It would be a colossal understatement to say that post-Nintendo Rare has had its share of problems. What was once a bastion for imagination in platforming has become a withered shell of itself bathed in both mystery and fan disapproval. As Rare fell, so did their bread-and-butter genre: the 3D collect-a-thon platformer. But out from the shadows comes Playtonic Games, a development studio composed of Rare alumni, and Yooka-Laylee, the new title that rose from the ashes of the failed Mingy Jongo project. Playtonic have earned enormous success on Kickstarter within days of going live, checking off stretch goals like nobody’s business. But with rumors of Rare revisiting their iconic platformer duo Banjo-Kazooie, it seems that the bear and bird could be returning, perhaps even in platformer form. But can that work? Can Banjo and Kazooie rise again, even with a new duo ready to go, and what could it mean for Playtonic?
The fall of Rare after they were bought by Microsoft has become legendary. After middling success on Xbox, the Xbox 360 lifestyle quickly turned things even more south for the once-acclaimed company. While Perfect Dark Zero and Kinect Sports had their detractors, it’s Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts that solidified the negativity of the company. After critically acclaimed platformers on the Nintendo 64, Rare threw everyone for a loop with Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, a game that not once felt like a platformer. Sure, the vehicle construction elements were functional and admittedly clever, but that bait-and-switch damaged Rare’s reputation significantly. Banjo-Kazooie earned even more negativity when rumors that a Kinect game with Banjo and Kazooie surfaced. While it turned out to only be a tech demo, it didn’t erase the distrust that the gaming community had for Rare, who clearly didn’t know what the original fans were looking for.
But with more rumors appearing of a non-Kinect Banjo-Kazooie game, Rare is flung into the spotlight once more. Could they be bringing Banjo and crew back to their roots? Quite honestly, it would make sense to. The 3D collect-a-thon platformer is making a comeback. Games like FreezeME, A Hat in Time, and yes, Yooka-Laylee are demonstrating that this genre is no longer niche. It couldn’t be a more perfect time for a new 3D platformer to appear; the attention is exactly where it should be. But can it be done? It actually could, and ideally, it should. Banjo and Kazooie have always thrived in their 3D platformer element, and without any vehicles to distract, creating a new Banjo-Kazooie game that’s just like the originals isn’t out of Rare’s league. I even said that before.
If Microsoft were to greenlight a new Banjo-Kazooie platformer from Rare, it could be a worthwhile challenger for Yooka-Laylee. However, the people who worked on the classic Banjo-Kazooie platformers wouldn’t be making this new Banjo-Kazooie game; they’re all over at Playtonic now, making the very game that’s taking the crown away from the old guard. Banjo-Kazooie as characters might still have some appeal to the nostalgic fans, but now that the community is older, we know where the talent is and it’s over at Playtonic.
But that’s not to say that a new Banjo-Kazooie game would be bad. Far from it: Rare is no stranger to having fresh talent lead their old franchises back to glory (look at Killer Instinct). But that’s heavily dependent on that new team’s vision. Playtonic, on the other hand, have proven themselves with a legendary history and near-spotless record. They made the games that we want today’s Rare to make, and without that cavalcade of talent running Rare, a new Banjo-Kazooie game could be a desperate appeal instead of a creative vision.
To make matters worse, Rare and Microsoft have lost a lot of confidence in gaming community. Nuts and Bolts remains a poorly designed game, but also a total exodus of trust. Gamers feel betrayed by this 180, and getting that trust back isn’t easy. Rare’s constant secrecy isn’t making things better either, as whatever they’ve been developing over the last few years has yet to have a concrete reveal. Rare isn’t in a good position to make assumptions of what gamers want, even if their former employees are leading the gaming community forward with tantalizing teases of an era long gone.
A Banjo-Kazooie game from Rare in 2015 could be good. I’m not ousting the idea of a quality platformer in a time when the genre is back in the public eye.The main competition of that idea is staring them right in the face, however, continuing to earn both funding and public attention. Yooka-Laylee is not something that Rare can compete with. Not right now. The planets are aligned to create a fond throwback to the collect-a-thon platformer days of the ’90s, a genre that Rare left behind more than 15 years ago. If anything, a new Banjo-Kazooie game from Rare would be interesting, maybe even good. But Rare has missed too many chances to snatch gamers’ attention so easily. They would need consistent crowd-pleasers, a string of successes to get back on top of their throne. The old guard is coming back and they’re gonna show 2015 Rare how it’s done.