Is Yooka-Laylee Priming Collect-a-thons for a Comeback?

Will the upcoming platformer mark a return to an old trend in the gaming industry?

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 05/22/2015 10:00 1 Comment     ShareThis

Up until the waning days of PlayStation 2 and GameCube, third-person adventure-platformers were a dominant fixture of the video game landscape. From Banjo-Kazooie to Ratchet & Clank, traversing three-dimensional environments questing for trinkets and baubles in great numbers was as prevalent as headshots and kill streaks are today. These titles were dubbed “collect-a-thons” by many a player, but while some might use that moniker for purely descriptive purposes, others use it as an insult. Though Super Mario 64 successfully ushered in 3D gameplay on home consoles, the ensuing legions of copycats that followed slowly but surely began to water down its initial concept. These diminishing returns were, ironically, the result of trying to make each subsequent 3D platformer bigger and badder than the last.

Perhaps no greater example of this heavy-handed approach was Rare’s Donkey Kong 64. Though by no means a bad game, it’s undeniable that there are a heck of a lot of things to collect, possibly too much. Golden Bananas, Banana Coins, Blueprints, and on and on. The title certainly provided a lot of gameplay for the price of admission, but even DK 64‘s most ardent supporters have to take a step back and ask if perhaps some of the title’s glut of content would have been better off left on the cutting room floor. Beyond this issue of over-saturation, there was also a feeling that the genre was being inundated with obnoxious mascot characters. Some, like Conker from Rare’s Conker’s Bad Fur Day, managed to separate themselves with unique personalities and game concepts, but the overarching sense was that these third-person adventure games were skewed toward a very young audience.

PlayStation and Nintendo 64 were the golden era of mascot-driven 3D platformers, but the games persisted even into the console generation after that. Some of the last of these titles were helmed by characters like Tak and Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, and though they certainly had their fans, by the time PlayStation 3, Wii, and Xbox 360 hit stands, the genre was very much in its twilight. Outside of Nintendo and the aforementioned Ratchet & Clank series, the collect-a-thon has been largely absent, relegated to throwaway licensed cartoon games. The titles in the genre that do appear are generally more focused affairs, with less of an emphasis on collecting multiple widgets and more on the platforming itself. While titles like Super Mario Galaxy and Tearaway have shown how much potential third-person adventure-platformers still have, the industry has been slow to capitalize on it.

Things are starting to change, however. Skylanders and Disney Infinity, two toys-to-life franchises, have successfully made use of mascots both new and old to lure in players. The various Lego releases have been enjoying success playing in the collect-a-thon sandbox for years now. The gameplay of today’s titles is more action-oriented than some of the collect-a-thons of old, but their spirit is alive and well in these new games. There’s one title on the horizon, however, that might really fan the flames of the platformers of yesterday, and that game is Yooka-Laylee. Developer Playtonic Games, comprised of Rare expatriates, took to Kickstarter with the intent of raising $270,000 to fund the game; the project was funded in under an hour, and reached a million dollars faster than any previous video game effort on Kickstarter. The title is now sitting pretty with over $2.5 million raised and 28 days to go. Talk about a mic drop. The oft overused concept of nostalgia can only be leaned on so much when trying to explain this huge outpouring of support. It’s clear that fans miss the platformers they used to play, and are anxious to get a crack at them once more.

Yooka-Laylee is one game, and we have yet to see anything close to a final build of the title, but there’s no denying how exciting the prospect of getting more Banjo-Kazooie, if only tangentially, is. If Super Mario 3D World and Tearaway have shown fans anything in recent years, it’s that current-gen hardware can work graphical wonders beyond the dusty haze of smoke and dirt swirling around the theater of war. The prospect of using all this console muscle for something vivid and fantastical is irresistible. A big thrill of playing a collect-a-thon came from exploring the giant worlds contained within. These games take players to places that exist beyond reality, and deliver some unforgettable visuals as a result. I know I can’t forget the first time I took flight in Super Mario 64, soaring through the sky down to the pillar far below. Entering the maw of a giant, rusting metal shark in Banjo-Kazooie was similarly mesmerizing. The first time I saw my own face staring back at me from the sky in Tearaway was a surreal and inspiring moment.

If Yooka-Laylee proves to be a hit critically and commercially, who knows what the future might hold. Indie developers have been proving the viability of 2D platformers for quite a while now with games like Shovel Knight and Azure Striker Gunvolt, so it’s entirely possible that the 3D variety of the genre, complete with giant-eyed lizards and bats in tow, could be ready for the limelight once more. Nintendo continues to make strides in this department, obviously, but to see other developers playing with the genre in earnest yet again is something that fans should relish the thought of. There’s no sign that the grim, hyper-realistic titles of today are going anywhere, but maybe Yooka-Laylee can make way for games of its ilk to exist in harmony with them.

One Response to “Is Yooka-Laylee Priming Collect-a-thons for a Comeback?”

  • 402 points
    geoffrey says...

    I’m just desperately hoping they avoid the mistakes of Banjo-Tooie; the levels in that game were just simply too large for what was in them. Getting from A to B to get a Jiggy took way too long.

    I’m hoping things land somewhere between BK and BT. Some of BK’s levels were a little on the small side (be quiet Click Clock Wood, of course I don’t mean you), but so many of BT’s were just way too sprawling.

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