Ahh, the 1990s; the days of Saturday morning cartoons, and more importantly, some of the great video games ever. When Super Mario 64 hit the scene in 1996, Nintendo knew that they had something special. Soon after, so did everybody else. And thus, from the late 90’s to the mid-2000s sprang a great genre of gaming; the 3D platformer. However, the genre dissipated, it seemed, just as quickly as it rose to power.
Throughout most of the past decade, first-person shooters have absolutely dominated the mainstream gaming world. Sure, there have been spats of other genres that take over from time to time (see here: JRPGs and Survival Horror) but nothing could take down the shooter genre. Until now, that is. Recently, there has been a resurgence in the 3D platformer world, outside of just the Mario series. But there’s just one little problem; maybe the renaissance isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
The 3D Platformer Renaissance – A Double-Edged Sword
Let’s Talk About Yooka-Laylee
An Origin Story
Let’s start with the elephant in the room here. That’s right folks, it’s Yooka-Laylee. Created by the not-so-upstart company Playtonic Games, Yooka-Laylee was originally just a Kickstarter campaign. And just like most Kickstarter campaigns that you’ve actually heard of, this thing totally blew up.
Playtonic’s original goal was £175,000 ($235,900). And the campaign ended up raising a total of £2,090,104 ($2817460.19) from over 73,000 backers. Needless to say, the Kickstarter did incredibly well, and people had high hopes for Yooka-Laylee. So, did Playtonic fulfill their platforming promises? Well, I guess it depends on who you ask.
According to Steam Reviews, Yooka-Laylee is a 9/10. But, according to Gamespot.com, it’s only about a 6/10. If you ask this writer, though, he might tell you that even Gamespot rates the title too highly. I don’t mean to turn this into a review but I do need to express my feelings here.
The Problems with Yooka-Laylee
First of all, Yooka-Laylee certainly does its job quite well. In truth, it does capture the feel of a 1990’s 3D Platformer pretty much spot-on. But maybe that’s one of the problems here; that word, “classic.” See, one of the biggest problems with this game is the fact that it came out in 2017, and it already feels dated. While a big aim of the game was to be a nostalgia trip, that’s all it is. And that simply will not fly; just ask the Ratchet and Clank movie. (The rebooted game was great, though).
There’s really no uber-innovative gameplay here, and it kinda just feels like a modernized re-skin of Banjo-Kazooie. And look, I get it. I get that these are literally the same people that made Banjo. But the fact that there is basically nothing new here is pretty bothersome, and gets tiring really quickly. Along with that, the levels are just a bit too big, and again, there just isn’t enough innovation for 2017 standards. It feels frozen in time. But enough complaining. I mentioned that this whole 3D renaissance is a double-edge sword, right? So where does the positive edge come in? Well, right here.
The Silver Lining and Where Yooka-Laylee Shines
As Vaas from Far Cry 3 will tell you, doing the exact same thing over and over again and expecting things to change is called insanity. And unfortunately, this is a trap that Playtonic games fell into. Really, Yooka-Laylee could have been the “killer app” to put the 3D platforming genre back on the map. However, it fell into the pitfall of being stuck in the late 1990’s. While the 90s were a great time for the platformer and video games as a whole, the gaming climate has changed. But truthfully, the design failures of Playtonic’s debut game is where the beauty in all of this lies.
A Learning Experience
As mentioned before, the gaming climate has changed since the release of Banjo-Kazooie. And you know who has lived through that climate changing and has learned from it? All these little indie developers popping up and creating new 3D platformers and creative games. More specifically, Gears for Breakfast and StudioMDHR come to mind immediately. It’s not a 3D platformer, but I already touched upon StudioMDHR’s current work, Cuphead. As for Gears for Breakfast, they’ve been working on a game known as A Hat In Time, which is a platformer. If you haven’t heard of A Hat In Time, please take the time to give it a look.
The people who work for Gears for Breakfast know exactly what makes 3D platformers tick, and how to make great ones. Why? Well, they grew up playing the great ones by companies like Nintendo and Rareware. And they, and other companies can now use Playtonic’s less-than-perfect work as a learning experience. In truth, Playtonic can use their own work as a learning experience as well.
Yooka-Laylee might have had two edges to its sword, but little did they know that both sides can be of great use to them. In time, the better side of this genre’s sword will no doubt become sharper and sharper. Playtonic and other companies making games like this can learn from their own mistakes. Isn’t that what mistakes are for?
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