- Developer: Playtonic Games
- Publisher: Team17 Digital Ltd
- Release Date: 08/10/2019
- Price: $29.99 / £24.99
- Review code provided by Team17 Digital Ltd
Nostalgia can be a killer. Many games and genres live and die on nostalgia. The original Yooka Laylee achieved massive Kickstarter success from thousands of gamers who craved real “Rare” games. I was one such individual. I spent countless hours playing Donkey Kong Country 1 & 2 on the SNES as a kid. Many nights and weekends were spent at my friend’s house as he owned a N64. Goldeneye and Banjo claimed more time than I could imagine. I will even state that I got 100% in Nuts & Bolts back in college. So, backing the newest creation from the old guard of Rareware was a no brainer.
Years went by and I finally got my hands on the game and it was fun. But that was it, it was just fun. It didn’t hold the same magic as their previous games held. I was still hopeful though, because Playtonic (the name of the new team) stated they wanted to continue to create more. Maybe they just needed to get the kinks out and their next project would be the true 2nd coming of Banjo? We didn’t have to wait overly long, as earlier this year, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair was announced, and it was a 2.5D platformer of all things! Should Playtonic have stuck with 3D or was this back to the basics game the perfect choice?
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair places the player in control of Yooka the Chameleon and Laylee the Bat as they face the despicable Capital B once again. This time, he has a device called the Hivemind that allows him to control Queen Phoebee’s bees. With this, he is almost invincible! What are our heroes to do? Why rescue the Beettalion from Capital B’s clutches and use them as an impressive bee shield of their own. Silly yes, but it’s perfectly silly in all the right ways. The writing is dry and witty, and I found myself giggling multiple times in my 15-hour playthrough. This felt like some of the most “Rare” comedy I have experienced in long time.
Gameplay in the Impossible Lair is split into two sections, the 2.5D levels and the overworld. Action in the overworld takes place with a top down camera. You have the same abilities you would have in the standard levels, but movement feels a bit slower. Having this overarching overworld still gives it a Banjo-Kazooie meets Zelda feel. You are constantly looking for tomes (levels) to enter and randomly encounter other misfit characters, some old and some new. They will usually require you to complete a small task to move the game forward or give you hints to unlock secrets. In true Zelda fashion, they are breakable walls that must be bombed. I found myself trying to explore every inch of this world as there were secrets everywhere; most in the form of tonics, gameplay modifiers fans of the original will remember, and a few Beettalion units.
The 2.5D levels are the meat of the game and while it may seem a bit too easy to begin with, Playtonic reminds us that they called this game “Impossible Lair” for a reason. The stage gradually gets more and more complex and the whole time I was playing this game, I couldn’t help but think, “this is what I would want from a DKC 4”. Each of the games 40 stages contain 5 T.W.I.T. coins each. These coins are vital for progress in the overworld as Trowzer is back with his new get rich quick scheme, Pay Walls. This conniving snake will block access to many areas in the overworld unless you fork over those coins! I personally feel this method was not a hardship as I naturally found enough coins and by the halfway point, I became obsessed with collecting all 5 in every level.
One piece of the game I am not the biggest fan of was the Impossible Lair itself. Even though it is not actually impossible, it is quite the challenge. This level is always available and involves a few boss fights with Capital B and oodles of the most challenging platforming sections this side of Meat Boy. In this level, the Beettalion units you have rescued become your shield, effectively giving you more chances to finish the level. Even with all 48 Beettalion units, I found myself struggling to get over the 50% mark for a while, and yes, the game tracks your percentage finished and attempts. While I don’t think Playtonic should have made it easier, I think they should have made some of the latter levels more challenging, to make the curve more balanced.
While the character designs for Yooka & Laylee don’t seem quite as iconic as Donkey & Diddy or Banjo & Kazooie, they did grow on me more in this game. The characters had wonderful animations, such as the hit animation when Laylee flies around scared, or Trowzer just being his sleazy self. The levels showed a lot of variety, between flooded factories, bright towns and imposing airships. I was worried that the levels wouldn’t feel as diverse with only 20 base levels and their altered versions. I really had nothing to worry about as the team at Playtonic took it upon themselves to make the altered versions feel fresh. There were times when the two levels didn’t really resemble each other, and then moments when you realize, “wow, this is why this item was here, it was meant for this version of the level.”
One of my favorite aspects of the DKC games was the outstanding soundtracks. The Impossible Lair kept giving me feelings reminiscent of these games. Playtonic had Grant Kirkhope, David Wise and Dan Murdoch among others to compose tracks for the game. Many will recognize Kirkhope and Wise as Rare legends and having them as part of the collaboration is always great. But I can say that every song in the game is a blast and I will definitely start going to this game as one of my go-to’s for music.
In my time with Yooka-Laylee, I only encountered one issue, and it was not a deal breaker in my book. I was playing in handheld and just started a level and before I knew it, I realized I had to run off somewhere for real world responsibilities. Before the level started, I put my switch to sleep, thinking nothing about it. When I returned to my game hours later, I found it stuck on the loading screen. After restarting the game, I just made sure to not put the system to sleep while the game was loading. Other than that, my experience with the Impossible Lair went off without a hitch in both docked and handheld mode.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is everything I didn’t know I wanted from Playtonic. This is the game that I personally was waiting for from them. Throughout the entire playtime, I kept thinking about my time with DKC 2 as a kid and the many summer days spent pouring over every inch of it. I said it before and I will say it again, this game is everything I would want from a Rare made DKC 4 and I am a happier gamer having experienced it.
- Exceptional 2D platforming
- Whimsical Soundtrack
- Loads of Secrets
- Inconsistent Difficulty Balance
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is an exceptional platformer that bottles the essence of early 90’s Rareware classics while also bringing new and original ideas to the table.