There's a lot of hype surrounding Playtonic Games and their upcoming title, Project Ukelele, from fans of ye olde collectathon games, and for good reason: nearly the entire team behind Banjo-Kazooie has reunited to create a brand-new game. But for all the hype, very little information about the game itself has been released. That is, until they officially unveiled the project yesterday afternoon. As with any game, there's a ton of information to keep track of, and watching a video on a keynote can be long and boring. So we've taken the time to break down everything we know learned about Project Ukelele into one handy article.
Chris Sutherland, the lead engineer behind Donkey Kong Country and Banjo-Kazooie, takes the stage at the start of the presentation to introduce Playtonic Games. As many of you know, Playtonic Games is made up of six of the highest-ranking former staff members from Rareware's golden days on the SNES and Nintendo 64. Project Ukelele's soundtrack, meanwhile, is being composed by David Wise (Donkey Kong Country, DKC2, DKC: Tropical Freeze), Grant Kirkhope (Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64, Viva Piñata), and Steve Burke (Viva Piñata), all former musicians at Rare.
While many have assumed for some time that Project Ukelele would be a 3D platformer, much like Banjo-Kazooie was, Playtonic has confirmed that it is, in fact, a 3D platformer. It will also bring back the collectathon style so popular with Banjo and similar games of the time—players are tasked with collecting "pagies," which will likely replace Banjo's "jiggies" as the main collectable in the game. The pagies will not only unlock future worlds for players to access, but they'll expand the worlds that players have already visited. So the more you play the game, the more the stages that you've already visited will grow and change for re-exploration.
The goal with Project Ukelele is to bring the classic Rare magic back for a new generation of gaming. When Gavin Price takes the stage, he explains that this means they'll be keeping what fans already love: the narrative and aesthetic style of the game, the humor, the variety of challenges, and most importantly, "lots of google-eyes on inanimate objects and gobbledy-gook-speak in NPCs." But they don't just want to pump a new visual style into Banjo gameplay; they're fully revitalizing the genre with new features and "classic gameplay done on an all-new scale." There will be multiple themed worlds, connected by a single hub, with a much less linear progression than games of the 1990s.
They're already working on several characters who will make cameo appearances in Project Ukelele before spinning off into their own titles to create a large series of separate-yet-interconnected games, which Price compares to the Marvel Universe.
Playtonic shows off screenshots of two new worlds in the game, which you may have seen yesterday, but can nonetheless be found in the image gallery below. The first screenshot is of an unnamed world, likely one of the earlier themed ones, during which Price explains that they really want to make Project Ukelele's world feel "lived in." He explains that technical limitations on the Nintendo 64 only allowed them to build parts of the world that were "essential to the gameplay," but modern tech allows them to inject it with a real sense of life. He then shows off a screenshot of the hub world, which players will explore between other quests. What separates it from past hubworlds, however, is that it's going to be its own world. Price calls it a "giant navigational puzzle," and says that "exploring it is going to feel like a game in itself." As you learn new moves in themed worlds, you'll be able to use them to progress in new parts of the hub world. Meanwhile, the hub world itself will be "full of its own secrets," some of which the team is hoping will take people months, or even years, to find.
Sutherland stresses that Playtonic is "all about fun gameplay," and as result, won't wander towards microtransactions, in-game ads, or similar behavior. Price, meanwhile, promises that Playtonic will not "turn the game into something it isn't, or add any core gameplay that detracts from ... what people expect from a 3D platformer." Immediately afterwards, he makes a clear reference to Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, and says that this is "not what Ukelele is about."
The final rule that Price outlines, which he says is the most important, is to interact with fans. The team believes that by listening to fans of its past games, they have the potential to create the best game they've ever done. To do this, they're launching a Kickstarter in May, and they're looking for fan input as to what backer rewards, stretch goals, and other ideas you're hoping to see. Price introduces a ton of ideas you may want to see for potential rewards, including soundtracks, an orchestral score, boxed copies of the game, Nintendo 64 replica carts, and even a line of Amiibo based on Playtonic's new characters. They're launching forums on their company's website soon, so be sure to check in and make your voice heard.
"We want you guys to just tell us and engage with us, and we'll try and make it happen. ... It's entirely up to what you guys want to see us do." — Gavin Price
During a Q&A session after the main presentation, the team answers a ton of questions directly from fans.
- Price says that the game could support VR if that's what fans want, and would look gorgeous when players are so fully-immersed.
- Price also says that he think there's "a really good opportunity" to embrace Amiibo, and he personally wants to see that come to fruition
- JonTron will likely be voicing a character in the game
- They may introduce a Kickstarter tier where fans can voice characters in the game
- The humor will be more like Banjo-Kazooie, and less like Conker's Bad Fur Day
- Every character in Project Ukelele is made with the intention of spinning them off into new genres and franchises
- They're intending to make the game more sociable, so multiple people can sit around and watch and enjoy the game, even though it's single-player
- The Kickstarter is a response to fan requests to engage with the developers and have greater input
- The game will be released even if Kickstarter fails
- They'll consider any platforms that fans want to get the game, but Wii U seems to be the most-discussed
- The name, Project Ukelele is indeed a nod to Banjo
But there are a few more things you may notice if you pay close attention. First is that this whole presentation is conducted with the same font from the Banjo-Kazooie games and their promotional materials. If you pause the video at 11:07, you'll notice a bullet point which says, "Lots of special moves to learn for all our new heroes!" It should be no surprise that the characters will be able to learn special moves—another one of Banjo-Kazooie's signature traits—but the slide specifically says, "all our new heroes..." Are there multiple teams of animals to play as this time around? Either way, you can see one character hiding in the bushes of the first screenshot.
No matter what, things are looking very good for Playtonic Games' upcoming project.