Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair Review.
When Yooka-Laylee was announced back in 2015, I made a noise somewhere between a squeak and cough.
Games like Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong Country, Killer Instinc and Goldeneye 007 are firmly established as gems of the 90s. They were all lovingly pieced together by a little gaming studio in Twycross called Rare. Own a SNES or an N64 back in the 90s? If you did, you probably saw a shiny spinning Rare logo more than once.
Yooka-Laylee was a game made by Rare veterans such as Chris Sutherland and Steve Mayles who left Rare to spread their creative wings under the banner of Playtonic Games. The term “spiritual successor to Banjo Kazooie” was being thrown around a hell of a lot during development and expectations were high.
In the end, as much as I enjoyed Yooka-Laylee – and I really did – it left me feeling a little deflated. The game lacked some of the polish and quality of life improvements we’ve come to expect from a modern-day video game. The gameplay could feel loose and floaty and many of the challenges weren’t as fun as I would have hoped. But, like many, I fell in love with the creativity and the world that Playtonic had built and I was hungry for more.
Then it happened. The inevitable sequel was dropped unto us like a bat tied to a chameleon. I made yet another strange, indistinguishable noise.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair was coming soon and I found myself giddy with excitement all over again. But wait, this one wasn’t a 3D collectathon but a 2.5D platformer in the same vein as the Donkey Kong Country games? It also features a fully explorable top-down overworld that connects all the levels!?
I wasn't quite sure whether to be excited or disappointed. I decided cautious optimism was the way to go. But now it’s here and I’ve played it, how does it stack up against its predecessor?
It had better Bee good.
As I first started to move around yet another beautifully realised cartoon world, I knew I was in for a treat. The controls seemed tighter, the graphics were dense and rich and the tricks and traps you have to navigate are well-paced and satisfying to overcome. Of course, Playtonic’s knack for silly puns and humour are absolutely everywhere. There is all sort of self-aware nods and little in-jokes. They never failed to put a smile on my face.
What’s perhaps most intriguing is that Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair pulls a “Breath of the Wild” and gives you the ability to go straight for the end game pretty much from square one. The final “Impossible Lair” is there, right in front of you from the start of the game and can be tackled at any point you choose. It was tempting to try my luck, but the pull of an undiscovered world was too strong to resist. So, I headed out into top-down overworld and quickly stumbled across the first “proper” level.
Levels are discovered organically as you navigate through the top-down world. The way this is handled is pure joy. Sometimes I genuinely forgot that this was primarily a side-scrolling platformer. Unpicking the overworld is just as all-consuming as the levels themselves and is one of the biggest highlights of the game.
The main bulk of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair sees you collecting bees to add to your Beetalion. These little guys essentially act as a hit you can take when taking on the Impossible Lair itself. The more you collect, the easier it should be. Bees are added to your Beetalion army every time you complete a level, so you’re essentially building your strength for the final showdown.
Addressing the ape in the room.
Let’s not beat around the batcave here; Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is hugely inspired by the Donkey Kong Country series. I’m not just talking about the SNES originals made by Rare, I’m also including the current incarnation developed by Retro Studios for Nintendo’s more recent hardware. Everything from gameplay ideas to music and theming is absolutely doused in their influence.
Luckily, Playtonic brings enough new ideas to the table to break away from the jaws of plagiarism. It even goes several steps further, with tighter controls, superb animation and even more memorable characters, I’d endeavour to state that I enjoyed this outing more than the recent DKC games.
The tried and tested gameplay practice of rolling off a platform and timing the mid-air jump is used extensively and works extremely well. I never quite gelled with the recent DKC games’ use of rolling and momentum building, I found that Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair make much better use of the controls and physics to creates something tough, but rarely frustrating.
The double-hit life system is also back from the Donkey Kong Country games. When you get smacked in the face by something spikey, Laylee will detach from Yooka and fly around erratically for a set period of time before flying away. If you can retrieve her before then, you essentially regain your hit back. It’s reminiscent of Super Mario Advance 3, where you’d have to retrieve an irritating floating Baby Mario. Should Laylee fly away before you can catch her, your move set will be reduced. You’ll no longer be able to do a correcting mid-air spin or a continuous roll.
Why you snake in the grass.
Level gating is handled by everyone’s favourite slippery snake Trowzer. This time he’s erected unpassable “Pay Walls” around the map. Each level hides several coins to collect. They’re usually rewarded for exploration and isolated challenges. Collecting these is essential if you want any hope of passing Trowzer’s Pay Walls.
Keeping things on the level.
There is a healthy amount of levels in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. Every level has an alternate state, unlocked and toggled via the overworld map. What alternative state the level possesses could be anything from high winds and frozen water to honey-drenched platforms. On the surface, this admittedly sounds like a cheap way of bolstering the game length, but in practice, they really do feel like whole new levels. It’s also great to see the creativity put into how the levels are affected; just when I thought the ideas were exhausted, I was hit with another surprise. All this means Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair does a hell of a lot with very little. Yes, levels and assets are reused extensively, but it’s always handled in such a way so as not to feel like the game is repeating itself.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is everything the first game should have been and more. It proudly stands alongside some of the best platformers of recent times. The quality of what is presented here is one of the most unexpected surprises of the year. Here’s hoping for many more years of success for Playtonic Games.
Our Score: 4.8/5
Loved this review and want to get the game? Shop Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair here.
Want to check out our other blogs? Click here.