Yooka-Laylee was never going to reach the standard that people had set for it. With a successful Kickstarter campaign and a group of Rare veterans behind it, there was naturally a lot of hype for the game to rejuvenate the 3D platforming genre that was so prominent in the 90s – the fact that it was going to adopt the gameplay blueprint of the much-loved Banjo-Kazooie just got gamers even more excited, whilst having legendary composers Grant Kirkhope and David Wise return to provide the music was the cherry on top. When the game finally released though the reception was mixed, with the vibrant adventure ticking a lot of boxes for some gamers but leaving others desiring more.
Fortunately, the game saw plenty of improvements by the time it eventually made its way to the Nintendo Switch (which feels like a natural home for the game) and Playtonic had a great foundation in place to ready the dynamic lizard and bat duo for their next adventure. That next adventure is Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair – a game that re-invents the formula of the first game by shifting to a scrolling platforming adventure (a la Donkey Kong Country) with some 3D overworld goodness thrown in for good measure. It’s a complete change to what gamers would’ve been used to in the first Yooka-Laylee game, but believe me, it really makes for something special that platforming fans will NOT want to miss out on.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair sees series villain Capital B causing havoc once again with his dastardly hijinks, with his plan in this game involving using a ‘Hivemind’ device to enslave the kingdom of bees. Worst of all, his base has shifted from the Hivory Towers to the ‘Impossible Lair’ – a treacherous locale that’s full of hazards and baddies that is supposedly impossible to get through. Nothing is impossible for Yooka and Laylee though and with the help of Queen Phoebee and her Royal Beetallion (bees that can act as a shield for you), they’re hoping to thwart Capital B’s plans once more. There’s only one way to get those bees, though: rescuing them from each of the game’s levels.
The narrativedelivers exactly what you’d expect from a colourful platforming adventure: it’s charming, it’s funny (and not afraid to poke fun at itself), and it’s full of witty putdowns from everyone’s favourite bat… what more could you want? There are plenty of interactions with the world’s weird-and-wonderful inhabitants and they’re all a pleasure to witness in-game, whilst seeing returning characters take up new roles (including the entrepreneurial and cheekily-named snake Trowzer) will be nice for those returning to the series. It just never takes itself too seriously, and it makes the whole adventure all the more endearing.
The bulk of your time in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair will be spent playing through the game’s side-scrolling levels, with each of the forty-levels adopting different themes and featuring the hallmarks of the 2D platformers of the past. You can expect plenty of platforms to jump between, hazards to avoid, enemies to smash up, and all sorts of other neat platforming mechanics that tie into the theme of each level. Traversing these levels in itself is a joy, with the controls and your move set are all simple in design; you’re able to run, jump, roll (which can build up momentum) and glide through levels, with the roll and jumping on an enemy’s head proving effective at taking them down. The way that combat and traversal streamline into each other works well in-game too, with the player able to blast across levels at pace whilst stringing together combos of attacks on your enemies at the same time – it’s satisfying stuff that ensures the action never seems to stop. The best part of all? It feels JUST like Donkey Kong Country. Don’t get me wrong, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair certainly manages to establish its own identity, but much like the first game it’s clear where the inspiration for it lies.
Whilst Laylee is with you for the most part, when you take a hit she will fly away a short distance. If you’re quick enough to reach her, she’ll rejoin you immediately, but if you wait too long she’ll disappear. Fortunately, you’ve only got to reach one of the many bells scattered around to get her back, but her disappearance does make you vulnerable – if she’s not with you, it’ll only take one hit for Yooka to perish, whilst you’ll also lose some of your abilities such as the ground-pound and glide. It’s makes for a neat health system that doesn’t only make you more vulnerable, but the game more challenging by limiting your moveset when you take a hit.
Everything is complimented by the level design, with each stage of the game crafted in an exceptional manner. You’re going to need both precision and quick reactions as you bounce between hazards, whilst the occasional chase sequences will keep you on your toes too. Quills act as the basic collectibles, with plenty littered across levels and some earned by chasing after big colourful quills (it makes sense in game). There are also five collectible coins to be found per level that are necessary to progress to the later levels in the game too, so you’ve got to keep a keen eye out for any secret areas or locations that are slightly out of reach. Sometimes, you can be your own worst enemy in this regard – there were plenty of times where I smashed up some crates or killed an enemy only to realise that I’d need them to bounce my way to a hidden coin that was just out of view. Thankfully, checkpoints are plentiful so you can always just let yourself die to have another crack at it, but sometimes it’s more enjoyable to just play through the levels again anyway.
Those checkpoints can actually make Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair a bit of an easy game. Don’t get me wrong, you can expect do die a lot thanks to the varying tricky hazards in your path, but the fact that you have infinite lives means there aren’t really any stakes in play if you do. Similar platformers have demanded less risk and more concentration from players by having a lives system in place, but when you know you’re going to get another shot at some tricky obstacle, it’s easy to get complacent. Heck, the game even gives you the opportunity to skip entire sequences if you die on them a few too many times, which shows it can be a little bit too guilty of holding your hand.
That being said, you can at least expect the titular ‘Impossible Lair’ to cause you some problems. You can tackle it at any point in the game (it was reported pre-release that the game can be beaten in twenty minutes if you’re particularly skilled), but you’re going to need those collectible bees if you want to have any realistic chance of succeeding. When you clear a level, you unlock a bee – each bee you have then acts as a hitpoint when you tackle the Impossible Lair. Completed five levels? You’ve got a bee-shield that can take five hits. Ten levels? You can be hit ten times. Twenty levels… yeah, I think you get the point. This adds a really unique dynamic to Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, and believe me, you will NEED those bees if you want to take Capital B down. The Impossible Lair is full of hazards, enemies, bosses and plenty of ways for Yooka and Laylee to meet their demise and it will REALLY put your platforming skills to test, so you’re going to want to go in with as many bees as you can get. Besides, it’s not as if collecting them is a chore, with each level a joy to play through.
There’s not just side-scrolling platforming in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair though, with a 3D overworld acting as a hub between levels and offering a few fun little puzzles for the player to solve. A lot of these are simple enough and just require you to blow something up by throwing a bomb, pushing some blocks around, or modify the environment with one of the elemental fruits, whilst some require a little bit of platforming. You can also complete mini-challenges that Pagies offer to change up the overworld layout, whilst there are plenty of hidden Tonics to find too (more on them in a bit). Whilst the main levels of the game focus more on quick-paced action, the overworld has you put on your thinking cap and explore a little to progress further through the game. There are plenty of secrets to be found too, so plays will really want to keep their eyes peeled…
There’s also one really neat thing you can do in the overworld – change the state of a level. You could activate a waterfall to flood a level and turn it into a swimming escapade for the heroes, freeze another so that all of its previously working fountains now act as platforms, or just add some windy twisters to give our heroes the chance to glide skywards through levels. The best thing about these changes is that they’re based around the initial level designs and don’t change up the layout – there’s just a whole new way to approach them. I loved the way it was implemented in-game and their effectiveness just shows how clever the level design is to begin with. Plus, they essentially double the level count in the game… can’t complain about that.
Those aforementioned Tonics you find can change gameplay up in a variety of ways. It might be a case of allowing you to string together more attacks, adding more checkpoints to a level, making enemies tougher to beat, making the heroes glow or have larger heads, or just allowing to keep any collectibles if you die – that’s just naming a few too, with over sixty to find across the game’s overworld in total. You can only activate three at a time though and they affect the amount of quills you can get in a level based upon their effect – if it’s a positive thing that helps you out, the amount of quills you get will decrease, but if it makes the game tougher, you’ll get more. The fun Tonics that just change up the game’s visuals and stuff don’t affect the quills at all though, so you can equip them with no worries. Like most other aspects of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, the Tonics are fun to play around with and give the player some extra things to hunt for.
Visually, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair looks great on both the Swich’s handheld and TV mode, whilst it manages to run at a slick 60fps on both too. The only real performance issue I came across was with the loading times, but even they are bearable really – sure, you’ll have to twiddle your thumbs a bit during them, but the levels themselves are pretty lengthy so it’s not like you’ll face too many loading screens in quick succession.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is brilliant, with the fluid and fun platforming, the fantastic level design, and the charming world all coming together beautifully to make for one of the best platformers you’ll find on the Nintendo Switch.
Developer: Playtonic Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC