Although it seems hard to believe now because of their recent missteps, back in the ‘90s, the Twycross-based company Rareware (or Rare for short) were huge players in the gaming industry. And when it came to colourful platforming adventures, they were the king. Anyone who disagrees has clearly never had the experience of placing a Donkey Kong Country 3 cartridge into a Nintendo 64 console and experiencing the joy of watching the lovable primate squish some pesky crocodiles with his huge feet.
So firstly, some history: Rare were founded in 1985 and immediately formed a close business relationship with Nintendo. The Big-N assigned the Big-R to develop the next game starring everyone’s big ape, Donkey Kong. Released in 1994, Donkey Kong Country was a big hit, and was followed by two hugely successful sequels. They then went on to create their very own beloved series, Banjo-Kazooie, which again captured their platforming magic.
But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows and cute fuzzy critters, Hell no! In 1999, Rare started working on an all new platformer featuring Conker, the adorable little squirrel who appeared in the GBA Color game Conker’s Pocket Tales and was also a guest star in Diddy Kong Racing. However, seeing as by this point, they’d already developed a ton of cutesy platformers, something clearly snapped in the minds of the devs and they decided to rebrand what would have been something aimed at a general audience into Conker’s Bad Fur Day, a balls to the wall M rated experience that featured a boss made out of poop with an adversity for toilet paper. Yup, Rare had taken it to the max. They also ventured into new territory for a while to develop Goldeneye and Perfect Dark, two of the most acclaimed first-person shooters ever to have been released.
Then the dark days came. Nintendo sold Rare to Microsoft in 2002, and things just went downhill from there. Rare’s last game on a Nintendo system was Star Fox Adventures, which was clearly rushed out the door before Microsoft’s acquisition of the company was complete, resulting in something that felt half-baked at best. After its release, they were only allowed to develop handheld titles on Nintendo systems. Then in 2005, the well-received Perfect Dark Zero made it to the Xbox 360, but before long, it became clear that Microsoft simply did not value them as a company and demoted them to developing oddball titles like Grabbed by the Ghoulies and more recently, Kinect Sports. Sigh.
And while Rare did have some more success stories under Microsoft with games like Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts and the original Viva Piñata (which was seemingly only released to spawn a franchise of party game spinoffs to cash in on the success that Nintendo were having with similar titles on the Wii at the time), these were indeed dark days for the company known for its colorful adventures.
Some Rare employees clearly felt that they’d had enough, so they decided to leave and launch a Kickstarter for a new game called Yooka-Laylee under a new production team called Playtonic Games. They included Perfect Dark programmer Jens Restemeier, Donkey Kong Country and Banjo Kazooie environmental designer Steven Hurst, and Donkey Kong 64 lead artist Mark Stevenson, and the campaign ended with an incredible £2,090,104. This kind of practice has become commonplace today for devs who become tired of their treatment from larger publishers and leave to kickstart projects that are essentially spiritual successors to the franchises that made them famous in the first place.
Keiji Inafune left Capcom to Kickstart Mighty No.9, and Koji Igarashi left Konami to Kickstart Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (seeing how insane Konami have become as of late, I’m surprised that they never took legal action). And Just as Mighty No.9 is a spiritual successor to Mega-Man (or at least it was supposed to be) and Bloodstained is a spiritual successor to Castlevania, Yooka-Laylee is a Rare platforming adventure without officially being a Rare platforming adventure. Sure, it won’t display their logo at the beginning or have any official ties to the company, but it is still, in body and spirit, a Rareware production that they themselves described as a Rare-vival. And a mighty fine looking one at that.
So, to describe Yooka-Laylee, he’s basically a lizard who can jump really high. And there’s a duck who wears a helmet filled with water and, yeah, don’t ask me to explain it. It’s a Rare platformer with a cast of crazy characters, so do you really need to know any more? They may not be able to use Banjo or Donkey Kong, but this is just as good.
There’s obviously no pesky publisher interference, so they can make Yooka-Laylee however they want. If they want to make a game with a duck wearing a water-filled helmet on his head, then by God they’re gonna make a game with a duck wearing a water-filled helmet on his head!