From the ashes, the phoenix shall rise.
Banjo-Kazooie was one of the most beloved games from the N64 generation, and is one of the handful of games from the console that is still a blast to play today. Banjo the honey bear and Kazooie the backpack-dwelling bird starred in two of the N64’s best games in 1998 and 2000 before falling into obscurity. There was a duo of GameBoy Advance titles in the franchise, but neither of the series’ handheld entries were much to boast about.
In 2006, a promising trailer revealed the bear and bird were making a comeback on the Xbox 360. The trailer featured brief snippets of elements from the 3D platforming series. Sprawling platforming environments, shiny collectibles, the whole platformer shebang. It looked so tantalizing that people were forgiving of Banjo and Kazooie’s new character designs.
And then came 2008.
After a few screenshots of the game were released, showing a heavy emphasis on vehicles, gamers wondered if the new Banjo game was some kind of racing spinoff. After a short time, the new game was revealed to be Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, a title that focused on vehicle creation tools and using your created vehicles to complete different tasks. The platforming gameplay of yesteryear was all but abandoned, and poor Kazooie’s presence in Banjo’s backpack now seemed entirely superfluous.
Truth be told, you’ll find worse games than Nuts & Bolts out there, but you’ll find very few that are so disappointing. Granted, gamers are a fickle lot, and have a tendency to overreact to the tiniest changes in a series (“Bayonetta’s hair is short?! I refuse to buy this crap!”), but in the case of Nuts & Bolts, the heartbreak was justified. It just didn’t feel like a Banjo-Kazooie game.
Perhaps if Banjo-Kazooie had been present throughout the years with multiple titles, the drastic shift wouldn’t have been such a big deal, but this was to be the duo’s big comeback, eight years after their last proper adventure. Not only did Nuts & Bolts remove the platforming gameplay of its predecessors, but the game as a whole had a largely dismissive nature of the genre, taking every opportunity possible to belittle the nature of its own predecessors and their genre. Nuts & Bolts’ attitude towards its lineage was like pouring salt on the wound.
Although there are rumblings that Banjo and Kazooie could make a comeback on Xbox One, the damage has been done. In the years following Nuts & Bolts, many of Rare’s employees left the developer. A number of them have since formed a new studio, Playtonic Games. Their mission: to create a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, and give the series its long-overdue proper follow-up, even if in spirit.
Enter Yooka-Laylee. The new brainchild from Playtonic Games that looks to proudly carry the spirit of Banjo-Kazooie for a new generation. Yooka is a chameleon, and Laylee is a bat. Although that odd combination of animals isn’t nearly as inviting as a bear and bird on paper, the developers have stated the selection of animals was inspired by the gameplay possibilities they brought to the table, which makes things a lot more interesting.
The chameleon can roll and use his tongue, the bat can fly and use sonar. The sense of whimsy you find when you delve deeper into the concept is the kind of simple charm and imagination that has been held almost solely by Nintendo over the last decade.
Yooka-Laylee is created by some of the finest minds of the genre, such as Steve Mayles, the character designer of Rare’s beloved platformers of the past, and composers Grant Kirkhope (of Banjo-Kazooie) and David Wise (of Donkey Kong Country). With such creative minds behind Yooka-Laylee, the game is already looking like a promising continuation of a style of game that has been all but forgotten.
Playtonic sought the aide of Kickstarter to fund Yooka-Laylee, and they reached their goal within forty minutes, proving that there are plenty of gamers out there longing for the “Banjo-Threeie” that was hinted at in the ending of Banjo-Tooie. As of writing this, Yooka-Laylee will have reached all of its subsequent stretch goals within the next couple of hours (less than twenty-four hours after the Kickstarter campaign was started).
Yooka-Laylee looks to be a labor of love made by some of the finest artists in the industry, who seek to rekindle the magic they once created. The massive support the game has already received is proof enough that something special could be brewing. Banjo and Kazooie may have lost their way, but their torch has been passed, and it is shining brightly.