Well tickle my Banjo, and blow on my Kazooie – if it isn’t our old friend Raccoo! You remember him, right? From the 90’s! Raccoo! Come onnnn!
No? Well, you’re quite right not to, because as much as Raccoo Venture looks like a game lifted straight from our beloved 64 bit console – albeit with much smoother detailing, he’s in fact a brand new creation from Indie Developer Diego Ras – although the inspiration from such beloved 3D platformer classics as the aforementioned Banjo Kazooie, as well as Spyro, Mario and many others is so palpable, you’d be forgiven on first glance for mistaking this for a sequel to some lost, forgotten franchise.
3D platformers have had a consistent release since the 90’s, with Nintendo still leading the way with their Mario series, but also other more modern attempts like Gears for Breakfast’s Indie hit A Hat In Time, and Playtonic’s perfectly adequate, but far less inspiring Yooka-Laylee. So it begs the question, how will Diego’s one man team fair in a market that already has such formidable titles.
The first thing that hits you with Raccoo Venture is how tastefully colourful it is. Raccoo awakes, slumbering lazily by a babbling brook, and with a stretch he begins his journey. The bright green meadows, flowers, and wooden architecture all work in perfect symbiosis with the gentle, carefree soundtrack, giving us that early Kokiri Forest Ocarina of Time feel that implies that – up til now – this was a Raccoon without a care in the world. The visuals feel fresh and alive – without feeling overly saturated with harsh, over the top colouring. It promotes this sense of nature that Raccoo lives in. Inside his little home set inside a tree, we see good earthy living, and countless nods to the most illustrious influences that the developer clearly wants you to know were part of his mindset in the construction of this homage to the Golden age of Gaming.
Through a short exposition, the story begins in a similar way to how we would expect a game of this ilk to go. A once great darkness has been contained in the form of magical relics in the shape of Dark and Light chess pieces – each representing the Good and Evil in the World. Through this, stability was maintained, and life was able to thrive. However, there are servants of chaos and disorder known as the Tattooed Tatus (incredible name), that aren’t too pleased with this, and steal the powerful pieces. It becomes Raccoo’s mission to journey through Verta – the fictional name for this land – and recover the pieces in order to restore balance to the World again. It’s a typical, but totally suitable backdrop for which to begin what the game is all about. Good old fashioned platforming fun! And this is where the game shines!
The controls are already very well designed, offering a slick, responsive platforming experience. Across the four levels I played, I was introduced to a large variety of platforming sections ranging from basic jumps to significantly more difficult precision movements with punishing consequences, and it was great to see that even in these opening 4 levels, Diego had already started to put into practice a lot of creativity, and was not relying on the repeated use of one idea over and over again. Timed jumps, shifting platforms, invisible pathways, thorny obstructions, and tricky climbs were all quickly implemented in the game, and kept everything fresh. There were also a couple of swimming sections, but I think the swimming mechanic feels far too slow at the moment, and needs work to make it feel more – if you’ll forgive me – fluid.
The enemies are already nice and varied. Raccoo comes with a basic stomp attack that takes care of the majority of enemies, although I did feel it lacked the wallop that we’ve come to expect from our protagonists in games past, and considering that Raccoo’s normal jump attack currently does no damage at all, I hope Diego adds a bit more crunch before the final release. The accuracy of the attacks can also feel a little off, and not in keeping with the precise nature of the rest of the experience. Attacks seems to glance off at times, or even cause Raccoo to receive damage instead, but I’ll chalk this up to collision development in this Alpha stage. Some enemies require some extra tactics, such as the use of explosive throwable mushrooms to take care of them. Others that are beyond Raccoo’s tiny stature simply have to be distracted with sweet smelling truffles in order to get them to move out of the way, and let you pass.
Your aim throughout the game is to find chess board tiles and pieces. There are a number of chess board tiles hidden throughout the levels that can be found either by exploring hidden areas, or by completing puzzle sections. The puzzle elements won’t come as any surprise to anyone, but they are nicely implemented. I particularly enjoyed the puzzles involving the carrying of fruit to certain cooking pots in order to cause various effects in the game. Each pot is colour coded to denote which fruit needs to be dropped in it in order to cook yummy yum yums, and activate it. However, Raccoo moves much slower whilst carrying items, and also can’t jump, making it more difficult to get past the fast moving enemies in order to complete the task. Though you’ll only ever complete these objectives if you can stop yourself throwing fruit at the enemies’ heads – something I enjoyed doing much longer than I should.
There are some other carrying tasks, like having to transport a key from one location to a locked door at another, which may be up a layered, climbing area. In a puzzle scenario this means you may have to throw the key to a certain position, climb up, and then throw it to another until you reach the final point. None of these puzzles are brain bending, but they break the precision platforming elements up nicely enough to be a welcome change.
Once you collect enough tile pieces, a chess piece will appear, and you can collect it. However, there is no requirement to collect anything before the end of each level, meaning you could progress all the way through, and find nothing. However, the hub world, which is much like a Super Mario World hub will restrict your progress if you haven’t located enough chess pieces, meaning that should you fail to find enough, you will need to replay levels in order to pick them up. Fortunately for the player, Diego has done an incredible job of making the pieces well hidden, but logical, relying on player intuition to find. Again, this is where the fun of a 3D platformer comes from, and the dev has to ensure that you as the player want to take the time to explore, and seek out hidden items. Raccoo Venture is packed with them, and I found myself taking my time through every screen; backtracking, trying alternate paths, taking the occasional leap of faith, and generally loving every second in trying to 100% each level before I moved on. It never felt strenuous, and it never felt like a chore – something that Banjo-Kazooie did perfectly, but Yooka-Laylee never managed to emulate. I’m pleased to say that the concise and clever way that Diego Ras has implemented these features makes every level feel like another unexplored nugget of investigative joy. The keenest of trophy hunters will also be able to find letters left by the protagonist’s Grandad that will offer some extra lore for the player, but the ultimate prize for the true Tomb Raiders amongst you will be the unlockable outfits for Raccoo.
I love unlockable skins in any game, but there’s something about the outfits in Raccoo Venture that just go the extra mile. These aren’t just just colourful re-skins, but fully fledged unlockable outfits, and I’m so glad Diego took the time to include them as hidden items, because they add yet again another benefit to your exploration of his carefully constructed worlds.
Raccoo Venture is only in its Alpha stage, but in the 4 levels I played as part of this preview, I’m already extremely impressed with what I’ve seen. Diego Ras is a one man team that’s already created something that I’ve no doubt could cement itself in the 3D platformer genre, should he continue to develop the game with us much care as he has thus far. Yes, there’s a huge amount of influence here, and it doesn’t shy away from that. The visuals, music and gameplay are all exactly what you want from something that’s trying to recreate that nostalgic 90’s feel. The efforts Diego Ras has gone to in order to create well designed, logical and intuitive hidden areas is superb, and if he can just iron out some of the fiddly technical issues such as the combat and swimming mechanics, Raccoo Venture is one to watch, for sure.