Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair Review
Playtonic Games trades in 3D platforming for 2D on this adventure.
Playtonic Games was formed by former developers at Rare a few years ago and resulted in the 3D platformer Yooka-Laylee, a spirtual successor to the fan favorite Banjo-Kazooie series. There had been no news about a new game until only a few months ago when they surprised everyone with the reveal of their latest game. Now only a few months later, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair has arrived as the very different sequel none of knew that we needed.
Just like the original, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair stars the titular chameleon Yooka and bat Laylee as they go on an adventure to stop the villainous CEO Capital B from using what is known as the Hive Mind. Queen Phoebee enlists you to rescue her Royal Beettalion to try and survive what is known as the Impossible Lair to take down Capital B once again. This is far from a straight by the numbers sequel, as Playtonic Games has tried something entirely different with a move to a hybrid 2D platformer from the 3D platformer people would recognize from the first game.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair features an overworld structure that you rarely see in 2D platformers. Movement between levels may be done through a map screen in other games, but this one takes it to the next level. The overworld itself feels like a 3D platformer as you’re gradually expanding the world itself and gaining access to new stages. At the start, you are pretty limited in where you can go, only being able to access two different stages, but this is where you have to start interacting with the world to open it up even further.
One of the major methods for expanding the world is by bypassing Paywalls, which are controlled by everybody’s favorite snake Trowzer. These appear a few times throughout the game and require payment in the form of T.W.I.T. Coins, which you will be collecting within each stage in the game. While five of these are available in each stage, you do not have to find all of them. Some games struggle by gating players and forcing them to grind way too hard for collectibles to continue, but thankfully the required amounts for the Paywalls are rarely that outrageous.
Across this decently sized overworld, you will find 20 different books that you can open and enter, which represent the actual stages in the game that are designated as Chapters. These stages utilize a 2D style akin to something like the Donkey Kong Country series, most specifically the more modern entries like Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. There may not be quite the variety of stage design as in series such as that, but there are definitely still themes across the different stages that separate themselves from one another.
The actual controls within these stages are incredibly well designed, with Yooka having a basic attack when standing still and a rolling attack when moving. When in air, you can use Laylee to spin and damage enemies, as well as to extend your airtime when necessary. While not needed as often as the aforementioned moves, the Buddy Slam can also be used to break barriers or boxes below you. The moveset may not be as versatile as in the original game, but it feels just right for this style of game. On top of that, the controls themselves are incredibly tight and easy to handle, which is very important considering the difficulty level this game offers at times.
Rather than a strict copy of the lives system found in the Donkey Kong Country series, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair actually takes that system and pairs it with inspiration from another classic Nintendo game. When the duo are hit in the game, Laylee will detach from Yooka and fly around for a short period of time. This is reminiscent of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island’s lives system with Baby Mario, though thankfully there is no loud wailing from Laylee here. If you touch Laylee again before she flies away, she will rejoin you, but she will disappear if you do not. Once Laylee is gone, Yooka is at a handicap with no extra jump distance and the loss of the Buddy Slam, so getting her back is vital. This can be done by either finding a Laylee Bell that are placed throughout the level or dying and restarting from a checkpoint with her. This lives system works quite well in the game and helps to balance the overall difficulty of the game.
While it may seem like there are only 20 stages in the game at first, each one of these Chapters actually have a variant version that you can access through differing methods to expand the total to 40 in the game. Accessing the secondary version may require you to find items in the overworld that open up the secondary version or it may be as simple as waiting to enter when water washes over the stage. You might expect these alternate versions to feature only small tweaks, but Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair really impresses by turning the majority of these stages on their head with a completely different experience in the secondary version. On top of that, there are also four secret exits to be found in the game that lead you to additional Beettalions as well.
Each and every Beettalion is going to be very important to you beating Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, as they come into play with the game’s actual Impossible Lair mentioned in the title. At the very start of the game, you will face off against Capital B and then get placed into the Impossible Lair. Unless you are a master of the game, you will almost certainly lose quite quickly and be thrust into the overworld itself. From this point onward, you can try out the Impossible Lair whenever you want in the game, with the goal being to make it to the end.
The Impossible Lair is designed for you to fail, so you need the Beettalion’s which serve as extra lives essentially. For every hit you take in the Impossible Lair, you will lose a Beettalion that is protecting you for that try only. There are 48 total to be found in the game, so waiting to take on the Impossible Lair when you have as many as you can is the best idea. The difficulty found in the levels in the game is multiplied tenfold here, making this even a challenge for the best of players with all 48 Beettalions.
Not only do you have the T.W.I.T. Coins mentioned prior to find within each of the stages, but there are also Quills to be found within each stage as well. Unlike the finite T.W.I.T. Coins, you can go back and collect Quills in each stage over and over again to stack them for when you need them. Quills can be used to open cages in the game, which house items to unlock alternate versions of stages, keys, and more, as well as to get hints from Planker the signpost you will find all throughout the game. The collection of Quills is also impacted by another element carried over from the original game, Tonics.
Tonics are special game-modifiers that are available in this game once again, which you can find scattered throughout the overworld. Some of these are out in the open and are relatively easy to access, while others require some thinking on how to get them. Many of the Tonics are are ability boosting, such as being able to roll faster, slow down time, or arguably the best in the game, the ability to keep T.W.I.T. Coins collected upon dying in a stage. Others are more for aesthetics though, with many offering different filters to experience the game with. The aesthetic Tonics can be used without any sort of consequence, but the ability boosting ones come at the cost of reducing the number of Quills you receive per stage. Based on the Tonic you select, a negative multiplier will be added to your Quill total at the end of the stage, so you have to weigh whether having them active is worth it.
Playtonic Games made a very risky move by steering away from the style they knew, but it paid off handsomely with the incredibly fun Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. Tight controls and excellent level design make for an enjoyable experience even when the game gets difficult, which is definitely the case with the Impossible Lair itself. If you’re looking for something to scratch that Donkey Kong Country itch after Tropical Freeze or just want a well designed platformer, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair may be just the game for you.
Even with plenty of superb 2D platformers releasing in recent years, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair easily belongs alongside the best the generation has to offer thanks to excellent level design and platforming that is evocative of past classics from the genre.
- Available On: Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One
- Published By: Team17
- Developed By: Playtonic Games
- Genre: Platformer
- US Release Date: October 8, 2019
- Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
- Quote: "Even with plenty of superb 2D platformers releasing in recent years, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair easily belongs alongside the best the generation has to offer thanks to excellent level design and platforming that is evocative of past classics from the genre."