What can Yooka-Laylee do?

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[Yooka-Laylee is on everyone’s minds now that the Kickstarter turned out to be wildly successful. Now the big question, something El Dango is curious of, is if the game itself can be successful. Platformers are few and far between due to taste these days. Have your own deep, mind thoughts for games? Join the community and start a blog! ~Striderhoang]

No matter how much I’ve grown, how much my taste has changed and how much my horizon has widened, platformers have always had a very, very special place in my heart. Y’know, the kind of place with a gorgeous ocean view and plenty of room in the fridge. I’ve been playing them since my earliest years, and it’s the only genre that I’m confident claiming I’m an expert at. Sure, I’ve had some snooty opinions on how exactly the next Doom should be, not to mention my sharp criticism of certain stealth games, but I’d never really claim to know my shit when it comes to those genres the same way I would platformers.

As most of you know, platformers had a few rough years during the dark and gritty ages, as the inherent silliness of characters jumping several times their own height didn’t at all click with the major trends going on at the time (and the more realistic variety has never been much of a crowd pleaser, sadly making it a rare breed). It’s been uphill for them since, although only in two-dimensions. Super Meat BoyRayman Origins, and Shovel Knight are heavy hitters in what has been a long 2D platformer revival, and now the things are as common as they were in the ’90s, but with even more variety and experimentation going on. That is great and all, but why were the 3D ones left in the dust? Aside from Mario and Ratchet & Clank, that particular subgenre has been extremely thin with releases ever since about 2006. We got stuff like Knack and Pac-Man’s Ghostly Whatever, but both seem to completely miss the point of these games – the actual platforming – and instead focus more on combat and pretty backgrounds, which is more easily digestible for a wide audience (granted, I’ve never played either, and this is all based on footage and critical reaction). It’s been a tad rough for those of us who love 3D platformers.

And I do love them. A lot!

See, 3D platformers are beautiful in that they feel like a pure expression of freedom and adventure in playable form. It’s true that several other types of games have open worlds, but they still feel restricted by their own varying rules, while platformers specialize in making the task of moving around a wonderful and fun experience in itself, an approach that in my opinion makes the most of wide open environments. Some 3D platformers take a more linear route, like Crash Bandicoot, and that’s fun, but the so-called collectathons are nearest and dearest to me. I’ve already mentioned that Ape Escape is my favorite game ever and I could probably write a book about how that game is absolutely beautiful and stellar from beginning to end, but it’s also kept in great company with the likes of Jak & DaxterSpyro the DragonSuper Mario Galaxy, and Psychonauts. All single-player focused, proudly cartoony and colourful, yet only the latter has come back in fashion since the 2007 apocalypse.

This is exactly why we need something like A Hat in Time or, more significantly, Playtonic’s highly anticipated Yooka-Laylee.

Okay, so the reason I’m putting Yooka-Laylee on a bit of a pedestal here has a lot to do with its insane Kickstarter campaign, but even more so with the legacy it carries. You may notice that I didn’t mention Banjo-Kazooie in my list of titles above, and that is because I never played it. I’ve never owned an N64 or an Xbox 360, thus missing out on my two chances to do so, and the game strangely has never been that big of a deal where I live. Maybe one day I’ll pick up either of those systems for cheap so I can catch up. Anyway, never having a nostalgic connection to the team’s work back at Rare, my initial reaction towards Yooka-Laylee was “ah, that’s neat I guess.” But that didn’t last…

I’ve gotten incredibly excited about this project! Maybe it’s because I’m starved for games of this type, but everything about it pleases me, from the character designs, to the music, to the graphical style (which isn’t over produced and plastic-y, thank god), the entire thing oozes potential! To be honest, I think it’s got a better brand and style than BK ever had, with “bouncier” looking characters and a far more catchy and clever name. But what exactly can it do? What impact can it have on the market? I’ll do my best to try to predict some of the scenarios its release might lead to.

Can it make 3D platforming popular again?

The developers certainly seem to think so, as the cocky buggers smugly claim to straight up be reviving the genre. I recall commenting something like “If they actually think they can do that, then… I hope they’re right,” and that pretty much still sums up my feelings on the matter. It is cocky, certainly, but I’m also happy that they dare show confidence in their product, especially in a post-Daikatana world. They know that they run the risk of being mocked and distrusted with future projects, but they do it anyway. Call me overly optimistic, but I take that as a sign that they have reason behind their confidence.

Ideally, Yooka-Laylee being a success will not only inspire other indie devs to pursue the same path, but have some of the big boys notice that it’s a worthwhile investment, leading to at least a handful of high budget titles. Basically the same thing that happened to the 2D ones, where the majority are indies and a few got boxed releases. It’s a nice little revival that invites the genre back into the industry while allowing for plenty of experimentation.

What I’m not interested in is oversaturation. That’s what happened to the shooters, and it did the genre no flavors, straight up turning people away from it. Too many studios wanted to make the next Call of Duty, and we’ve only recently been breaking away from that trend with titles like Shadow WarriorWolfenstein: The New Order, and the upcoming Strafe (That’s STRAFE® in gimmickish). Oversaturation leads to stale and boring games. It’s not a healthy or creative environment, and I really don’t want 3D platformers as a whole to be looked down upon by the snobs of the near future. I want the revival to happen like it did with 2D games: Significant and lasting, but not overwhelming.

Other than that, 3D platformers making a triumphant return would pretty much leave me satisfied with the market genre-wise, being unable to recall any other forgotten genre I miss, so I guess I can consider myself lucky that this even has a chance of happening. 

Can it evolve the concept?

I feel like the question above largely depends on this one, but even if it didn’t, it would still be important. Just making a ’90s game with no significant changes seems like wasted effort to me, since we can still go back and actually play a ’90s game. It might look prettier and sound better, but that’s why we have remakes. A new game needs something more to it, and I’m holding Yooka-Laylee to that standard. No pressure. 🙂

Once again, I’ll compare it to the 2D revival. The “big three” I mentioned all did something new with the genre. Super Meat Boy reduced and refined it to its purest form, making it a very challenging platformer. Rayman Origins introduced a revolutionary new engine and beautifully streamlined co-op. Shovel Knight combined all the best things about retro platformers while using its simplicity to make crazy scenarios come true. Yooka-Laylee should definitely aim for similar goals, and there are plenty of ways to do so. Change can come in regards to world design, movement, collectibles and pretty much any other aspect of the game. Maybe it can allow for an unusual multiplayer function that has each player do one character’s moves? Maybe health can be handled in a new and different way? The sky is basically the limit for a game like this, so not taking these kinds of chances would be a shame.

Another good idea would be to get rid of ’90s relics like lives that do nothing, minigames, and overly chatty side characters. In regards to the latter two, please, Yooka-Laylee, be more Spyro 1 than Spyro 2-3. Have character convos be a sign of progress, not nagging voices telling you what to do. It’s an irritating way to break the flow in a game all about motion, and a bit of flavor text isn’t worth it. Putting in optional conversations would be a far smoother way to handle this. #RadTips

Just being another good 3D platformer is fine and all, especially at this point in time, but fine has never revived anything. Fine never goes down in history. Nobody remembers the expected, otherwise Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time would already have brought the genre back into the mainstream. But it didn’t, because it was practically Sly 2 again (but with a worse frame rate). All the fun, familiar stuff was there, but with little to spice it up. In my opinion, “fine” is the perfect word to describe that game, but with all the money poured into it by eager fans, Yooka-Laylee should definitely aim far higher than that. The name and its immediate charm is too fresh for the rest of the game not to follow suit, so I’m hoping to be surprised.

Can it awaken the sleeping giants?

No, this isn’t an end-of-blog joke question, but a metaphor for bringing back classic franchises.

Some seem to be goners, having been sold off to companies that don’t care much, but there still might be hope for a lot of familiar faces out there. As expected, I’m mostly rooting for Ape Escape here, as there is much that can still be done with the ideas behind that series (also put it on PSN already you fucking pricks). I even came up with a multiplayer concept for it once. What’s up with that? But even your beloved Banjo-Kazooie might have a chance. Platformer veteran studio Insomniac Games has worked with Microsoft before, so they maybe they can do it? Wouldn’t that be a strange yet amazing turn of events?

I don’t know, this part is basically wishful thinking, and it’s probably the least likely scenario. Still, unlikely things have happened. The fact that the frequently mentioned Rayman Origins is even a thing is something I often forget is a small wonder. No one would have thought it possible back in say 2008, but not only did it happen, it got a sequel two years later, and both turned out excellent. Stuff like that, and a lot of recent Kickstarters that include Yooka-Laylee itself, makes a good case for why being hopeful isn’t just for big farty poopy heads, but completely acceptable for regularly sized smarty sensible heads.

In the end, franchises will never be as important as the people behind them. Only problem here is that some franchises are harder to do the spiritual successor thing with, especially when they are too unique Having just a few of them make a return, even if only for a single game, would be very nice.

Yooka-Laylee‘s potential influence is one of the biggest reasons for why I’m excited for it, but as I mentioned, it’s also because it looks great. Thankfully, it’s been confirmed to be a multiplatform release, meaning it’s gonna reach a lot more people than its predecessors ever had a chance to. It is very unlikely that I won’t pick it up when it comes out, even if it doesn’t live up to my (admittedly lofty) expectations.

In any case, I wish the team at Playtonic the best of luck on the project. I am incredibly thankful for what they’re doing, and I’m sure they have the best of intentions with the game, seeming passionate about their chance to once again create and entertain.

Go chase that elusive dream, you beautiful people!

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