There’s always been something special about Rare’s classic platformers. Donkey Kong Country broke new ground back on the SNES and went on to establish a certain cheeky mode for the developer – one which was arguably maximized in Rare’s answer to Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie. So when a bunch of former Rare alums got together to form Playtonic Games, it was a given that they would probably make something pretty special in Banjo’s spiritual successor Yooka-Laylee.
With a new trailer announced this week, it looks like Playtonic is one hundred percent delivering on the promise that netted them so much on Kickstarter, to make a throwback-style 3D platformer the likes of which isn’t seen anymore in the today’s industry, just with the tech of today. I seriously cannot believe a game this gorgeous is made in Unity.
The results, at least as far as I can tell from the trailer, speak for themselves. As you can see, it’s chock full of colorful, fun environments, goofy moves for heroes Yooka and Laylee, platforming challenges, that same sarcastic sense of humor and a healthy bit of tribute to the developers’ past experiences – look at that mine cart sequence! In short, it looks like a blast (and no doubt will prove to be, since the game will be playable at E3 next week).
It feels important for Yooka-Laylee to exist in all its nostalgic glory in today’s era, partially because there simply aren’t enough games that don’t take themselves too seriously or otherwise strive for pure fun (outside of Nintendo, which Yooka is also clearly a loving homage to). In their heyday, platformers on the N64 (and to some degree, PlayStation) were a dime a dozen; their popularity also spoke to gamings status as basically an interactive toy.
Things have changed a bit since games have become closer to Hollywood blockbusters. But the market and demand for the kind of fun, silly games that used to be so prevalent has shrunk to the niche of family titles, few and far between and arguably not designed for anyone other than actual children (or their parents).
To say that the mainstream market is in many ways pretty stagnant throughout its various heavy-handed genres seems pretty obvious. Outside of Rare, there just arent very games like this – Insomniacs Ratchet and Clank series (and Sunset Overdrive, to a lesser degree) and Raymans 2D revivals are practically the only games you might consider to be close outside of new Nintendo series entries.
Sony is well overdue for a reboot of Crash Bandicoot, if they can reclaim the rights from Activision, too – its cameo in Uncharted 4 may have been testing the water, and it was a wonderful surprise for fans who grew up with it. So why not bring more platformers back into the fold? If Yooka’s Kickstarter demand was any indication, fans are hungry for them. And Rare themselves will likely be on Sea of Thieves for some time, which despite its promise, doesn’t necessarily appear to lean on the developer’s roots.
By the same token, the game industry also has a tendency to outright forget its history. Not that Mario or Sonic is ever in danger of stopping, but the era of mascot platformers ended a long time ago and it’s a shame to see the genre (with animals or otherwise) die out. And really, if you get the right cocktail of level design and variation with great animation and responsive controls, there are few game types that are more fun than platformers; there’s just something about running around and jumping on stuff that’s timeless.
I got a chance to mess around with Yooka at last years E3, when the game was little more than a small sandbox prototype designed to give you an idea of the feel; even then, you could tell all that Rare charm was right there. With a little success, hopefully it’ll be catalyst to revive the sort of fun games used to be.