Yooka-Laylee's entire reason-to-be is based on a desire to resurrect the spirit of 17-year-old 3D adventure Banjo-Kazooie. The game's successful Kickstarter campaign was almost entirely about Rare's classic platformer, and the Playtonic team's connection with that venerable game.
So it's interesting to hear Yooka-Laylee's makers now going to some lengths to explain the many ways in which their game is not like Banjo.
"We're trying to make something fresh," says Grant Kirkhope, the BAFTA-winning composer of the game, who also created Banjo's superb soundtrack and audio effects. "It's not just a retro remake."
Obviously, Playtonic is made up of people who worked on Banjo and who loved making that game. The company is home to many former Rare creatives who are seeking to bring back some of the magic that seems to have dissipated these last few years. The high-regard with which Banjo is held is the major contributing factor to the $3.2 million is attracted through its recently concluded crowdfunding campaign.
"It's not just a retro remake."
But 1998 was a long time ago. It would be strange indeed if Yooka-Laylee's only ambition was to replicate its spiritual ancestor.
"It was very important for us, with the Kickstarter, to have a lot of the Banjo-Kazooie-isms front and center, because that's what we were selling," says Playtonic's Andy Robinson. "We're the core Banjo team and we're making a spiritual successor. When people went to that page, they saw a buddy duo in a colorful jungle world collecting things while a tune played that sounded like Banjo-Kazooie.
"But the team isn't satisfied to trade on nostalgia. We don't want to make a knockoff. It's about capturing a tone and a style of game more than it's about just replicating everything. They want to do new stuff now."
While Banjo featured jigsaw-piece puzzles as collectibles that allowed the player to progress to new levels, Yooka-Laylee has collectable pages that complete a book, which is obviously a very similar activity. But they also have Play Tonics, an RPG-like mechanism that unlocks new character powers that the player can select. This is a significant addition, because it changes how each level can be completed by players, carrying different abilities.
"The collectibles in the game need to be meaningful," says Robinson. "Play Tonics bring in a player choice element. You can equip one or two of them and they'll have game-changing properties. You might go for more damage or be able to glide further or swim for longer. Not only does that have a player choice impact on how you play, but you could have some secrets in the game that you'll only be able to get with those choices.
'We're picking out the best bits."
Yooka-Laylee's designer Gavin Price worked as a tester on Donkey Kong 64, back in the 1990s. Other team members worked on Rare's Donkey Kong games. Robinson says that series is also a major inspiration. "DKC was the precursor to Banjo-Kazooie. There are elements of that we want to put in as well. We have mine car sections and retro mini-games that can be unlocked in each world."
According to Kirkhope, a common question from many backers and fans is whether or not Yooka-Laylee's villain will be a witch who speaks in rhyme, like Banjo's fondly-recalled Gruntilda.
"There's no witch," he laughs. "We're picking out the best bits of the Banjo games and bringing them forward, adding new ideas." He points out that there have been many advances in game design since Banjo, not the least of which "amazing 3D platformers like Mario Galaxy and Ratchet and Clank."
Likewise, character design has come a long way. Banjo himself had a fairly limited repertoire of bear-like moves, such as the powerful swipe. But Yooka is a lizard with lots of lizard-esque powers such as a long tongue that can be used to swing, camouflage and a strong tail.
"We asked ourselves, which kinds of creatures would have interesting moves?" says Robinson. "Hopefully, in the final game, it'll be a bit more interesting to play than in the past."
Laylee, a bat, doesn't just fly, but can also use sonar as a tactical tool.
Indeed, the use of audio, which was a big deal in Banjo, is being significantly expanded in Yooka-Laylee. Collectable characters such as the Ghost Writers can often only be found using audio.
A lot of the difference comes down to technology. Many of Banjo's sound effects were audio repetitions that were embedded in the soundtrack, in order to save on memory.
"There's tons of stuff I couldn't do then that I can do now," says Kirkhope. "Back then you only had 16 tracks of music. Now I can just do what I like. It'll be way more vibrant and way more interactive."
Of course, while the Nintendo 64 was a lovely console, and while Banjo was one of its best games, the fact is that today's games machines offer vastly more potential for designers to use.
A quick play-through of a Yooka-Laylee level reveals big picture stuff like multiple and complex systems of floating platforms as well as details in shadows, lighting and foliage movement. The characters move swiftly and tightly. It's shaping up to be a really good 3D platformer.
Yooka-Laylee is coming out on Windows PC, iOS, Linux, PlayStation 4, Wii U and Xbox One at the end of next year. There are obviously very many similarities between this game and its spiritual predecessor. But the most important things Yooka-Laylee needs to bring back from its Banjo heritage are not so much the nano-details of specific types of characters or collectibles or puzzles, but a satisfying level design and a sense of humor, magic and wonder.