Yooka-Laylee Has Gone Gold

Yooka-Laylee Has Gone Gold

With a little over two months left before release, Playtonic Games announced that they completed development on Yooka-Laylee and have officially gone gold.

The impressive milestone comes at the end of what would soon be a two year development cycle after the game was successfully backed on Kickstarter in 2015. The game ended its fan-funded campaign with over $3.2 million USD collected, making it one of the highest funded games Kickstarter has hosted. The original campaign goal was a mere $260,000.

“We couldn’t have reached this moment without the incredible support of our backers, fans, family and friends across the games industry,” stated Platonic Games in an official update on their website. “Thanks again for your unwavering enthusiasm for our studio. We hope you enjoy Yooka-Laylee when it releases on April 11!”

Yooka-Laylee aims to be the spiritual successor to the fan-favorite Banjo-Kazooie series. The game is set to being back the long lost genre of 3D platforming and collectathons, sporting similar characters, themes, and visuals to classic Rare franchises. Playtonic Games itself was formed by former Rare employees and continues to bring them over, including Justin Cook, the former Viva Pinata designer who was revealed to be joining the team in today’s announcement.

Despite Rare releasing games primarily on Nintendo consoles, Playtonic Games will have Yooka-Laylee available on wide variety of platforms. With the recent unveiling of the Nintendo Switch, Playtonic Games has announced that Yooka-Laylee will also be released on the upcoming system, and backers can change their desired platform by following this guide. A Wii U version was also planned but was cancelled shortly after the Nintendo Switch was announced. Those who were affected by the change can request a refund.

Yooka-Laylee is set to release on Apr. 11, 2017 on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Windows, Mac, Linux, and Nintendo Switch.

 

Rare Replay (Xbox One) Review

Rare Replay (Xbox One) Review

The more I play Rare Replay the more I can’t help marvelling at how refreshingly ballsy Microsoft has become over the past two years. Literally announced and released atop of some recent, major sea-changing Xbox One backwards-compatibility announcements at E3 2015 and Gamescom 2015 respectively, this massive anthology of Rare games is two fantastic things at once. First, it’s auspicious: 30 Rare games in a collection that proudly commemorates Rare’s 30 years in the industry for the low price of $30 CAD, precisely at a time that Microsoft has been publicly refocusing its efforts on games and new original IP (including Rare’s recently revealed Sea of Thieves). For Microsoft, that’s the equivalent dropping the mic, walking off stage backwards with arms outstretched and saying, “What you got, Sony?” Second, it’s clever: with over a third of its included titles requiring Xbox 360 emulation in order to be played, Rare Replay provides an inexpensive early taste of the Xbox One’s new backward-compatibility feature for everyone, which otherwise is only available to gamers in the Xbox One Preview program and is set to roll out for all Xbox One owners in November—giving gamers plenty of reason to check it out. Message received, Microsoft. So, is Rare Replay worth revisiting on Xbox One for the first time?
rarereplayinsert1As mentioned earlier, Rare Replay is a celebration of Rare’s 30 years in the art and business of making interactive entertainment. In trademark tongue-in-cheek fashion, Rare has literally taken this theme and run with it, presenting the collection as a classic stage variety show (think vaudeville), where the games are the evening’s performing acts. Rare even went as far to create a CG intro to this effect, complete with its own Muppet Show-like theme song. Meanwhile, the interface for selecting the game you want to play is the equivalent of walking through an art gallery while observing portraits hung on the walls, which are in turn themselves windows to smaller performance stages showcasing each title using game footage, original art assets, and sprites. The whole production seems a bit confused thematically as to what it ultimately wants to be. From a functional UI standpoint however, it works, and there are other nice touches as well. Every game’s main theme song has been updated and remastered for its respective “stage” (i.e. intro screen), and the previously mentioned art assets and game footage backdrops create animated papercraft sequences that visually recapture the essence of the game you are about to play. Old 8-bit games such as Jetpac and Cobra Triangle feature useful cheats and tricks in their options menu, such as infinite continues, CRT scanline filters, and the ability to toggle on/or off rewinding up to 10 seconds of game progress at any time by using the left analog stick. Finally, achieving certain milestones in the game will award players with stamps on their “admission ticket” that unlock various extras, including behind-the-scenes footage and concept art. And for completionists, “snapshot” and “playlist” challenges will have players chasing both Rare Replay and/or in-game achievements for hours on end.

Regardless of how long you’ve been gaming on Xbox consoles, the early 8-bit games in the anthology will likely feel the freshest by far, as many of them have never been released on the Xbox platform before. Depending on how long you’ve been gaming, you may never have even had the opportunity to play some of them unless you had a working ZX Spectrum, Vic 20, or Commodore 64 computer in your home. Of course, as is the case with many “golden age” titles, your of mileage these games will vary depending on the amount of love and appreciation you have for their old-school visuals, sounds, and rudimentary gameplay. Surprisingly, even as a former child of this era, I found Rare’s early entries, such as Jetpac, Atic Atac and Slalom (Rare’s first game for the NES) pretty difficult to stomach in all of these areas, and the difficulty (without using the infinite lives cheats that only some of 8-bit games provide) almost ensured that that they would not hold my attention for long. The initial disappointment was quickly washed away, though, as soon as I chose to revisit my old NES rivals, R.C. Pro Am, Cobra Triangle and Battletoads; three games that, in my opinion, established Rare’s vibrant graphical style and penchant for solid, addictive gameplay early on in the developer’s history. They all sound and play exactly as I remember them, and are all as unforgiving as they were back in the day as well. Yet somehow, just knowing that I could go into the options of either of the latter two games and toggle on infinite lives if I needed allowed me to keep my composure and avoid the controller-throwing incidents of my youth. On a related note, how I went through life without playing R.C. Pro Am II (also in this anthology) on the NES is a mystery. Better graphics, upgradeable vehicles, 4-player action, and thanks to Rare Replay, infinite continues. What’s not to like?

The anthology picks up steam in the 90’s with Battletoads Arcade (previously never released on a home console; most likely in part to its shocking amount of blood, gore and toilet humour) and a murderer’s row of games from Rare’s output on the Nintendo 64: Killer Instinct Gold, Blast Corps, the first two Banjo-Kazooie games, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Jet Force Gemini and the original Perfect Dark. While a number of these games have been released on Xbox consoles in the past in some form or another, the opportunity to own and play all these titles on Xbox One (complete with Achievements and other extras) makes Rare Replay worth the cost of admission alone, especially if you’ve never owned a Nintendo 64.

Finally, Rare Replay closes the show with the lion’s share of the developer’s output under the Microsoft first-party banner, including Grabbed by the Ghoulies, Kameo: Elements of Power, Perfect Dark Zero, both Viva Piñata games and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts. This last group I personally consider to be the unsung heroes of the collection, as they are likely to be overlooked by many Xbox gamers due to the fact that most have already been on the Xbox Live Marketplace for years, look exactly the same, and offer no new Achievements outside of those built in to Rare Replay’s UI. In other words, if you’ve already played any of these games on Xbox 360 and unlocked any in-game Achievements in them, those Achievements will already be unlocked in Rare Replay as well, which will be a bit of a damper for players looking for ways to boost their Gamerscore. Likewise, if you already own any of these games for Xbox 360 either digitally or physically, they will automatically be unlocked to download for free on your Xbox One (disc owners will obviously need to insert the 360 disc in order to play the digital version), slightly diminishing Rare Replay’s overall bang-for-the-buck if you are an avid Xbox collector. Of course, these are small complaints; Rare games such as Kameo, Perfect Dark Zero, Piñata and Nuts and Bolts may forever be overshadowed by their beloved predecessors on Nintendo’s platforms, but they were also among the first to usher console gamers into the HD generation and showcase its potential; no Rare compilation could be complete without them.
rarereplayinsert3Speaking of completion, this brings us to the only two flaws worth mentioning in the Rare Replay jewel. The first is that aforementioned Xbox 360 emulator allows for practically flawless backwards compatibility on Xbox One, but it’s not quite seamless. Essentially, firing up an Xbox 360 Rare Replay title kicks the player out of the Replay UI entirely and can take up to a minute before the Xbox 360 load-screen starts up, giving the transition a disjointed feel. In fact, since each emulated Xbox 360 game actually exists as a separate title on the Xbox One’s hard drive, players can choose to jump right into the emulated game without even starting Rare Replay, but if they choose to skip that step and/or play the game offline it’s possible that Rare Replay Achievements tied to the game being played may not be tracked. Again, these are minor inconveniences in respect to the greater whole, but it still takes some getting used to the idea of a game anthology as a “digital bundle of separate products” (Steam and the PC says hello). And while no one would ever have expected any of Rare’s Donkey Kong Country games to appear on a Microsoft console (because, Nintendo), I think it’s still fair to ask “Where the heck is GoldenEye 007”?

Anyway, here’s the bottom line: Anyone who picks up Rare Replay is going to feel as though they’ve actually stolen from Rare and Microsoft. Getting all these Rare classics for a buck apiece is tantamount to theft in this reviewer’s opinion. But upon playing this anthology, both Rare fans and the Rare-curious will also experience a product that is brimming with love, pride, and confidence in one’s brand that goes far beyond what we’ve come to expect from videogame collections. If you have an Xbox One and $30 burning a hole in your pocket, this is where it should be going.

 

Composer: Spiritual Successor to Banjo-Tooie Has Been Canceled

Composer: Spiritual Successor to Banjo-Tooie Has Been Canceled

After several years of speculation and occasional updates, it’s been confirmed that the once-rumored spiritual successor to Banjo-Tooie has officially been canceled.

Handled by a team of ex-Rare developers going by the name of Mingy Jongo, the game was intended to be a 3D platformer that, while not directly connected to the Banjo universe, borrowed the “same kind of humor, silly characters, fun gameplay, and all that stuff” that made the originals such endearing classics.

At one point, the team even hinted at possibly using Kickstarter to fund the game and using the Unity engine to create it.

However, Banjo-Kazooie composer and Mingy Jongo member Grant Kirkhope confirmed the worst when asked about the project during a recent Reddit AMA.

According to Grant, steps were made toward eventual completion of the game, but life simply got in the way. “The other guys actually had a secret meeting in a pub near Rare and we even got as far as having a character drawn up and a demo level type thing but it all fell to bits …. everyone’s got other jobs etc .”

Banjo-Kazooie is a series that has had a handful of installments, the most notable being Banjo-Kazooie (1998) and Banjo-Tooie (2000) on the Nintendo 64, and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts (2008) on the Xbox 360. The core console games were developed by British studio Rare, and Microsoft still owns the license to the beloved bear and bird duo. This news is indeed a letdown, but there’s always hope for Rare to take us back to Spiral Mountain again someday.

Kinect Sports Rivals (Xbox One) Review

Kinect Sports Rivals (Xbox One) Review

Imagine that it’s a mild summer’s afternoon, and you’re about to take off for a vacation. You board your flight, Oceanic Airlines Flight 816, and take off for the wild blue yonder. Like the poor souls of Oceanic Airlines Flight 815, who crash on the Lost Island, you also find yourself stranded on a strange tropical island. The main difference is that the people of the Lost Island were worried about time travel and smoke monsters; however, you find yourself on a strange island full of people who are constantly competing against each other in six different sports.

I’ll admit that this introduction to Kinect Sports Rivals is completely fictional, but it’s better than what the game offers. Especially since Kinect Sports Rivals never offers you any reason for why you’ve arrived on this strange island that is home to three extremely competitive “tribes” of athletes. When the game starts, you are literally thrown to the wolves of Wolf Clan, Viper Network and the Eagle Legion.

Once the minimal introductions are over and you finally start participating in the beautiful game, some ten pin, or whatever the world will come to call virtual shooting ranges, the true calibre of Kinect Sports Rivals is shown. Kinect Sports Rivals is basically a mini-game collection made up of six sports themed games, and they are all of a high quality level.

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When it comes to Kinect Sports Rivals, the quality is so high that it doesn’t need to be part of your decision making process. Instead the choice depends on what you consider a sport to be. For example, the soccer mini-game isn’t actually soccer. It plays more like the foosball table at your local sports bar. The Target Shooting mini-game basically comes down to pointing your finger at the screen and using it to scroll a crosshair shaped cursor over the target icons in specific patterns.

On the bright side, the other four games feel more like actual sports to me. Bowling, Rock Climbing, and Tennis are all extremely interactive experiences. I would not call them exact copies of the real thing, but it’s easy to compare them to the mini-games that made up the critically acclaimed Wii Sports pack-in for the Nintendo Wii.

The final mini-game, Wake Racing, actually reminds me of another sports game altogether. I was getting a serious Wave Race 64 vibe off of my time with the Wake Racing mini-game in Kinect Sports Rivals, and that is truly the highest praise I could ever give any videogame or mini-game that involves jet skis.

Although I should point out that none of the mini-games in Kinect Sports Rivals are clones of the various games that I’ve compared them to. The biggest difference is that each Kinect Sports Rivals mini-game has short term modifiers (or power-ups in the game’s parlance) that come in three classifications: red offensive powers, blue shield powers, and purple speed/endurance enhancements. They’re there if you wish to use them but, as a family friendly mini-game collection, you won’t be shocked to know that Kinect Sports Rivals isn’t that challenging.

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Now all of that said, the mini-games are not the impressive part of Kinect Sports Rivals. They’re all solid experiences to be sure, but they’ve all been done before in Wii Sports, Wave Race 64, or other titles. On top of that, they’ve all been done at this high level of quality, so I find it hard to write home to my mother about them. To my surprise, the Kinect camera ended up being the true all-star athlete of this product.

The Kinect will impress you early and often, but it will start with its facial scanning software. Before the fun in the sun happens, you have the option to use the Kinect’s cameras to make your own Kinect Sports avatar. I’ve seen it scan three different people, and every time the results were impressive. Each avatar is built by having the Kinect scan your face for its specific 3D shape, your skin colour, hair colour, hair style, if you wear glasses, if you have facial hair, and your physique. The results are usually fudged in order to give everyone an athlete’s physique and the chin of an alpha-male, but these Kinect Sports clones usually do look like their original donors. The greatest deviation I found was actually with my own avatar. It did not look like me when all the scanning was over, but it looked exactly like my father.

On top of that,The Kinect is supposed to be able to track you while standing or sitting when you play Kinect Sports Rivals, and every time I tried the Kinect in a sitting position it continued to track my body movements. My avatar would even appear to be sitting if I played the soccer mini-game while sitting. To push the Kinect to its limits, I tried playing it while lounging Cleopatra style on my couch and it worked most of the time. Most of the time may not sound impressive, but imagine me using the Kinect while my legs were up on my couch and my feet were point at the camera. That fact that it would work at all makes the Kinect the Kinect Sports Rivals all-star.

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To my surprise, the only time the Kinect stopped working completely is when my dog would run around the room. Since the Kinect is supposed to be able to track multiple people, I was surprised that a knee high puppy could distract the camera so easily. Perhaps it is unfair to hold that against the Kinect, but it is something you may want to consider if you have cats or dogs.

Actually, the only issue that I feel the Kinect camera earns is the issue I experienced trying to navigate the game’s menu system. The standard for selecting menu options with the camera is to hover your hand over that option for a long period of time. In Kinect Sports Rivals, you hover your hand over an option, but then you pull back your hand and press it forward. I always felt like I was pumping a shotgun when I was doing this, and the issue is that my hand would always slip off the menu option I was trying to select. I could never keep my hand still while doing this pumping action, and only after at least 5 attempts would my choice be selected. Luckily, the controller works for most menu options, but there are a few times were the pumping hand gesture will be required.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with Kinect Sports Rivals. The mini-games in this collection have all been parts of other games, but they’re done very well here. I was a little disappointed by how Soccer and Target Shooting was designed, but the Kinect camera’s impressive functionality picks up the slack and means that the game can be fun for both young and old.

You can check out some game footage from the CGM crew here, it’s always more fun in Multiplayer!