It’s funny; the original Yooka-Laylee set out to recapture the look and feel of older 3D platformers whilst acting as a spiritual successor to the much-loved Banjo-Kazooie series. It’s a goal the developer managed to successfully achieve resulting in a finished product that felt nostalgic but also disappointingly outdated. The genre had moved on and sadly it felt like Yooka-Laylee hadn’t simply in an effort to stay true to its roots. With Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, this time around Playtonic is dropping a dimension and setting their sights on another famous platforming series, one that Nintendo fans should be very familiar with.
Playing as the team of lizard and bat pairing Yooka and Laylee, the two must go up against the evil Capital B once again whom this time has managed to enslave Queen Phoebee and her army using a device known as the ‘Hivemind’. What awaits is a collection of 2D platforming stages (or chapters as they are called here) scattered amidst an explorable 3D hub both littered with collectibles and secrets aplenty.
Mere moments into playing the first chapter of the game it became clear the sort of thing Playtonic was going for. This is in many ways a Donkey Kong Country game – well with a lizard and bat instead of tie-wearing gorilla. That isn’t to say Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair doesn’t bring any ideas of its own to the table, in fact, it offers some interesting ones and most of them successful. When it comes to the 2D platforming portion though there’s little that surprises, the experience more akin to, for example, switching from one brand of bottled water to another. It may have a different label but the end result is near the same.
Take playing as Yooka and Laylee who handle much the same as Donkey Kong and one of his smaller simian companions. We’re taking similarities so close the game even features the ability to infinitely roll if you have both your heroes in play. I’m not talking just from a moveset standpoint though, even the very feel of those games is near matched here. There’s a weightiness to the characters that not since Tropical Freeze have I felt from a platformer. This game has its own variations on Donkey Kong Country staples too such as blasting barrels that require the precision timing of a button press. Even the music has the same vibe, hardly a surprise since Playtonic has brought in David Wise and Grant Kirkhope for the game’s catchy soundtrack. While not their best work it’s certainly the right fit for this type of platformer.
The level design is solid, each chapter introducing new mechanics or ideas to challenge you and stretch Yooka’s flexible moveset. The types of obstacles you’ll have to deal with are about what you’d expect from the genre but they’re executed well enough that traversing across all-too familiar ropes, conveyor belts, and collapsing platforms is still good fun. One aspect that really stands out though is the ability to revisit chapters with different level states in effect, such as freezing all the water to then make slippery platforms or introducing strong winds or even flipping the stage so you now have to climb it. You’re essentially playing through the same stage sure but these changes help keep them feeling fresh. Not all the alterations work out though, I found myself quickly losing interest playing through the pace-deprived level filled with a sticky soup or replaying a stage only this time filled with water. Nonetheless, it’s a clever idea and one that helps Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair start to form its own identity.
Gluing all these individual chapters together is the game’s hub area, an open space you’ll explore for secrets and slowly expand as you earn enough collectible T.W.I.T. coins. It’s arguably one of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair’s more unique features – aside from the alternate chapter states. Played from a more birds-eye positioned viewpoint with your movement a lot more restricted, the focus here is on searching your surroundings and puzzle-solving. Tasks are rarely too taxing on the brain often requiring you to move some blocks around, flip a switch, fetch an item or take out a handful of enemies in one of Pagie’s self-contained challenges. New chapters will present themselves with each area unlocked while a little exploring will often yield keys, a means to alter a chapter (often via using an elemental fruit) or collectible tonics. The latter, when equipped, will activate either change the visuals or gameplay such as big-headed characters, pixelated graphics or doubling the number of hits it takes to kill out an enemy. Some are neat, a good amount not so much (tonics that alter the visual-style, for example, tend to make it harder to decipher the action on-screen). As far as hub areas go there’s a lot to sink your teeth into however here the action can feel more often than not slow-going thanks to the routine puzzles and the progress blocking gates. I found myself eventually growing tired of my time spent here – even if it is less compared to the actual chapters themselves – and simply wanted to get to the next platforming chapter as quickly as I could. Onto something a little pacier and more exciting.
The Impossible Lair mentioned in the game’s title is your final test, your end goal. It’s a nightmarish marathon of obstacles, enemies and boss encounters that will truly put your platforming skills through their paces. In a surprising twist though, you can tackle the Impossible Lair whenever you so choose be it as soon as you start the adventure or a little further in, although doing so earlier on will mean you’ll be going in with less help. Completing the game’s chapters – as well as their alternate states – will free members of the Royal Beetalion, these essentially acting as a shield in the Impossible Lair. The more bees you free, the more hits you can take in the final challenge. It’s a neat curveball for the genre and one that should make for some interesting speed runs in the future. I can already picture someone during Awesome Games Done Quick perfecting their first attempt with no bees collected whatsoever – a task I could never dream of ever doing.
And when I say the Impossible Lair is tough, I’m really not kidding. Even after collecting twenty of the game’s forty-plus Royal Beetalion members, I still only managed to make it 30 percent of the way through (according to the game). That’s right, with twenty hit points in the bank, I failed to make it even halfway. Through a combination of repeated attempts – where I could better learn the nightmarish dangers within – and Beetalion recruiting I would continue to progress further and further until I did eventually topple Capital B where the sense of accomplishment was overwhelming to say the least. As far as final encounters go this is by far one of the most daunting but satisfying.
The world of Yooka-Laylee is a bright and colorful one filled with silly characters most sporting googly-looking eyes. It’s a style that didn’t really gelled with me in the first game and still doesn’t here. Back in the days of Banjo-Kazooie I might have enjoyed the unsophisticated humor, terrible puns and garbled noises of the characters but now I find myself rolling my eyes rather than smiling along.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is another enjoyable 2D platformer to add to the Switch’s ever-growing line-up. Overly familiar in many ways but not without a splash or two of its own inventive ideas. Sure, some are more successful than others but in the end, you’re left with a challenging and reliably entertaining platformer and a great extension of the Yooka-Laylee brand.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Team17