Playtonic: breaking bat - Games Weekly

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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Playtonic: breaking bat

Once upon a time the 3D platformer was king. Back when dinosaurs ruled the earth and cavemen were filling their memory cards with ISS goal replays, Ape Escape’s primates, Spyro and a bandicoot in jorts dominated. And that was just on the PlayStation side of the fence.

If you peered into Nintendo’s porch in the late ‘90s you’d have found Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie capturing hearts, minds and thumbs. Well, thanks to the enduring legacy of that bear and breegull, the 3D platformer is set to make a spectacular return on PS4. Don’t call it a comeback…

Enter Yooka-Laylee: a bold reimagining of the sort of platformer Rare used to make in its Nintendo-affiliated heyday. Colourful worlds where brown is a naughty word. A cheeky cartoon duo who share a double-team moveset. Collectibles to be hoovered up and double jumps to be nailed. These are the staples this Kickstarter title is promising, hinting at a return to a golden genre rarely seen on PlayStation since Jak & Daxter gobbled up a bunch of Precursor Orbs to define their Legacy.
A bold reimagining of 3d platforming from rare’s heyday.
Hmmm, that chameleon/bat pairing sure looks familiar, huh? That’s because Yooka-Laylee is being brought to you by some of the key minds behind Banjo-Kazooie, Goldeneye 007 and Donkey Kong 64. With such rich heritage to mine, the game is wisely looking to the past while attempting to forge an exciting new dawn for a long dormant genre.

Just The Tonic
“I’ve been gagging to make this game for 15 years,” Gavin Price excitedly tells us. Price is managing director at Playtonic Games, a brand new studio comprised of ex-Rare developers. Though this may be many of the team’s first dance in the rolling hills of PlayStation, their work on Nintendo 64 is legendary; the likes of Banjo and his chums helping to define a generation with its playful British wit and warmly created platforming worlds. “The tone of the gameplay is the key thing that we want to leverage from the characters we’ve had in the past,” Price admits during our chat.

Not that Playtonic is content to ride the coattails of Rare’s past glories. Indeed, the team is determined to make Yooka-Laylee’s titular stars (the lizard is the former, the bat the latter) markedly different from a certain dimwitted honey bear. “We wanted them to stand out on their own,” says Price. “The bat’s going to be the crazier, cheekier one and the chameleon’s more sensible.”

Crucially, this new dynamic duo actually behave much more like animals. Case in point: the chameleon can adopt the textures of its surroundings. “Go across a windy ledge, eat a big rock and you’d see him go all ‘rock-textured’; all of his movements would be more forced, slower and solid because he’s heavier,” reveals Price. “There’s going to be tons of different moves that really take advantage of the exact type of animals that they are,”he continues. “As much as I love Banjo, he never did anything that said ‘I’m a bear’. He was basically a human in a bear costume!”

When it comes to world-building, Playtonic is also keen to branch out from what’s been done in the past. Levels are accessed from a central hub area, but rather than follow classic tropes do one, lava levels stages are informed by literature. “They’re contained within these large magical books,” says Price.

Pagies Turner 
Interestingly, you can branch and grow these levels out by collecting items called Pagies (no, that’s not a typo). The aim is to give the player more agency over the world, while, “de-linearising,” the experience.  “You go into a world and it’ll start off more similar to a Banjo-Kazooie level in terms of scope, size and complexity. But then you spend your Pagies to expand the current world or use them to unlock a future one.”

With the game currently up and running in Unity, Yooka-Laylee is currently looking for backers on Kickstarter ahead of what will surely be a nostalgia-packed PS4 outing.

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