Save for a few select Nintendo titles, platform games have completely fallen out of favor in today’s gaming landscape. Far from the days of the Nintendo 64, when platformers were at their most popular, major video game developers have dismissed platformers as a viable genre to explore. Companies like Rare — which were once the forerunners of sprawling, characteristic platforming worlds — have abandoned the genre in favor of more lucrative pursuits.
Since this decline in platformer popularity, some vocal fans have expressed their desire to see a return of these types of classic games. Outlets like Steam Greenlight have provided independent developers an avenue to create earnest throwbacks to the long-forgotten genre (such as Gears for Breakfast’s A Hat in Time). Even today, there are whispered rumors regarding the return of Banjo-Kazooie and other such platforming giants, but nothing concrete enough to raise excitement.
In late 2012, a mysterious twitter account by the name of MingyJongo began organizing support for the development of a new collect-a-thon, platformer in the same vein as Banjo-Kazooie. The proposed game would feature the zany humor, silly characters, and distinct gameplay seen in platform games of the N64. MingyJongo reported that both Steven Hurst (artist on Banjo-Kazooie, Viva Piñata) and Grant Kirkhope (composer for Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64) were on board with the project. Everything seemed to be coming together nicely, and excitement for a return to Rare’s glory days continued to rise.
However after an immediate surge of fan support, the account remained relatively quiet throughout 2013 and 2014. Many fans assumed that the project had been cancelled, presumably because the team could not acquire the funds needed to produce such an ambitious endeavor. In April of 2014, Kirkhope explained in a Reddit AMA that plans for the project had indeed fallen through, despite moving into initial planning stages. Kirkhope cited the team’s other career obligations in his explanation, later stating developing a game to the standards of Banjo-Kazooie would prove too expensive. Fans received no news and the project was considered scrapped.
Quite unexpectedly however, the MingyJongo twitter account made a return in December 2014. A series of cryptic tweets were released to followers, hinting that big news was on the horizon. Then, on February 10th, the account was rebranded as Playtonic Games, a new “indie” studio comprised of ex-Rare employees. Along with the announcement of their new studio, Playtonic Games revealed that the team was indeed working on the game everyone was hoping for.
— Playtonic Games (@PlaytonicGames) February 10, 2015
Playtonic Games’ debut game, dubbed Project Ukulele, is to act as a “worthy successor to those fondly remembered platforming adventures” the team had produced in the past. On their website, Playtonic Games provided a teaser image of the game’s protagonists, at that point only seen as two distinct sets of obscured eyes. The image was clearly meant to evoke memories of Banjo and Kazooie, two unlikely friends thrust into a grand adventure. A few fans had even gone as far as to brighten the teaser and reveal more of the two new heroes.
The core team at Playtonic Games was announced to be comprised of project director Chris Sutherland (lead designer of Donkey Kong Country, Banjo-Kazooie), managing director and creative lead Gavin Price (designer on Banjo-Kazooie, Viva Piñata), character art director Steve Mayles (character artist on Donkey Kong Country, Banjo-Kazooie), technical director Jens Restemeier (developer on Perfect Dark Zero), technical art director Mark Stevenson (lead artist of Donkey Kong Country, Banjo-Kazooie), and evironment art director Steven Hurst.
More details from Project Ukulele were revealed in the February issue of Edge Magazine. Edge revealed the first of two characters to star in the game. Not exactly a bear and a bird, the characters seen in the issue are red and blue imp-like creatures with distinctive body types. Also shown were silhouettes of four additional characters, so it may be possible that players will be able to switch between a large cast of characters a la Donkey Kong 64. Sutherland, who provided the iconic voices of Banjo and Kazooie, will lend his voice for characters in the game.
Edge revealed a few snippets of concept art, which are very reminiscent of the whimsical worlds of Banjo-Kazooie and Viva Piñata. The game is planned for release on PC and “certain console platforms.” The team has also shown interest in Nintendo’s involvement in some capacity.
Last week, Playtonic interviewed three candidates to compose music for Project Ukulele. The three candidates were Grant Kirkhope, Steve Burke (composer of Kameo: Elements of Power), and David Wise (composer of Donkey Kong Country). In a rather humorous series of videos fearuring “Playtonic’s Omnipotent Options Processor” (acronym P.O.O.P), the team decided to employ all three legendary composers. Kirkhope and Burke have both served as voice actors in past Rare games, so it’s possible they will voice characters in Project Ukulele as well.
This is all the information we know of Project Ukulele at the moment, but Playtonic is answering fan questions on through Twitter. The men involved in the project are among the best in the industry, and I am confident that the final project will be something platformer enthusiasts like me will appreciate. I’ll try to keep you posted on Project Ukulele news as it develops, but until then I encourage readers to share what they would want to see in a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie.