Over the past seven years or so ago we’ve seen a movement that could easily be labeled as the rise of the independent game developer. With the popularization of social media and digital store fronts like Steam and GoG, developers, amateur and professional alike, have found ways of reaching and connecting with audiences all around the world that don’t require the traditional gaming publishing system. But by far the greatest asset to the independent developer has been the advent of crowd funding websites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Patreon. With websites like these, developers have been able to get the funding for the innovative games they want to make, that the risk averse AAA publishers are less willing to get behind. Backing from such sites has seen the development and release of critical and commercial hits like The Banner Saga, Wasteland 2 and Pillars of Eternity and several upcoming games like Star Citizen, The Banner Saga 3 and Bloodstain: Ritual of the Night. And today we’re here to talk about the most recent release from such a crowd funded game; the Playtonic game, Yooka-Laylee.
The plot revolves around a lizard and a bat named Yooka and Laylee who find a mysterious book in the inside of an old pirate ship that they have decided to make their new home. Not long after a corporation under the leadership of an anthropomorphic bee named Capital B activates a machine that sucks all the books in the world into his headquarters, The Hivory Towers, in order to convert all the world’s literature into pure profit and for some reason covets the book that Yooka and Laylee possess. When said book is taken by the machine the pages, or Pagies, flee the book as they contain magical properties. The two follow the book and must explore the various Grand Tome worlds to find all the Pagies, rebuild the book, and defeat Capital B.
Now to fully understand my criticism of the gameplay design you need to understand the genera that Yooka-Laylee is trying, (and in my opinion succeeded), to emulate and why that gameplay style more or less died out in the mid-2000s. The actual genera seemed to have reached its peak in the late 90s with several solid games and franchises soaring in both sales and ratings. These franchises included Banjo-Kazooie, Crash Bandicoot, Super Mario 64 and my personal favorite, Spyro the Dragon. These were great games franchises that were different enough so as not to oversaturate the market but all had some fundamental similarities.
Today trying to find a game that will occupy your time for a good 20/30 hours isn’t exactly hard. You could literally close your eyes in a GameStop, spin around ten times and grab the first thing that you fall into and probably get that amount of time out of said game. But back when these franchises were at their heights, this wasn’t always the case. Creating vast worlds with tons of unique quests and optional content was far more difficult. This was not only due to the astronomical cost that it would put on the developers and publishers but the very simple fact that you literally couldn’t fit that much content on the disk or cartridge. To counter this problem, the developers would often cram in as many simple, item hunting themed quests that they could into the individual worlds, as this was far less taxing on the developers and data space then say building an entire new world or putting together a whole new plot thread. This is why, for example, in the original Spyrotrilogy you had to get every single gem and special item in the game in order to get the true endings. Or why the Crash Bandicoot games forced you to go through the same level multiple times for its special items to complete the game. Or how Banjo-Kazooie made you do everything the game had to offer before you could watch the end credits roll. But then technology advanced and not only were diverse and varied worlds and quests more feasible, but expected from the consumer. Long running item hunts became side quests for XP, money or a special item and the industry stopped building entire games around the concept. And this, sadly, is where Yooka-Laylee made its biggest blunder.
Having a game that revolves entirely around collecting items is no longer fun. Jumping around platforms that would only be hard to reach if the controls were broken is no longer fun. Going through entire obstacle courses only to discover that you don’t have the proper move to progress is no longer fun. Going back to this area across a rather large world to discover that it only has a single Pagie past a simple platform is no longer fun. Constantly backtracking across these worlds to find that one obscure item that you missed but needed to progress is no longer fun. Having to get a ridiculously high number of collectable items to fight the final boss is no longer fun. Constantly doing simple yet frustrating puzzles is no longer fun. In summary, these kinds of games ARE. NO. LONGER. FUN.
Now I’m sure that for some people this is exactly what they were looking for. They longed for something that can help them recapture the magic of their childhoods and I can’t say that this game didn’t affect me at all in this regard. Unfortunately, the crushing simplicity of it all coupled with the constant backtracking that revolved around collectables was just too much for me. I didn’t hate the game by any means. In fact, I wouldn’t object to the idea of playing it again nor allowing my nephew to play it when he gets old enough. But it did affect me on a deeper level in a way that makes me uncomfortable. It made me take a good hard look at the older 3D platformers that I loved as a kid and realize that they do not hold up. That they do not, in fact represent the best that the console generation had to offer. That, in fact, the big gaming publisher may have been right to let the genera die off. And that thought sends a chill down to my very soul.
Or Follow Us On…