aesthetic that hits the ear just right. Burke’s contributions don’t sound revolutionary, but they have energy. He uses the sounds in his toolkit to great effect, and while there are a few tracks that feel a bit dry and redundant, he certainly produces the greatest diversity across his part of the tracklist.
But David Wise is easily the star player on Yooka-Laylee
’s soundtrack. Despite getting only eight tracks, Wise nails nearly every one. As the composer for the legendary Donkey Kong Country
series, Wise channels the spirit of his past works with thunderous percussion, while also adding remarkably experimental guitar melodies. The drums in “Armed and Dangerous” pair with buzzing guitars that skirt atop the percussion. Even better is “Track Attack” with its chugging rhythms, punchy brass, and wah-wah guitar hooks; it’s easily the best track on the entire soundtrack. Wise also handles the themes for the Minecart sections, which to no one’s surprise, retain the percussive drive from his Donkey Kong Country
work. They’re nimble and energized, but don’t skimp on musical complexity. Wise layers each instrument into the full track astonishingly well, making his contributions the best on the whole OST.
’s soundtrack is whimsical and spirited, taking inspiration from all three of its composers’ past work, but it rarely takes that extra step. Kirkhope’s contributions suffer the most, as they’re weighed down by familiarity and a desire to play it safe. Burke and especially Wise command their aesthetics with more gusto, stepping outside of their comfort zones and elegantly crafting their music. And admittedly, Kirkhope’s highs like “World 4 Theme” and the main theme are impressive. Yooka-Laylee
celebrates the 3D platformers of yore by channeling the same musical tone that made their soundtracks so memorable, for better or for worse. If you grew up humming bars from Banjo-Kazooie
or Donkey Kong 64
’s OST will likely trip the nostalgia wires. It might be stuck in the shadow of the game music that influenced it, but Yooka-Laylee
’s soundtrack is still worth a listen.