When Banjo and Kazooie were announced for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, people were ecstatic. Finally, after many years of waiting, the bear-bird duo would get modern representation in a game celebrating the existence of games in itself. While appreciative of it, I wasn’t as thrilled, having limited experience with their N64 classic and the genre itself. Collect-a-thon platformers for not really my forté, which made the desire to try out Raccoo Venture somewhat curious. Was the aura of intimacy attached to indie titles to blame?
Even more so, the title is in Early Access, implying an unfinished product being rushed out of the gate. Many times I’ve come across Early Access titles that look great in trailers, but were broken messes once materialized in front of me. Each time is a calculated risk, alleviated by the transparency of the developer(s) and continued updates and insight. This seemed like something of a passion project that, while cute, probably lacked a lot of detail that made former collect-a-thons so magical. With nothing to lose, I dove in and hoped for the best.
Raccoo Venture is available now on Steam in Early Access for your regional pricing.
To its credit, there is a full-fledged story with some basis around the motivations of the titular character. Incredibly convoluted, but credible, full of ancient relics, horrible creatures, and scribbles from the past. Raccoo is tasked (or tasks himself) to recover the magical chess pieces stolen by the Tattooed Tatus, who plot for world domination and to throw the balance of the planet into chaos. General stuff.
Impressively, the plot is continually implemented into the gameplay. Through occasional cutscenes with text dialogue and diary entries from Raccoo’s grandfather hidden in each stage, one can get a better sense of how the Tatus have affected the course of reality. Occasionally they boil down to “Give me back the chess pieces!” → “No! I am evil,” though with how the game presents itself, there’s no reason to expect much more. Pretty family-friendly, with some lore-heavy subtext that could be intriguing for the older crowd. I’m just glad it doesn’t interfere too heavily with the gameplay, when it certainly could have.
One could find reason to follow along, though I find it better to leave the narrative be. As bare-boned and overdone as it is, one can appreciate the emphasis on ensuring the player remembers what they’re playing for. As an indie collect-a-thon, Racco Venture probably didn’t have to pour much time into world-building to impress incoming players. Yet the developer did a considerable job in immersing the player into the thick of it, even if the plot itself isn’t original whatsoever.
Beginning the journey, I found myself in a pleasant overworld. Naturalistic, with the soothing greens of grassy plains adorned with trees, sturdy boulders, and a small current not far north. I took one step with Raccoo and immediately thought, “Oh, this is going to be hard to get used to.” Movement is not free-flowing, instead opting for the four cardinal directions and their diagonal in-betweens, similar to the aiming system of Eagle Island. Coupled with that is a stop-and-go method of movement, with an immediate 0 to 100 movement speed for starting and stopping alike. This somewhat breaks the immersion in that it feels clunky, though some justification could be used to appease difficulty.
Raccoo Venture aims to be a pleasing collect-a-thon for those vying for the “golden games” of the ’90s. Its control scheme, noted just above, somewhat hinders this, as it makes the platforming aspects rather tedious. Careful trodding across narrow pathways—of which there are plenty—should be approached in a careful, precise manner, yet the stop-and-go method makes these moments far more nerve-wracking than need-be. Almost Sonic the Hedgehog-like, it prompts more of a speedy venture, then struggles to keep the slower bits as engrossing. From a technical standpoint, this is likely my biggest complaint of the game’s current state.
With that, my neutral facade can be demolished: I like this game quite a bit. If not for the somewhat obtuse control scheme, there are tons of minute details that make Raccoo Venture a joyous platformer and rewarding collect-a-thon. Its performance is nearly flawless, controls are tight and responsive, and the objectives throughout stages are repeatedly stimulating. For an Early Access game designed almost entirely by one person, this is a true feat of quality.
Not everything is finished, however; full list of stages aren’t complete and the coins scattered throughout currently seem to hold no purpose. Despite this, it almost feels like a full-fledged title, holding a lot of content to search and collect for collecting’s sake. If not coins, there are chess pieces needed to progress, strange statues, diary entries, breath orbs, and appearance-changing outfits. To have all this crammed into each stage and making them simultaneously difficult to find makes it a lofty challenge for even genre veterans. Raccoo Venture is truly a collect-a-thon for the modern age, and I am all for it.
If there’s one more quality I could criticize, it’s the combat. Enemies in these types of games are generally designed to be nuisances that aren’t fun to encounter, but here it breaks the flow of the game a bit too much. In order to defeat most enemies, one has to ground-pound them, or occasionally throw explosive mushrooms at them. That “Sonic-like” nature I referenced again makes this a little irritating to deal with and breaks the flow of exploration. I’ve grown used to quickened ground-pounds, but the exploding mushroom tossing, along with no indication of aiming, is a pain to deal with. A small complaint, though it could use a little dusting in the meantime.
Graphics & Audio
After playing a few games made with Unity in the past two or three years, I’ve begun to pick up a certain aesthetic accustomed to it. Raccoo Venture has this Unity-like look, which doesn’t hurt its collect-a-thon aspirations, but it’s worth noting. Slightly amateurish, which is to be expected with an indie developer, while also meticulously crafted with color and secrets. The camera focuses in a somewhat faraway fashion at a fixed angle, similar to Super Mario 3D World, which works pretty well to both uncover and hide secret spots. I occasionally took advantage of the camera to uncover certain item locations, which is a neat trick. Cartoon-ish, round elements with a smoothness to die for, which fits well into the Unity design. Raccoo himself has a distinct enough look to be a notable character, even if I prefer him as a Mariachi skeleton.
Sound quality is also something that breaks the immersive quality somewhat. Its overall soundtrack is fine, if not a little too general to stand out when not focused on ambience. What gets me are the sound effects, which ooze a certain freeware quality that it makes me crave a more unique identity. Raccoo makes a “Hup!” sound every time he jumps—every time. You jump in this game often. Certain menu sound effects I’m almost certain I’ve heard in other games played for this site. In the future (or for its official release), I would love to have the game have its own unique sound quality, even if minimal. As it is now, it only adds to the amateur nature that it definitely deserves better than.