When the suits that run major game publishers decide not to continue beloved franchises, what are ardent creators supposed to do? Quit and make a Kickstarter campaign, of course.
We've seen the results with Mega Man's Keiji Inafune and Mighty No. 9, which didn't work out so well, and we'll see it again next year with Castlevania's Koji Igarashi and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. And right now, we have a prime example with Yooka-Laylee, which raised more than £2 million on Kickstarter a couple years back from a team of former Rare developers.
Seemingly tired of pumping out Kinect Sports entries – and who can blame 'em? – the old Rare vets at the newly-formed Playtonic Games bolted to go build an unofficial successor to the classic Banjo-Kazooie games instead.
It ports a lot of that retro 3D platformer's ideas into a new experience with a different colourful animal duo and some modern flourishes… and thankfully, this revival doesn't feel like a tired retread.
Yooka-Laylee is clearly designed to evoke a certain kind of nostalgic buzz: not only is aimed squarely at fans of 64-bit platforms, it's also crafted very specifically in the exact mold of Banjo-Kazooie. The titular characters, Yooka the lizard and Laylee the bat, ultimately fill the same roles as the bear and bird duo of the N64 classics, and utilise a lot of the same moves. They're stand-ins, but they'll do.
And that's not the extent of the homage. We see it in the presentation of the game, from the text to the character interactions, not to mention the collectible-centric design of the missions, and the odd trivia quizzes you'll take at key points in the adventure. It's a nearly 20-year-old template brought back to life.
At first, it feels a bit like playing one of the seemingly endless Super Mario 64 clones from the late '90s, which could never hope to recreate a stone-cold Nintendo classic. But before long, Yooka-Laylee stops feeling like an off-brand Banjo and the classic platforming bliss starts to take hold. And even if you weren't an old Banjo fan (I wasn't), there's plenty to love here.
Must... find... Pagies
Playtonic's tribute sticks to the old-school 3D platform-action template, and it's such a pure, wondrous recreation. Each of the game's five primary worlds, along with the main hub, is a sprawling environment that's absolutely packed with objectives: timed challenges, puzzles, mine cart-jumping trials, collectable chases, boss battles, and plenty more.
Admittedly, some of the environment themes themselves are pretty tried and true (a snow level, you say?) – but the sprawling scale, creative inhabitants, cartoonish sights, and charming music help bring them to life. And then each world only gets bigger.
Your task in Yooka-Laylee is to complete all of these objectives and item hunts to reclaim golden "Pagies" ripped from a powerful book; when you find a certain number of them, you can spend some to super-size each world. Doing so adds new areas and new objectives, and makes these already large settings feel startlingly vast.
Each world can take hours upon hours to fully clear, especially as new abilities unlock across the adventure – and with 145 total Pagies to find, Yooka-Laylee has a Mario 64-esque scale to it for old-school platform completionists.
Yooka-Laylee goes a little thick on narrative table-setting at first, making the opening moments a bit sluggish – but then it gives way to the action and instead just punctuates most interactions with a thick dollop of humour. And it's actually funny, too.
The lizard and bird team trade in-jokes that are perfectly primed for its target audience, but most of the time, they're clever rather than easy or obvious. You'll see gags about crowdfunding, the internet, and video games new and old – a mine cart named Kartos yields one perfect, LOL-inducing God of War crack. And while not strongly played for laughs, a cameo appearance by 2D indie hero Shovel Knight proves a fantastic and unexpected addition anyway.
Heavy personality thankfully takes some of the sting out of the game's occasional frustrations, such as sticky ledges that sometimes impede you when you're jumping from right below, some rough camera angles, and rare moments in which the controls just don't work right because of where you're standing.
Much as things have changed in the games world, Yooka-Laylee mostly sticks with the 1998 version of 3D platforming – warts and all.
Yooka-Laylee isn't Banjo-Kazooie in name, but after all these years, Playtonic's game does justice to Rare's classic – and the legendary N64 era of 3D platforming on the whole.
True, the tribute is maybe a little too exacting at times. The occasional clunky mechanics and camera issues of the past haven't been fully resolved, and the giant text and garish menus could have stayed in the '90s, thank you very much.
But that all comes with the complete package here, and the overall impression is a very warm and pleasant memory of how simple, straightforward, and incredibly fun the 3D platformer can be. Yooka-Laylee isn't revolutionary or even really evolutionary in any significant way, but that's no knock against a game this charming and delightful.
Plus, for Nintendo fans, it's sure to be an ideal fit for the Switch when that version debuts sometime later this year.