With the mission of reviving the 3D platformer genre, Yooka-Laylee, from UK studio Playtonic, releases on April 11 for Windows, Linux, OS X, Playstation 4, Xbox One and possibly even the Nintendo Switch.
Not all of OnlySP’s most anticipated games are action-RPGs, and Yooka-Laylee represents a genre that has been gone for far too long.
The 3D platformer genre saw a boom on the Nintendo 64 and original PlayStation, following the hugely popular Super Mario 64. Rather than the timed obstacle courses of Super Mario Bros, 3D platformers focused on exploring a series of open, playground worlds to collect various items (hence the moniker ‘collectathon’).
Games like Rare’s Banjo-Kazooie and Insomniac Games’s Spyro the Dragon continued to build on the genre through the late nineties, but since the PlayStation 2, 3D platformers have been in decline. Led by the independent scene, 2D platformers have since returned in full force, but there are still very few 3D ‘collectathon’ games on current generation consoles.
Yooka-Laylee looks set to change that. It is no coincidence that the game looks and sounds like a lost sequel to Banjo-Kazooie, as the founders of Playtonic are former Rare developers whose resumes include the Banjo and Donkey Kong Country games.
In the game, players control Yooka the chameleon, handling movement and basic attacks, and Laylee the bat, who helps them fly, swim and perform other special abilities. Together, they must travel through magical books to stop the evil Capital B from converting all the world’s literature into pure profit.
As Yooka-Laylee aims to hark back to the original Banjo-Kazooie and its inspiration, Super Mario 64, expect the same high standard of beautiful environments populated by humorous characters and challenging mini-games. What players will not get this time is an overwhelming glut of collectables, such as in Donkey Kong 64, a game whose bloated flabbiness contributed to the fall in popularity of ‘collectathon’ games.
Adding a wrinkle to the classic structure are Yooka-Laylee‘s equivalent of Jiggies or Stars, the “Pagies”. When enough are collected, they can be used to expand the game’s worlds with new areas. By providing this incentive to return to earlier worlds, Yooka-Laylee should be able to split the difference between the simpler, self-contained levels of the first Banjo and the Metroidvania-like complexity of Banjo-Tooie.
If all this talk of Jiggies and Banjos leaves you confused, know that previous experience with these games is not at all required to enjoy Yooka-Laylee. Exploring open worlds, learning new moves and defeating bosses will be familiar to most gamers, as 3D platformers have informed many modern genres, from action-adventure to first-person shooters.
The demise of the 3D platformer genre is a long and involved story, and cannot be attributed to any one cause. However, like most genres that fall out of popularity, one reason for its disappearance was the lack of faith in the industry and a failure to evolve the genre’s core mechanics. In the mid-2000s, shooters and other action games overtook platformers in popularity, and companies began to change their production strategies accordingly.
With high-profile developers moving away from 3D platformers, there were naturally fewer available on shelves, and a narrative began to build: publishers were not funding these games because there was not enough demand. If this seems familiar, it is because the same reason is often given for why point-and-click adventure games died out prior to their revival in the 2010s.
In May 2015, a team including several prominent ex-Rare developers (dubbed Playtonic Games) announced their crowdfunding campaign for Yooka-Laylee, a spiritual sequel to Banjo-Kazooie. Their Kickstarter met its £175,000 goal in thirty-eight minutes, reaching £1,000,000 in less than 24 hours.
Like Double Fine Adventure before it, Yooka-Laylee proved the popular narrative completely wrong. Clearly, demand for a new 3D platformer was there, and Playtonic had made it big by striking first.
In a world where the most popular games are either online-only or set-piece-driven action movies, Yooka-Laylee promises a change of pace. Unlike every new Call of Duty or Ubisoft’s rotating open world games, Playtonic are offering players an abstract world with Saturday morning cartoon sensibilities and a streak of delightfully terrible dad humour. And one cannot forget the original soundtrack, composed by industry veterans Grant Kirkhope and David Wise, a production that would be worth it even without the game it was written for.
Though the Kickstarter’s massive success could be chalked up to nostalgia, 3D platformers have been so silent of late that their return on the current generation is like a revolution. Yooka-Laylee is made for the young and the old, casual gamers and hardcore gamers alike, so there is no question why it makes the list of OnlySP’s most anticipated games of 2017.