Yooka Laylee and The Impossible Lair Review – Nintendo Switch
October 4, 2019
Developed By: Playtonic Games
Published By: Team 17
Reviewed By: Jack Creamer
Thank you so much to Team 17 for providing a review code.
Back in 2017, former Rareware staff reunited under the name Playtonic Games released a game meant as a love letter to the classic days of 3D collectathon platformers akin to Banjo Kazooie and Super Mario 64. While the general public heavily criticized the game for various issues, I personally had a lot of fun with it. It had a memorable cast of characters, unique worlds, and great controls. Following the less than admirable perception of the game, I didn’t expect to see another entry in the Yooka Laylee series. However, Playtonic wasn’t giving up on the lizard and bat. Now, two whole years later the duo is back in action and ready to conquer the 2nd dimension. So is Yooka Layley and the Impossible Lair an improvement on its predecessor, or does it fall even further from grace? I’m glad to say right off the BAT (ha!) that this game does not disappoint.
You’re thrown into what seems to be the end of another adventure for Yooka and Laylee as they intercept Capital B to thwart his plans once again. You’re joined by Queen Phoebee whose civilization has been attacked by Capital B in order to get a mind control scepter from the queen herself. She aids you with an impenetrable bee shield as you go chase down Capital B. When you get to him however, he uses his scepter and scatters the bees across the land. Now with Capital B being unstoppable and the Beetalion scattered and captive you must decide whether to try your luck at the Impossible Lair with no backup or go on a rescue mission to save the forty-eight members of the Beetalion.
The story is short and simple and doesn’t really need to be any more complex for the kind of game we’re playing. One gripe I do have with it is that it is unclear what is going on when you first start. It almost felt like I missed a crucial cutscene. but that wasn’t the case. It’s a minor problem in the scheme of things but did make the first few minutes of gameplay jarring.
There’s also an incredible cast of new and returning characters to flesh out the world. As previously stated, Capital B is back and cooler looking than ever donning a more “wizardly commander” look instead of his suit and tie. It does lose that extra layer of pun on his name and it is sad that they pushed his greedy businessman personality aside, but this new persona fits his character well. Side characters like Trowser, Dr. Puzz, Vendi, Blasto and Kaboomie, and Kartos all make a return in this game. All are just as clever and well written as they ever were and bring a sense of familiarity to this new adventure. And of course, you can’t forget the delightful duo themselves; Yooka and Laylee! Yooka is still as normal as ever and Laylee as sarcastic and impatient as they come. Along with all these characters returns their amazing and hilariously written dialogue. The game never ceased to give me a chuckle when talking to Trowser or hearing Laylee’s cold-hearted reactions to anything going on around her. It has that dry, witty humor we all love and remember from the original Yooka-Laylee and even as far back as the Banjo games.
After a romp in the 3rd dimension didn’t really pan out for the duo, they decided to look at things from a different perspective. A big complaint myself and many others had about the original were that the worlds were very empty, well taking out that Z-axis seemed to help the designers cram more great ideas into a smaller space. Levels feel like they were meticulously designed to make the player flow through them like they’ve played it a thousand times, nothing feels out of place and everything is placed in a way that allows for any kind of playstyle, whether it be speedrunning or a casual romp. The levels usually last around six to ten minutes and can range in difficulty, but they never feel unfair. Most are a good challenge and are all satisfying to play through. Plus, with the addition of copious checkpoints and the removal of a lives system makes the game a lot more enjoyable overall.
The gameplay itself is super tight and enjoyable. Yooka controls like butter and has a nice weight to his movements which help with precise platforming. Not only does he control great on land but water-based movement is equally satisfying and is akin to the water movement in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. He’s also equipped with a roll that can plow through enemies and allow for great horizontal movement and some really cool platforming tricks, like a mid-air twirl that gives you an extra second of air. He’s also got a couple of other tricks like being able to grab onto things and spit them out ala Yoshi, a ground pound, and a normal twirl. All of these have their uses and are implemented well.
The big catch with all these options is that some of them require Laylee. When you take damage, Laylee gets startled and frantically flies around before eventually dashing out of the level. In that time frame you can recollect him, but if you fail to you lose the ability to do things like the ground pound, the mid-air twirl, and take the extra hit. Luckily if you lose Laylee it’s not the end, you can find Laylee bells scattered throughout the levels that call her back. One issue I have with losing Laylee is that she can be extremely difficult to get back even with a tonic that centers her movements towards you. I get that it’s supposed to be hard to get her back, but many times I found Laylee getting caught in a corner or out of reach of where I could reach her and losing her. This can be really annoying especially when you’re in the middle of a tough platforming section.
Every level has two main things to collect, the first is the quills that can be found almost everywhere and you can even get a large bonus of them by completing ghost quill challenges which test you on quick movement, precise platforming, and taking huge risks for big rewards. These quills can then be used to buy discovered tonics which I’ll get into in a bit.
The next things to unlock are the five TWIT coins hidden expertly throughout levels. Sometimes they could be staring you in the face, but you’ll have no clue how to get there, others are in the most ludicrous places that you wonder who even thought to put anything there in the first place. No coin feels unfair to find and they make every level that much more enjoyable while you look in every nook and cranny. TWIT coins when collected can go towards 100% completing a level which is indicated by a golden flag above the grand tome for that level. More importantly they also go towards Trowser’s many paywalls. These can be found in the overworld and restrict access to parts of the world until you get enough to open his gates. The prices for these paywalls aren’t cheap either in the late-game, going upwards of 20 per wall! This is by no means impossible but can require you to do some pretty extensive searching in levels where you missed one.
One thing that I found to be an extreme improvement on the original is the variety of enemies and their gimmicks. This game more than doubles, if not triples the number of enemies compared to the original. There’s an octopus enemy that pulls the current towards them, big-frog like creatures that knock you back with their stomach, and blowfish type enemies that home in on you and blow up when you’re far enough away allowing for cool implementations to get past them. This was such a positive addition and gives the levels more room for ideas.
Now you may be surprised to hear that the main part of the game being the 2D sections isn’t even the most in-depth part. The overworld is a whole game of its own. What at first seems a glorified way to get from level to level turns into this entire experience that is just as good as the core platforming gameplay. It controls similar to games like the original 2D Zelda’s where you have a top-down view and a very restricted amount of movement. The rules in the overworld are much different from the rules in the levels with only having small jumps and a brisk jogging pace. The overworld accounts for this though with a compact design that feels right.
There’s a ton to do in the overworld, firstly you can discover hidden tonics which can be found by completing various puzzles, or talking to Planko for buyable hints that are really fun to solve. Then there’s hidden Beetalion members, which are the hardest thing to find. They usually require thinking outside the box to get to in the overworld, or having you find a top-secret hidden exit in a certain level. There’s also Pagies that act as challenge levels with the reward of altering the overworld to help you reach new places. The challenges themselves are really fun and act a bit differently from the main platforming levels with the difference of losing Laylee immediately instead of being able to get her back.
Yooka Layley and the Impossible Lair links its two different worlds of gameplay in a really interesting way. Every level in the game has a second version of it that can be discovered from altering something in the overworld. For example; if you were to flood the grand tome in the overworld that would, in turn, open up a whole new version of the level that would be more water-based where before it was not. These new versions of levels are a tougher challenge, but are still fair and just as fun as the normal versions. The game finds so many interesting ways to change the conditions of the level through the overworld, I don’t want to spoil too many as they are pretty cool to discover for yourself but some of my favorites were flipping the grand tome on its head and causing the level to be turned upside down, turning on a fan in front of the tome to make the level windy, and so many more amazing idea.
The Impossible Lair
It’s finally, time to discuss the game’s namesake. The Impossible Lair is available right off the bat but you’re encouraged to reclaim the Beetalion members as they act as additional hit points for you, and trust me when I say you will need as many as you can get. The Impossible Lair doesn’t hold back any punches and with the removal of all checkpoints and being three times as long as your normal level with the additions of mini-boss fights it’s a tough as nails test of everything ever thrown at you in any level of the game thrown together.
As of writing this review, my best run was 36% through the level with thirty-eight Beetalion members to back me up. It is by no means just an unfair barrage of cheap deaths, rather a major test of skill, endurance, and above all else, willpower. This is absolutely the coolest addition in the game and the way it’s implemented is very clever.
As I’ve mentioned before, tonics are back in this game and are a bit more complex. They can be found scattered in the overworld and once discovered gives you the option to buy them using quills. Most of the tonics are just visual changes like adding a filter or changing the color palette, but some alter the general mechanics of the game. They can alter the game by giving Yooka a faster roll or make you climb on vines faster but they can also work against you by removing all but one checkpoint from a level or giving every enemy googly eyes. These tonics can also increase or decrease your quill multiplier at the end of a level. Tonics that help you will decrease it and ones that work against you will increase it. You can have up to three tonics equipped at any time and they only alter gameplay inside the platforming levels (not including Pagie challenges or the Impossible Lair). They’re nice additions and are fun to collect but personally, I found that most of the visual alteration tonics were bland.
Right off the bat when you start up the game it’s clear from just the menu that Playtonic has found an identity for Yooka-Laylee beyond just a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie. Instead of blatantly copying Banjos title screen with multiple scenes of the duo doing their thing. Yooka-Laylee’s title screen is presented with them flying through a grand tome onto their new adventure (side note this menu screen with the book is probably the best-looking thing in the game).
Beyond that let’s talk about the menu UI in the game. Sadly it is one of the few things that weren’t so great. They decided to go for a backdrop of a Pagie with paint splattered over it. This is a minor complaint and could very well just be personal preference, but it doesn’t really match the whole feel of the game, if it had been presented as the book from the title screen that you could flip through the pages it would’ve felt more right in the context of the world. Some of the menus themselves that track what you’ve collected are also very noisy looking, displaying everything in a giant grid-like structure making it look like a cluttered mess rather than a detailed list of collected items.
The visuals are a vast improvement on the original game. Everything looks absolutely stunning and fits well with the art style. The lighting is equally gorgeous with a dark blue for a rainy night or an icy grey for snowy levels. The overworld while equally impressive doesn’t have the same charm of the actual levels which is fine, because it still looks very good.
One problem I did have with the level design is that all the levels look very similar or have similar components. This wouldn’t be a bad thing if a level accessed in the beach part of the overworld looked the same as one in the grassy fields. However, there isn’t even that much variety with most levels taking on the look of a factory or a town. I feel like this was a choice made by the fact that many reused assets for levels aren’t very location-neutral so they had to implement things like townhouses everywhere to match things like the bright pink spiky door found everywhere. When objects are used outside of places like that though they stick out like a sore thumb and don’t match the visual design of the level.
Unsurprisingly the character and enemy designs are on point once again. Everyone looks delightfully cartoony and is filled with their own unique charm while blending with the world seamlessly. I really enjoyed the little visual details, like when you stomp a jetpack enemy and they barrel towards the screen or how when Yooka grabs things with his tongue he just chomps down on it like a dog with a soccer ball. These add to the “Saturday Morning Cartoon” style of humor and visuals that the game prides itself on.
One place where the game really shines is the soundtrack. Grant Kirkhope and David Wise together under one game is absolute perfection, there’s not a single song or tune that I didn’t immediately love. Levels like Ropeburn Ridge and Hazard Hanger immediately stood out to me and even the little 90’s style pumped up guitar solo that plays as the Pagies change the overworld were absolutely fantastic. The songs all fit the levels and situations perfectly and even change when you change the version of the level over to the alternate version.
Unfortunately similar to the original that came before it, Yooka Layley and the Impossible Lair is plagued with grossly long load times. Getting into the game itself is the longest of the bunch, but even getting into a level is painfully slow. Other than that though I didn’t encounter any other issues except for a few audio glitches.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is easily the best platformer I have ever played. With a character that feels great to move, level designs that look and play amazingly, an entire overworld that offers just as much fun as the main levels do and great characters and writing it’s impossible not to love this game. And of course the game’s claim to fame the Impossible Lair is refreshing and an actual challenge to complete unlike most other games these days which try to appeal to all audiences by making their games incredibly easy. Yooka-Laylee no longer represents the 3D collectathons of the late ’90s, but rather the unapologetic 2/2.5D Platformers akin to the Donkey Kong Country series while still being and feeling like its own series. Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair has paved the way for so much for Playtonic and I can’t wait to see what they put out next!
Fun & Challenging Gameplay
Cool Level Altering Mechanics
Every Level Was Enjoyable to Play Through
The Impossible Lair is a Fresh & Unique Idea
Entertaining Overworld to Explore
Fantastic Character & Enemy Designs
Levels Could Have Had Better Visual Differentiation
Long Load Times
Slightly Jarring Beginning
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