There are dangers when it comes to both hype and nostalgia in the video game industry. For example, if you look back at games like Mighty No. 9, the nostalgia and promise of a reimagined Mega Man title brought people in to fund the project. Then, when the game released, it was riddled with flaws and really didn’t have a leg to stand on. In a similar way, I myself was a victim of nostalgia hype when it came to the original Yooka-Laylee.
I remember being wholeheartedly behind the 3D-retro revival, especially for games with old-school platforming vibes. Then a group of ex-Rare veterans, some of whom were responsible for classics like Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, formed Playtonic and announced Yooka-Laylee. That game tapped into those not-so-distant platforming memories, filled with humorous writing and precision leaps. However, when I was finally done playing, I felt that there were a lot of great ideas that fell victim to that game’s ambitiousness.
Setting the stage for 2D and more Capital B
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is the sequel to Playtonic’s original Yooka-Laylee title. The villainous Capital B has returned from the first game, this time managing to capture and cage members of the Royal Bee Guard. These bees are littered throughout the levels of the game, and thus beating a level unlocks more guards to join Yooka and Laylee in their fight.
The titular Impossible Lair serves as the final level of the game, but it’s available right from the starting line. However, this is a challenging, obstacle-filled platforming hell, and you’ll need help to survive. That’s where the guards come in: each new bee acts as your guardian in the Lair, letting you take more hits without calling it quits. In each world on the map, you’ll unlock new areas to explore, new levels, and new bees. Eventually, you’ll rescue enough bee guards to get you through the Impossible Lair and defeat Capital B once again.
Executing on the transition
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair may be a sequel, but there are notable differences between it and its predecessor. Instead of a cartoon 3D world, this time the team at Playtonic opted for a 2D platformer that was more closely in-line with the Super Nintendo’s Donkey Kong Country titles. This is very apparent in the moveset that you have with Yooka (the chameleon) and Laylee (the bat). You can bounce off of enemy heads and even hit a sprinting roll to plow through them.
During my initial moments with the game, I felt like I could recognize places where Playtonic took inspiration for these moves. But, as the game started to progress, I started to become well-aware that everything was done with purpose. The level designs, the placement of objects, and the almost unending tonics to discover seemed meticulously plotted.
One of the first trailers I saw for Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair showed off the game’s overworld. At the time, I didn’t really take to the idea of having an overworld that you explore as well as in-game levels that you must also master. I couldn’t have been more wrong as to how well these to game elements work as one cohesive unit.
If you’re familiar with Donkey Kong Country or even games like Super Mario 64, you should be familiar with the concept of returning to the same level numerous times. For this Yooka-Laylee adventure, however, you may only need one run at a level to fully complete it. Each level holds five Trowzer coines (you might recognize this sneaky-snake from the 3D version). Some are obvious and not-so-hidden, while others demand you put your best skills forward and execute thumbstick precision.
Over the course of the game, the goal is to save the bee army, completing levels to unlock bees. Each level completed will also give you Trowzer coins, unlocking new areas of the map. This gameplay cycle is something that kept me engaged regardless of how many times I attempted a level. There is no shortage of hooks, challenges, or even exploration. I found myself wanting to find new areas and levels. It never felt like a chore, which was a big change from the previous Yooka-Laylee title.
A world designed with purpose
I must commend Playtonic for the overall design of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. At first glance, you might think that it is merely a 2D platformer with a lot of callbacks to the staff’s previous works. And yes, some of it is exactly that. But when you start to look at the big picture, at how each piece works in conjunction with the other, you start to appreciate the work that was done to create the experience.
As I started to play through the game, I noticed how you can reach most areas of a level with Yooka solo. Losing Laylee is going to happen sometimes; she flies off when you’re struck by an enemy, and Yooka only has a few seconds to grab her again. Without her, you lose the ability to glide or ground slam, which can restrict you from reaching a few areas – or at least require much greater skill from you to reach them.
Fortunately, most objects in the levels are created in order to accommodate playing with one or both of these characters. This includes platform placements, hidden Trowzer coins, and quills that are located throughout each level. There is a sense of cohesion from start to finish when it comes to meshing together level designs, platforming mechanics, and character movesets.
Straight Quillin’ it
As previously mentioned, there is a sense of uniformity when it comes to all gameplay designs working together. One of these is the use of Quills within the overworld and within levels. There are blue, green, yellow, pink, and red feathers that will show up in a given level. You can chase these down in order to get additional quills, or even sometimes a Trowzer coin. These can then be used to unlock tonics that you’ve discovered, purchase locked cases, or even get hints within the map. These never really felt out of place and still lined the game with recognizable features from the first Yooka-Laylee.
Beautiful world, views, and sounds
It seems on the second go-around, Playtonic has hit their stride as a new developer. Granted, they are made up of seasoned veterans. Impossible Lair has a great deal of variation from level to level. One outing may see massive turbines churning through the water, while the next ensures you are about your wits for some rope swinging.
It’s hard not to admire the punchy bright colors and clever layouts that each level has. This is also accompanied by a remarkable soundtrack, filled with whispy string plucks and bouncy tunes. Heck, I wouldn’t even mind putting it on repeat and getting lost in the plucks from the stringed instruments. This was probably the first game where I enjoyed a water level for its beauty, controls, and music choices — I don’t think I can honestly say that about any other game.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair has given Playtonic an opportunity to redeem themselves. Moving from the 3D space to a 2D one, at least for me, has given the game and its mechanics a lot more focus. There is still quite a bit to plow through in terms of hours you’ll be playing to unlock levels and find new areas. But that is all time well spent in my eyes.
It was already a few hours in before I realized I wasn’t encountering any boss battles. However, in lieu of traditional boss battles, the main focal point of the game is for you to overcome the Impossible Lair (hence the title). As previously mentioned, you’ll unlock members of the Royal Bee Guards when you complete a level. Each of these acts as lives when you’re ready to jump into the Impossible Lair, which is practically a house of death. This ultimate test of skill invites everything you’ve learned over the course of the game to use in order to defeat Capital B.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair marries a variety of platforming mechanics in a meaty campaign with tons of challenges ahead. It’s as polished as it is focused and as true to the genre as you can get. Now, sign me up for the next one.
A review code was provided by the publisher.