Oftentimes, the games we end up loving are ones that catch our eye early on. Games may not always live up to our expectations, but it seems more often than not, we have an idea about which games we’re going to enjoy.
Other times, a game comes out of seemingly nowhere, with no hype or build-up, that ends up being an utter delight. A pleasant surprise, if you will.
Winner: Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair
I liked the original Yooka-Laylee, but no doubt it wasn’t the game it could have been. Others were less warm to it than I was, which surely wasn’t the response Playtonic Games was hoping for with their Banjo-Kazooie spiritual successor. After that, I figured Playtonic would change course and try again with different characters down the road.
Instead, Playtonic admirably stood by the characters they made, and put them in a new scenario that was probably a bit more appropriate for an early title from a studio of Playtonic’s size.
Placing Yooka and Laylee in a don’t-call-it-a-spiritual-successor to Donkey Kong Country, Playtonic proved their belief in their inaugural IP to be justified. While Playtonic may have backed themselves into a corner with the first Yooka-Laylee – with Kickstarter stretch goals forcing their hand in certain directions – Impossible Lair allowed Playtonic more creative freedom with the 2D platformer genre.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair proved to be one of the best 2D platformers in years, and re-established Yooka-Laylee as a viable video game franchise. Considering the lukewarm reception to the original, and the fact that Impossible Lair was rather unceremoniously announced as part of a montage in a Nintendo Direct and released a short time thereafter, I’d say that makes for quite the pleasant surprise.
In 2015, a small development studio called Playtonic Games – comprised of several former members of Rare – revealed Yooka-Laylee through Kickstarter. Yooka-Laylee was a 3D platformer that served as a ‘spiritual successor’ to the Banjo-Kazooie games, which are still seen as some of Rare’s finest achievements, and more than likely the only only 3D platformers not called Mario that genuinely compare to the Italian plumber’s fabled adventures. With the creators of such a beloved series crafting its spiritual follow-up, suffice to say Yooka-Laylee’s crowdfunding campaign was a roaring success.
Fast-forward to 2017 to the release of Yooka-Laylee, and the game’s final reception was unfortunately a lot more mixed than the game’s initial success would have suggested. Though it was a solid effort, a number of technical issues and a few outdated elements prevented Yooka-Laylee from reaching its full potential. Though far from a bad game, it wasn’t the second coming of Banjo-Kazooie we all had hoped it would be.
Thankfully, Playtonic didn’t let the disappointing reception hinder them, and in the Summer of 2019 they announced a surprise sequel, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, which was released a few months thereafter. Unlike its predecessor, Impossible Lair is a 2D side scrolling platformer akin to Rare’s Donkey Kong Country trilogy on the SNES. Though Playtonic has insisted to not refer to Impossible Lair as a ‘spiritual successor’ to DKC as they did with its predecessor and Banjo-Kazooie as to avoid setting this sequel up for disappointment, it actually is a strong improvement over its predecessor, and a worthy follow-up to the Donkey Kong Country series.
It’s apparent that Playtonic has learned from Yooka-Laylee’s missteps. While we can hope that means their next 3D platformer will be a real winner (especially considering that genre could do with another classic outside of Mario after all these years), Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is such a strong 2D platformer that it should do away with any skepticisms people may have had towards Playtonic after their maiden voyage, and re-establishes Yooka-Laylee as a viable video game franchise.
While Rare were the developers of the original Donkey Kong Country trilogy on the SNES, that series was eventually passed on to Retro Studios during the 2010s. Retro Studios resurrected the series with Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Wii, and made the series their own with the masterful Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze on Wii U (and later Switch). While Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair pays homage to Rare’s SNES Donkey Kong Country titles that many of Playtonic’s team members helped create, it also seems to be a loving tribute to Retro Studios’ efforts with the series. In particular, Impossible Lair seems to be doing its best at a game of one-upmanship with Tropical Freeze. Although Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair can’t quite match up to Tropical Freeze, it is undoubtedly the best 2D platformer to be released since.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair sees the return of Yooka the chameleon and Laylee the bat, as well as their enemy Capital B, who is trying to takeover the “Royal Stingdom” of bees with the use of his new bee mind-controlling scepter. To ensure Yooka and Laylee can’t stop him for a second time, Capital B. has constructed the titular Impossible Lair, an insanely difficult platforming stage that will push Yooka and Laylee (and thus, the player) to their limit.
Similar to the DKC games, both characters essentially serve as a hit point. Get hit once, and Laylee flies away (though there are a few seconds where she can be recovered, and should you lose her, you can bring her back by ringing a Laylee bell). Get hit twice, and Yooka dies. Fall down a bottomless pit, and it’s instant defeat.
To survive the Impossible Lair, Queen Phoebee – the matriarch of the Stingdom – can grant the duo of Yooka and Laylee the aid of her royal guard, who provide a shield for the heroic duo, with each royal guard serving as an additional hit point for the shield. But there’s a catch, the royal guard have all been imprisoned by Capital B.
This is where Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair draws some inspiration from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Should the player have the skill/patience, it actually is possible to head straight into the Impossible Lair and, yes, even beat it (though the challenge is so incredibly steep you may have to be crazy to try that). Or you can experience more of the game, rescue the royal guards, and use them to create the shield for Yooka and Laylee. There are forty-eight royal guards in to be found in total, but again, you can attempt the Impossible Lair at any time, no matter how many guards you’ve rescued.
It’s a seemingly simple twist to the genre, but one that ultimately makes for a great change of pace. The concept of the final level being readily available from the start of the game, with the completion of the other stages giving the player more strength to brave said final level, might be the most refreshing twist to the progression of 2D platformers since Super Mario World introduced multiple stage exists and branching paths in its world map. It’s easy to imagine player’s seeking the toughest challenge trying to conquer the Impossible Lair from the get-go, though I’m on the side of the fence that believes a game is best when you experience it to its fullest.
The other big twist Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair brings to 2D platformers is its overworld. Instead of a map screen to select stages, Yooka and Laylee are thrown into a connected world that takes on a top-down, overhead perspective, akin to the 2D Legend of Zelda titles. New stages are found throughout the overworld, and usually require the player to solve a puzzle in order to unlock them. Additionally, each of the game’s twenty stages (not counting the Impossible Lair) features an alternative version, which feels like a more fleshed-out realization of the ‘level expansion’ concept from the first Yooka-Laylee.
While these changes Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair makes to 2D platforming progression are very much appreciated, I must admit most of the game’s drawbacks come from its overworld. Though the idea of unlocking platforming levels in a Zelda-style overworld is a great concept, the puzzles found in said overworld can sometimes be a bit cryptic, and it can often be vague as to where you’re supposed to go next, which prevents the concept from reaching its full potential.
Thankfully, the stages themselves are far better realized. As stated, these are the best side scrolling platformer stages since Tropical Freeze, with levels constantly introducing new gameplay elements into the mix, and the alternate forms of each stage providing even more variety. One stage may get flooded in its alternate form, while another gets flipped on its side. One stage gets frozen over, while a conveyor belt-themed stage will move in reverse the second time around. The twenty proper stages – and their alternate forms – all feel distinct from one another, feel lengthy without ever overstaying their welcome, and are consistently creative.
Quills return as the equivalent of Mario’s coins or Banjo’s music notes (or I suppose most accurately in this case, Donkey Kong’s bananas). Also returning are the Tonics from the first Yooka-Laylee. Quills are found all throughout the stages and overworld, while Tonics are found exclusively in the overworld (sometimes very well hidden), and often require puzzle-solving and Yooka’Laylee’s acrobatics to find.
Once the player finds a Tonic, they use the quills they’ve found to purchase them. The player can equip up to three Tonics at a time. You can unlock the ability to equip four Tonics, but the downside to this is that the process of unlocking the fourth Tonic slot will take you towards the 100% completion mark, and you may wonder why you need that additional Tonic when the game is that close to being finished.
The Tonics provide new twists to the gameplay, or simply change the aesthetics of the game itself. The cosmetic Tonics might change Yooka and Laylee themselves (like giving Yooka a comically oversized head, or making both members of the duo silhouetted), or change the visuals of the stages themselves (such as comic book graphics or heavily pixelated filters). The gameplay Tonics can either help the heroic duo (like giving Yooka more time to reclaim Laylee after she flies away), or hinder them (such as giving enemies an additional hitpoint or reversing the player’s controls).
You may wonder why you would want to equip Tonics to hinder Yooka and Laylee, other than to provide an extra challenge for those looking for it. There’s actually a valid reason for it: the Tonics that make the game more difficult will add to the quills you gain during a stage, while the beneficial Tonics will subtract from them (the cosmetic Tonics thankfully don’t alter your quill count at the end of a level). Again, it’s a fun twist on the traditions of the genre.
Whether or not you like to play with visual-altering Tonics or not, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is quite the aesthetic treat. The graphics look as smooth as the first game, but likely due to the simpler 2D setting, it doesn’t suffer from the same technical blips. The levels look great and the backgrounds are lovingly detailed. It’s just a beautiful game to look at (though I must admit some of the cosmetic Tonics could be a little eye-straining for me).
Like its predecessor and the DKC titles its emulating, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair also features a top notch soundtrack. Banjo-Kazooie composer Grant Kirkhope provided the overworld theme, while fittingly enough, Donkey Kong Country composer David Wise created a number of tunes for the game’s stages. It’s a lovely, atmospheric soundtrack, with the David Wise pieces sounding like a direct follow-up to the composer’s work on Tropical Freeze.
The game as a whole feels like it’s aiming to be a follow-up to Tropical Freeze in a gaming landscape that’s desperately starved of one. Though it undoubtedly follows the rulebook that many of Playtonic’s staffers themselves created with the SNES Donkey Kong Country titles, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair feels every bit as much a love letter to Retro Studios’ second Donkey Kong offering. It’s only fitting then that Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is the first 2D platformer to come around since Tropical Freeze that can rightfully be compared to it. That in itself is one hell of an achievement.
When Yooka-Laylee was revealed to the world in 2015 as a Kickstarter title, it immediately turned heads. A spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie series created by a number of the key members behind the Banjo-Kazooie games (now under their own studio, Playtonic Games), Yooka-Laylee’s crowdfunding was a resounding success. Here we are in 2017, and Yooka-Laylee has seen its long-awaited release. But does it recreate that classic Banjo-Kazooie magic?
The short answer to that question is yes, but maybe to a fault. For everyone who has longed for a proper third entry to Banjo-Kazooie, or felt betrayed by the unnecessary departure the series took with Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts nearly a decade ago, Yooka-Laylee is exactly the game they’ve been waiting for.
Yooka-Laylee really is Banjo-Kazooie 3 in all but name and characters: In place of Banjo the bear is Yooka the chameleon. Instead of the bird Kazooie living in Banjo’s backpack, we have Laylee the bat, who rides atop Yooka’s head. The role of mentor who teaches the duo their moves has been passed to the humorously-named snake Trowzer. The duo of Yooka and Laylee also get transformed, much like Banjo and Kazooie did in years’ past. But instead of a shaman using magic to alter the duo’s appearance, it’s the octopus scientist Dr. Puzz. Finally, in place of the wicked witch Gruntilda is a dastardly businessman (business bee?) Capital B.
The story here is that Capital B, along with his recently bought-out lackey Dr. Quack, have built a machine that is stealing all of the world’s literature, in an attempt to have a complete monopoly on the book industry. In a nearby creek, Laylee managed to find a special book with golden pages in a pirate ship (which she has been using as a drink coaster). This book happens to be the magical “One Book,” which is the real reason behind Capital B’s sinister book-stealing plot. When the One Book gets swept away by Capital B’s machine, it scatters its pages (the Pagies) to prevent them from falling into Capital B’s hands. Thus begins Yooka and Laylee’s quest to Hivory Towers and the magical book worlds contained within, all to regain their stolen book (of which they have no idea of its true nature).
It’s an utterly silly, nonsensical plot. But it’s also original and fun. More notably, the story eventually starts giving hints at a much bigger plot, which Playtonic Games intends to use as the foundation for its own shared universe of games. In a time when shared universes only exist in super hero stories and ridiculous fan theories, the prospect of a shared universe between platforming mascots and other video game characters is certainly promising.
The goal of the game is nearly identical to that of Banjo-Kazooie: to collect a number of key items to progress through the game and make your way through the hub world.
The main collectibles are the Pagies, the same golden pages from the One Book that act like the Stars from Super Mario 64 or, more appropriately, the Jiggies from Banjo-Kazooie. Pagies are used to access new areas in the game, and in a twist to the old formula, can also be used to expand previously unlocked levels.
One of the main complaints with the collect-a-thon platformers of yesteryear was that many of the collectibles only existed for collections’ sake. Where Yooka-Laylee tries to push things forward is that all of its collectibles serve a purpose.
Along with the Pagies, there are also Quills, with 200 of them to be found on every level, and are used to purchase new moves from Trowzer the snake. Five Ghost Writers (literal ghosts responsible for creating the magical book worlds Yooka and Laylee visit) can be found in each stage, which nabs an additional Pagie once all five are found. There’s a single Mollycool and Arcade Token in each stage, the former allows Dr. Puzz to transform the titular duo, while the latter is used to play the arcade mini-games by Rextro Sixtyfourus, a polygonal dinosaur.
That’s the gist of Yooka-Laylee. Exploring a vast hub world and five themed stages to collect the Pagies by accomplishing various tasks, all while nabbing the other collectibles along the way. It’s the same kind of gameplay you remember from Banjo-Kazooie, and it can be a lot of fun.
Yooka-Laylee also benefits from fluid character controls. Many of the abilities Yooka and Laylee gain throughout their adventure are performed in ways that should be familiar to anyone who played the platformers inspired by Super Mario 64 back in the day, but whether through lessons learned from the past or simply by the benefit of modern technology, Yooka-Laylee plays a lot smoother than most of its predecessors. It’s simply a fun game to control.
On the downside of things, the camerawork is no better here in Yooka-Laylee than it was in the early 3D platformers that inspired it two decades ago. As fun as Yooka and Laylee are to control, the camera is just as cumbersome. Even the most beloved of N64 platformers receive flack for their camerawork, and it’s even the one aspect of Super Mario 64 that hasn’t aged gracefully, so it may be disappointing to know that it’s one aspect of Yooka-Laylee that feels like it came from the past, as opposed to being a tribute to it. Granted, the camera in Yooka-Laylee is never a chaotic disaster in the vein of Sonic Adventure, but it’s still unfortunate to see the one continuous flaw of the early 3D platformers is still at play.
On a more positive note, the levels, while few, are varied and creative. Playtonic clearly aimed for quality over quantity, and they’ve produced some memorable stages. Like most platformers, the levels all have their own themes. The first two have expected gimmicks, with the first being a jungle and the second a snow-themed world, but the remaining three are a little more unique. The third stage is a swamp with a mild Halloween theme, the fourth changes up the gameplay by setting everything in a Vegas-style casino, where you have to win tokens to exchange for Pagies. Finally, Playtonic made the smart move by saving the best stage for last, which combines an outer space setting with a sea-fairing pirate motif, and is definitely a standout stage not just for the game, but for the platforming genre.
The stages all leave an impression, with each one housing their own challenges that make for a great deal of variety. Though despite their many differences, the stages do have some elements in common with each other.
As stated, Rextro Sixtyfourus has an arcade machine in each world, with a different mini-game found in each. Each level also contains a different Dr. Puzz transformation, boss fight, and mine cart segment (inspired by the Playtonic team’s earlier work on the Donkey Kong Country series).
The mine cart segments are some highlights from the game. The mine cart sections may not have the same level of heart-pounding action as those found in DKC: Tropical Freeze, but they are a fun change of pace all the same. Boss fights are a little more of a mixed bag. The bosses can get pretty difficult, and not always for the right reasons, with some really bringing out the worst out of the aforementioned camera, but they at least feel like a breath of fresh air in the modern gaming landscape where traditional boss fights are a rarity (though also because of this, I kind of wish the boss fights weren’t limited to one per stage).
In the middle of the road are the transformations. The first two transformations aren’t particularly memorable, with the first being too slow and the second too hard to control. But the rest are all pretty fun, though their uses are varied. The third transformation is one of my favorites, but is only really used to nab two Pagies (one of which you can simply grab after transforming). The fourth and fifth transformations find some good use, however, with the fifth in particular being a whole lot of fun and is used in a variety of ways.
This brings us to the Rextro mini-games which, unfortunately, are the worst part of Yooka-Laylee. The Rextro mini-games simply aren’t fun. At their best, they’re merely forgettable. But at their worst, they are infuriating. The mini-game on the casino stage, in particular, felt unreasonably demanding and difficult. What’s worse, if you want to one-hundred percent the game and get every Pagie, you need to best each Rextro mini-game twice (the first time to get to the end, the second time to beat Rextro’s high score). I’m not exaggerating when I say it took me over two hours to get both Pagies from the casino mini-game.
Now, in all fairness, I think the Rextro games are supposed to be frustrating, as a kind of joke on the nature of a lot of old video games. It might be funny the first time around, and it certainly fits with Rextro’s character, but I think it’s a good example of a joke being taken too far.
The only other notable issue to be had with Yooka-Laylee is that the aforementioned concept of expanding the levels feels only partly realized. After a level has been unlocked, you can surrender a few more Pagies to expand it and uncover all of its challenges. It’s definitely a cool feature, but it would have been a game-changer if there were a little more to it. Perhaps if you could choose which section of a stage to expand piece by piece, it might feel a bit more engaging. As it is, expanding the levels feels like a nice first step to something greater that can hopefully be fully-realized in a subsequent game.
With all this said, any complaints to be had are counterbalanced by the fun to be had with Yooka-Laylee. It really does feel like a labor of love from Playtonic Games. A love of their past work and a love for a genre that has tragically fallen into obscurity over the years. The fun of Banjo-Kazooie is on display all throughout Yooka-Laylee, and it still manages to find some ways to tweak the genre it loves so much for the modern age.
Suffice to say the game is much prettier to look at than the N64 titles it borrows from. In a time when the concept of color seems reserved for games made by Nintendo, it’s great to see a game like Yooka-Laylee come around and introduce so much visual vibrancy. To see a game like this in full HD is a thing of beauty, and the visuals are complimented by a creative art direction, particularly in the environments (the snow stage looks like it was ripped out of Disney’s Frozen), which are then filled with goofy characters.
More important than the graphical modernizations are how Yooka-Laylee adds new elements to the traditional 3D platforming. Along with the level expansion, there are many small tweaks that add to the gameplay: You now have a power bar, which is needed for Yooka and Laylee’s special moves. Butterflies can be found around the stages, and refill both your health and power bar (simply grab them for power, or eat them with Yooka’s tongue for health), which is a fun way to streamline the usual restoration items. Each level also hides secret items to extend your maximum health and power, giving a mild RPG element to the mix.
Then there are Tonics, which can be unlocked by completing various tasks in a way not dissimilar to Playstation Trophies or Xbox Achievements. Once unlocked, these Tonics work as gameplay modifiers, and change up the game in various different ways, like removing fall damage, alerting the player when a rare collectible is nearby, or making the special moves use less of the power bar. The Tonics are a great addition to the gameplay, and since you can only equip one at any given time, it prevents you from taking advantage of them and becoming overpowered.
It’s little touches like these that help Yooka-Laylee rise above being a mere tribute to the genre’s past and showcase it as an attempt to push the platform forward. It doesn’t always succeed, by the effort is front and center.
Of course, a classic platformer wouldn’t be complete without a memorable soundtrack, and Yooka-Laylee certainly has a great one. Playtonic Games really wanted to capture the spirit of their games from times past with the soundtrack, so they got a hold of former Rare composers Grant Kirkhope, Steve Burke, and the incomparable David Wise to compose Yooka-Laylee.
Kirkhope composes the majority of the tracks, which is incredibly fitting, as he composed the Banjo-Kazooie titles. Admittedly, Kirkhope has set the bar high for himself, but his tracks for Yooka-Laylee are as fun, catchy and memorable as any he’s made.
Wise and Burke are used in times that reflect their classic soundtracks, with the Rextro mini-games boasting the “new retro” sounds of Burke (undoubtedly the best part of the mini-games), while the mine cart segments are accompanied by the unmistakable sounds of Wise.
The fact that Playtonic Games brought together all these fantastic composers for a single game ensures Yooka-Laylee has an amazing score, but the fact that Playtonic understood when to utilize each composer to reflect their styles with the gameplay also makes it one of the smartest and most creative game soundtracks in years.
In concept, Yooka-Laylee is exactly what it promised to be. Although the camera still feels like a relic of the past, the world expansion and transformations could be more fully realized, and those Rextro mini-games definitely need to be either rethought or left out entirely from a sequel, Yooka-Laylee is ultimately a refreshing return of one of gaming’s greatest genres. It’s the Banjo-Kazooie 3 we all hoped Nuts & Bolts would have been, though let’s face it, we’re all still hoping for a direct Banjo-Kazooie 3 all the same.
Yooka-Laylee isn’t perfect, but its heart is in the right place. The Banjo-Kazooie legacy is alive and well. And if Playtonic has anything to say about it, so is the collect-a-thon 3D platformer.
Playtonic Games has finally released their first reward for backers of their Yooka-Laylee Kickstarter, and it’s a pretty great one! It’s the Yooka-Laylee Toybox and Toybox+!
What is the Yooka-Laylee Toybox? Basically, it’s something of a demo of the game, but features no direct levels or elements from the final game, other than Yooka, Laylee, and some of the game basics spread throughout a small, sandbox world. In short, it’s a test area for players to get a feel for how the game plays. Hence, it’s a toybox.
The Yooka-Laylee Toybox does not disappoint. Though the visuals don’t look quite as sharp as a number of the more recent screenshots of the game, it still looks pretty darn impressive, considering it uses Yooka-Laylee’s pre-alpha build.
Though the Toybox can be played with a keyboard, the game advises against it. This is a 3D platformer, after all. Using a keyboard to play a platformer just feels like a perversion of nature, really. Thankfully, the Toybox supports both PS4 and Xbox One controllers, so I broke out my PS4 controller and got right to it. And my word, the game feels so great to control!
While the Toybox limits Yooka and Laylee’s moveset from what is to be expected from the final game, their every last movement and ability feels incredibly fluid (even if some moves feature as-yet unfinished animations). Many of the characters’ actions are what you would expect from a game drawing inspiration from the early 3D platformers of the late 90s – high jumps, gliding, and a special method of movement that somehow gets you up steep slopes among them – it all feels fine-tuned and polished to the point of feeling brand new again.
As a means to avoid any potential spoilers, the Toybox takes place in an incredibly simplistic zone comprised of geometric shapes with basic colors, as opposed to any segment from the main game. The goal is to simply find 100 quills and then collect the “Pagie” that appears once every quill has been found. It definitely works as a fun little playground to get a hang of the game’s basic mechanics, though I do have to admit the simplistic shapes and colors of the environment actually made some of the platforming a little difficult in some areas, particularly a spiraling hill in which Laylee needed to roll Yooka up its slopes. The perspective just got a little tricky, but thankfully I can see this problem being relegated to this Toybox, as the main game already looks to have easily discernible areas that should make the platforming a more solid experience.
The simple task of collecting the quills was pretty fun, with the best thing about it being how much exploration it encouraged. There were times when I got stumped as to where I could go to find some of the missing quills, leading me to play with the camera and find more hidden paths and areas that required a little bit of out-of-the-box platforming to reach. On top of that, you can uncover some hidden areas that exist purely to show off some game elements – like a room full of different colors on the ground, each making a different sound when stepped on to reflect different surfaces like snow, water and metal, and a hidden chamber that displays some of the game’s upcoming particle effects (complete with a robot NPC who’s a nut on the subject).
The Toybox also includes some displays of the upcoming game’s sense of humor. The aforementioned robot NPCs are constantly fighting the urge to exterminate organic life, while simultaneously begrudging the developers for trapping them in this limbo-like sandbox. Meanwhile, the Toybox’s single horde of enemies are captained by a goon wearing pants on his head. It’s small touches like this that only begin to show off the personality Yooka-Laylee could display in the final game.
While the Toybox is admittedly an all-too brief experience, it does show a lot of promise for what is to come from Yooka-Laylee. If such a bare-bones display of what Yooka-Laylee has to offer proves this much fun, then my excitement for the final product has just reached new heights.
So another E3 has come and gone, and overall the show was…okay. There were some games that looked great, other games that everyone but me thought looked great (isn’t that right, Days Gone?), and the heart-crushing disappointment of Paper Mario: Color Splash being revealed to be everything we feared it would be.
Anyway, it was a so-so show, made a bit more lively by the few games that really stood out. As far as I’m concerned, the following are the five games I’m most looking forward to after this year’s event.
Oh, but I’m doing things just a little differently this year. Since my overall reaction to E3 this year was just lukewarm, I’m comprising my top 5 games from the event whether they were present at the show floor or not. Just what ever tickled my fancy this year, as long as it was featured or announced at the event.
I may do a few additional E3 awards later, but it all depends on how many Pixar-related posts I get around to (my “Pixar Month” has been surprisingly only slightly Pixar-y thus far).
So anyway, here are my top five most anticipated games coming out of E3 2016.
5: Crash Bandicoot Remastered
I was so excited when I heard the Crash Bandicoot theme on-stage during Sony’s conference. After years and years of rumors that Crash was coming back (some said under developer Naughty Dog), I thought all my wishes would come true.
And then they casually announced that they were simply remaking the first three Crash games on PS4 and that Crash Bandicoot is in the new Skylanders game, and I was a bit less excited.
After having some time to let it soak in though, I’m really excited for these Crash remakes. For one thing, the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy by Naughty Dog is still the series’ highpoint, and while the second and third entries have aged pretty darn well, these remakes have the chance to iron out the kinks they do have and bring them a more modern fluidity, while also having the chance to fix the largely outdated elements of the first Crash Bandicoot (seriously, fix the save feature!).
Not only that, but this might be the best way to reintroduce Crash to the world, after being passed around to developers like a game of hot potato, with none of the subsequent studios really getting the Naughty Dog’s formula right, and then having the IP go dark for eight years.
Who knows, maybe if the Crash remakes go well enough, it will sway Naughty Dog to get back into the platforming game.
4: Insomniac’s Spider-Man
Insomniac tends to make good games. Spider-Man is in serious need of a good game. Let’s hope Insomniac gets their peanut butter in Spider-Man’s chocolate…or something. It sounded better before I typed it. I don’t know why I’m not going back and changing my analogy.
Anyway, this new Spider-Man looks promising, and it could be the first great super hero game in years not to have the word “Arkham” in the title. Just please, somehow get J.K. Simmons to reprise his role of J. Jonah Jameson. Please! This goes for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well!
3: The Last Guardian
HOLY CRAP IT HAS A RELEASE DATE! And it’s only months away! Dreams do come true! We will get a new Crash Bandicoot from Naughty Dog! Paper Mario will go back to its RPG roots! Capcom will start making Mega Man games again!
Okay, I might be getting ahead of myself. For now, I’ll just be happy that the almost mythical The Last Guardian is actually happening. After years and years of delays, disappearances, and vague re-appearances, the follow-up to Shadow of the Colossus is finally happening. Here’s hoping it lives up to both its predecessor’s, and its own, reputation.
Yooka-Laylee’s slight delay may be a little bit of a bummer, but my oh my, is this game shaping up to be something beautiful. It really does look like it’s going to be what Playtonic Games promised, and more.
From it’s likable cast of characters, colorful visuals and stunning locales, Yooka-Laylee is already looking like the true successor to Rare’s N64 heyday.
It’s been too long since collectathon platformers were a thing, but Yooka-Laylee looks to carry the torch so well that it’s like they never left. It’s shaping up to be the follow-up to Banjo-Tooie that we’ve waiting over sixteen years for (Gah! I’m old!), and a proper modernization and evolution of the genre. I simply can’t wait to see everything Yooka and Laylee’s world has in store (I’m guessing googly eyes are involved).
Hats off to Playtonic. Hats off.
1: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Sony may have had the best presence at E3, but Nintendo had the best game. After years and years of Zelda trying to tweak its established formula, we finally have a Zelda that seeks to reinvent it.
From what I’ve heard so far, Breath of the Wild looks to be one of the most open-ended games I’ve ever seen (you can fight the final boss right off the bat!), and Link’s abilities and items look unlike they have before. And finally, FINALLY, Link can jump. Yes, Link finally joins the likes of Mario as one of Nintendo’s jumpers.
I’ve seen many people already claim that Breath of the Wild is basically Nintendo’s equivalent to Skyrim (though I would argue that Breath of the Wild actually looks fun. Oooooh!), and that’s not too far off, as far as its open-endedness is concerned. But it also looks to draw inspiration from Zelda’s very first entry, Team Ico games, and even the films of Hayao Miyazaki (oh come on, the Guardians are totally inspired by Castle in the Sky’s robots).
Breath of the Wild really looks like its going all-out with its “breaking of series conventions,” and it only has me more and more interested to see what else Nintendo ends up doing with the game. Breath of the Wild is shaping up to be a beautiful swansong for the Wii U, and a fantastic introduction to the NX.
The only real question now is, what will Nintendo do with the next Mario?
There have been a lot of major updates regarding Playtonic’s spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie series, Yooka-Laylee, as of late. Today, we got some really good news, and a bit of bad (or more accurately, disappointing) news.
To get the bad news out of the way, Yooka-Laylee has been delayed until Q1 of 2017. Now, I suppose that’s not entirely bad news, since it just means Playtonic has a few more months to polish the game, and unlike a certain other Kickstarter-funded spiritual successor, Yooka-Laylee seems to be shaping up really nicely and really quickly. Plus, this also means Dark Souls 3 and Uncharted 4 have that much less competition by the time my 2016 video game awards roll around.
As for the good news, check out this amazing trailer for Yooka-Laylee! It will have you crying tears of joy (as opposed to simply crying like an anime fan on prom night).
Like I said, Yooka-Laylee is really shaping up nicely. It basically looks like everything that Nuts & Bolts should have been, and then some. The wait for 2017 is gonna kill me!
Now that it’s December, 2015 is nearing its end. Along with preparing for the holiday season (and subsequently, the one-year anniversary of this site), Star Wars, and New Year’s Resolutions that I’ll probably stick to for five days, December also serves as a time to reflect on the year ahead.
This future-hype naturally finds its way into the world of video games as well. So as we all prepare to look back at the best games of 2015, we also look forward to our most anticipated games of 2016. And I am no different!
The following are my top five most anticipated games of 2016. They may look a bit different from most people’s selections, but for one reason or another, these games all have my attention. Let’s start with a runner-up then get to the top five!
Runner-up: Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Honestly, I had six games that stood out that I could choose from, so I feel guilty about placing any of them as a runner-up. But since a “top 6” list just sounds goofy, someone had to take the fall. Since Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam comes out in January, I don’t have much more of a wait. So that bumps it to a runner-up on this list of anticipation (just go with it).
Aside from Paper Mario: Sticker Star, there hasn’t been a bad Mario RPG. Though Dream Team was a considerable step down from Bowser’s Inside Story, I have high hopes for Paper Jam. Being a crossover between Mario’s two ongoing RPG series, Paper Jam has the potential to bring a new sense of creativity to the Mario RPG formula.
I do have to wonder where Mario RPGs will go from here though. After you have both series cross paths, it seems like it would be a good time to give Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi a break, and maybe start a new direction for the Mario RPGs. But maybe that’s just me.
Now on to the top 5!
5: Dark Souls 3
Dark Souls is one of the better modern franchises in gaming (even if I kinda suck at it), and I’m really excited to die repeatedly play this new entry. I do kind of hope it adds more to the series than Dark Souls II did though. As great of a game as it was, I don’t want the third entry to just do what the first two already did. I hope DS3 can take all the good things from the series (of which there are many) and add some new twists into the mix as well.
What makes the Dark Souls series great is that it really feels like a modernized version of the kinds of games you’d play on the NES back in the day. It’s incredibly difficult, focused entirely on gameplay, and features a kind of progression that would feel at home on an 8-bit console. Yet it also feels brand new. The series has so far continued this trend through three games (remember, Demon Souls was the first game, Dark Souls was the second), and I’m confident it can repeat its success for a fourth time.
4: Star Fox Zero
Platform: Wii U
Lack of multiplayer aside, Star Fox Zero looks to be the return to form I’ve been waiting for from the series. The gameplay looks like a modernized Star Fox 64, none of the weirdly sexualized characters from the subsequent games are present, and the story is going back to basics. It pretty much looks like the proper follow-up to Star Fox 64, which has somehow not yet happened in almost two decades.
If Star Fox Zero does indeed end up being this generation’s Star Fox 64, then it will be well worth the wait. Now I just hope the game’s delay into 2016 means they’re adding a multiplayer mode.
3: Mighty No. 9
Though the Red Ash Kickstarter fiasco might have put a sour taste in gamer’s mouths in regards to Keiji Inafune’s Comcept studio, I’m still super excited for Mighty No. 9.
It’s hard to believe Mega Man hasn’t appeared in a game outside of Super Smash Bros. for over five years. But if Capcom won’t let us have the Blue Bomber, at least we have a spiritual sequel to look forward to.
Mighty No. 9 really does look like a Mega Man title, and hopefully the gameplay and level design can live up to that heralded series. As a huge bonus, the game looks to feature several different additional modes to add some replayability and change up the experience.
2: The Legend of Zelda Wii U
Platform: Wii U (but maybe NX)
The latest “proper” addition in The Legend of Zelda series looks to be the most ambitious entry yet. It could be one of the last great Wii U games, or one of the first great NX ones. Or both.
The Legend of Zelda is one of gaming’s greatest series, and a new home console entry is always a big deal. But this one in particular seems to be aiming to change up Zelda conventions, and hopefully, as we learn more about the game, that becomes more apparent.
Though I really wish Nintendo would give the series another art direction as daring as The Wind Waker, I like the new cel-shaded look. It looks a lot like a more advanced take on what Skyward Sword did visually. But while Skyward Sword used its visuals to guise the aging technology of the Wii, this new Zelda actually looks to be taking full advantage of its hardware.
My two great hopes for Zelda Wii U is that it really does change up the series, since Zelda games, great as they are, lack the consistent sense of newness of its sister series, Super Mario, and that the main adventure is only as long as it needs to be. I’m actually among those who loved Skyward Sword, but I admit that game would have been better if it were trimmed a few hours shorter. There’s no need to stretch a game’s length just for the heck of it. I’ll take a 10 hour game that feels complete over a 60 hour one that feels largely comprised of filler.
Anyway, it’s Zelda. Of course I have it on this list!
Rare made some of the greatest video games of my youth. With a resume that includes the likes of Donkey Kong Country 2 (arguably the best 2D platformer), Banjo-Kazooie (arguably the best 3D platformer until Mario went to space), Goldeneye 007, Perfect Dark, and so many other classics, it’s a wonder how the developer has fallen so far from grace over the last decade.
Yooka-Laylee is something of a dream come true for me. The new studio Playtonic Games – founded by a small group of some of Rare’s finest former developers – debuted the game as a spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie series in a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. And so far, everything about the game is looking like a modernized version of the Banjo-Kazooie style of platformer.
Playtonic has been vocal in saying that the game isn’t merely a re-skin of Banjo-Kazooie, however, and that Yooka-Laylee is making the winning formula new again. The collectibles will all serve a purpose, the game will have a greater sense of freedom in exploration, and players will have some forms of customization in gameplay and progression.
After Nuts & Bolts more or less kicked Banjo-Kazooie fans in the… nuts & bolts, Yooka-Laylee looks like the proper follow-up to Banjo-Tooe that I’ve waited fifteen years for. It was even the first game on Kickstarter I’ve helped fund. The only other game I’ve funded since was Red Ash. And well, let’s just move on.
Yooka-Laylee simply looks to bring back a style of game that’s been all but forgotten in the last few console generations. Given the minds behind it, I have a lot of confidence they’ll be able to pull it off. Really, there’s no reason why Yooka-Laylee wouldn’t be my most anticipated game of 2016.
Yooka-Laylee, the Kickstarter darling from Playtonic Games, has already gained an impressive following for its ambitions to revive the 3D platforming genre of the N64 days. It’s also aiming to resurrect the old video game tradition of having two heroes share the spotlight. This got me thinking of some of the other great video game duos over the years, so I decided to compile a list of the top 10 twosomes in gaming.
The only real qualification for this list was that the two characters have to share in their adventures together. They can be two equal heroes or a hero/sidekick combo, but they have to both brave their adventures on a somewhat even level. Solid Snake and Otacon won’t be here, for example, because while Otacon may help Snake in some valuable ways, it’s usually from the sidelines.
Also, as much as I already love them, Yooka and Laylee won’t be here for the obvious reason that their game isn’t anywhere near release. Only established games for now.
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.