Yooka-Laylee is the debut title from Playtonic Games. It is a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie and a love letter to “buddy-duo” platformers. Yooka-Laylee’s inception was in 2012 when former developers from acclaimed studio Rare decided they wanted to create another iteration of Banjo-Kazzoie. The project was put on hold for a few years until it resurfaced in 2015 as Project Ukelele. A new studio christened Playtonic Games was founded to bring the creation to life.
On May 1, 2015, Playtonic launched their official Kickstarter campaign. Within the first hour the game hit its modest initial goal of £175,000 (roughly just over $215,000). Within six hours it had raised over £1,000,000, making Yooka-Laylee the quickest funded game in Kickstarter history at that time. The campaign concluded with total contributions surpassing £2,000,000. The initial release date was scheduled for October 2016, but was pushed to April 2017 to allow for more polish and finishing touches.
From the moment Yooka-Laylee was officially announced, Playtonic has maintained a level of transparency and fan interaction that’s unmatched. What started as a small studio of ex-Rare developers has blossomed into a thriving studio nurturing talent, both new and seasoned. The studio has appeared at many major game conferences in the past two years, promoting their game, showing it off, and collecting feedback. Throughout development, the fans were treated to character teasers, level concepts, and music. This community engagement kept Yooka-Laylee relevant from the day it was funded to the day it released. When nostalgia for the classic bird-and-bear was mixed with Playtonic’s charming marketing, it’s no surprise the hype for this game reached a fever pitch.
Crowdfunding is becoming a normal medium to revive a beloved series (albeit under a new coat of paint and possibly a new name). Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and Shenmue 3 come to mind. Those two games are still in development, meaning their potential is infinite. Like Yooka-Laylee, they aim to recreate a very specific type of video game experience. Before Yooka-Laylee, there was another high profile crowdfunded game called Mighty No. 9, the “spiritual successor” to classic Mega Man games…
Mighty No. 9 concluded its Kickstarter campaign at just over $3,800,000. The numbers alone drew a lot of attention. Soon after development began, the studio Comcept Inc was mired in controversy as backers believed they were not getting what they were promised: a Mega Man game with a facelift. Some even threatened to pull their pledges. Delay after delay only added to frustrations, and when the game finally launched, it was unrecognizable. There were only hints of the inspiration. After Mighty No. 9’s disappointing conclusion, it was difficult not to associate the failure to other upcoming crowdfunded games.
That’s why the industry needs Playtonic and Yooka-Laylee. Yooka-Laylee delivered exactly what was promised. This game was created for fans of a specific genre, and it embodies it through and through. Players that didn’t like buddy-duo platformers back in the day probably won’t like it now. Yooka-Laylee isn’t revolutionary, but it’s filling a need that’s been vacant for too long. There are plenty of frustrations (particularly with the camera), but these are outweighed by the heart of the game. Playtonic took a risk to give fans what they wanted, and that risk has paid off. From the lame puns and ridiculous characters to the googly-eyed inanimate objects, Yooka-Laylee is the game the industry has been waiting for. It’ll be exciting to see what other forgotten series get the revival treatment, and if any other will match up to Yooka-Laylee.
Playtonic has the set the bar for modern game development, crowdfunded or not. They knew their audience, they listened to fans, and created a beautiful game. Playtonic didn’t just reinvent the wheel, they reinvented the game studio.