Yooka and Laylee are on another adventure to put a stop to Capital B’s devious plans! This time, the evil villain has created a Bee Mind Control Device known as the Hive Mind in order to enslave all bees in the Royal Stingdom. Defeat Capital B by making your way through the Impossible Lair but unless you want to take on the ultimate challenge, you may need to rescue a few of the Beettalions before you do.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair plays like classic Donkey Kong Country platformers, but with its own Yooka-Laylee twist. The game runs as smooth as butter during each Chapter and whilst there may be a few hiccups during loading screens and in the overworld, it’s stable where it matters.
What makes the gameplay so great in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is the amount of abilities you unlock. From the start, you learn to roll and when rolling through enemies, you gain a quick boost. This boost can continue onwards for as many enemies as you’re able to take out which is not only great for the general pace of the game, but for speedrunners as well. You can also roll off and jump from a ledge (or even in mid-air when falling of a ledge), allowing you to cover greater distances.
Your health is a two-hit system, where you lose Laylee when hit once and are taken back to the last checkpoint on the second hit. However, this system works similarly as in Yoshi’s Island (without the annoying crying) as you can collect Laylee as he flutters around for a limited time by jumping into him or by ringing the Laylee Bell. When you’ve taken that first hit and Laylee is no longer on Yooka’s head, you’re abilities are limited. You feel vulnerable during these moments, providing great incentive to recollect him or not get hit in the first place.
It wouldn’t be a Yooka-Laylee game without collectibles. Quills make a return and are scattered everywhere, whether they be out in the open or hiding away in crates. The Quills act as currency in order to buy Tonics and unlock chests in the overworld, so be on the lookout. It’s nice to see that they don’t provide extra lives (to which the game does not feature at all) as the lives concept is arguably outdated. There are also special Quill Ghosts that allow you to collect Quills in abundance, whether they require you to repeatedly jump on them or run through a line of Quills that only remain there for a limited time. What’s more difficult to collect are the five T.W.I.T Coins in each level. Sometimes these are hidden in plain sight where you need to overcome a challenge, other times they are hidden in secret locations, forcing completions to scour every nook and cranny of each level. This collectathon aspect helps to fill in the gaps as 2D platformers can grow mundane if there’s not enough to do in between large stretches.
Tonics act as neat ability buffs or debuffs that can be equipped to your liking. There’s a risk/reward system here where buff tonics decrease your Quill multiplier, giving you less at the end of the level and debuff tonics increasing it. This allows you to set your own difficulty and have it adjustable to your skill level and how much you’re willing to risk (your sanity). You can only equip up to three Tonics at a time (unless, you unlock all T.W.I.T doors to which Trowzer will give present you with a fourth Tonic slot), so choose wisely. They provide some great bonuses and abilities, such as Laylee panicking less when he is knocked off of Yooka’s head and more checkpoints (cleverly referred to as Checkmates). The Tonics can only be found in the overworld, making for more reason to explore its puzzle-like design.
The game features Milestones which act as an achievement/trophy system. For the Nintendo Switch version, as there are no in-game benefits aside for completion’s sake, this feels somewhat redundant as the console itself doesn’t feature an achievement system of any kind.
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The Nintendo Switch version of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair features great HD Rumble effects that makes each movement come alive. Feel the shock when ground-pounding or the circular motion when rolling. Tactile feedback can make a world of difference in a platformer and this game has done just that.
Level Design / World Design
Your overall goal is to defeat Capital B and his Impossible Lair. The layout of the game actually permits you to take on the Impossible Lair from the beginning, but it won’t be easy (hence “Impossible” Lair). At the end of each Chapter level, you rescue a member of the Beettallion, allowing you an extra hit and making the Impossible Lair more possible. There are a whopping total of 48 Beettalions to rescue but to avoid making the game too easy, they can only be used when taking on the Impossible Lair itself. For the sake of this review, I attempted the Impossible Lair from the get-go to see just how “Impossible” it really was and sure enough, it’s not easy. That’s not to say that it cannot be done, which speedrunners will surely opt to do to finish the game as quickly as possible, but the crux of the game is certainly in the adventure itself so if you want the most bang for your buck, I’d strongly suggest going through the levels and exploring the overworld. But remember, there is no limit as to how many times you can attempt the Impossible Lair, so go your hardest… if you dare.
Checkpoints can be a tricky thing in 2D platformers, but Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is quite generous with them without making the game feel overly simplified (especially if you equip the Tonic to have them appear even more frequently). They’re also very well placed, making each death feel like a setback without frustrating the player with daunting and repetitive treks.
The overworld takes on a topdown 2.5D perspective and is absolutely packed with hidden secrets, collectibles and mini-games. It’s a fantastic way of providing the 3D platforming that fans know from the series whilst making a 2D platformer that replicates the classic Donkey Kong Country series. Within the overworld, there are also many secrets to uncover. Find Quills in treasure chests, Planker the signpost for tips and clues and Pagies to undertake bite-sized Challenge Levels that rearranges the Overworld in order to progress.
I was amazed when I found out that some actions in the overworld can have an effect on completed chapters, allowing for you to play through an alternate level and collect another Beettalion. This can include using Yooka’s tongue to grab a Water Berry off of a bush and throw it at a Chapter that is in an area where it can be submerged, turning the level into an ice-themed level and allowing you to reach areas that you were unable to before. There are a whole variety of ‘B-side’ levels that keeps the gameplay interesting and unique, which I just have to take my metaphorical hat off to Playtonic Games for.
The T.W.I.T Coins are to be given to Trowzer in the overworld at his Paywalls in order to unlock new areas, giving them meaning and urgency to collect. Not only is the nod to the dark side of modern gaming a neat touch, it hammers in the collectathon nature of these games that we dearly loved in the 90s.
The story is quite straightforward for a game such as this; the villain (Capital B) is planning on taking over the world again by the use of an evil invention and it is up to the protagonists (Yooka and Laylee) to stop him. The idea that you can take on Capital B and his Impossible Lair whenever you choose to is a neat twist, but it provides less plot development on a plot that was already mundane and unimaginative to begin with.
Where Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair does shine however is in its characters. They’re all back: Capital B, Trowzer, Vendi, Dr. Puzz and a whole bunch of new characters, too. The dialogue and banter is as witty as ever, with great puns and punchline-hitting one-liners that are sure to put a smile on your face.
Graphics / Art Direction
The art style is gorgeous, despite it seemingly taking a bit of a hit on the Switch’s hardware. In 2D levels, the game does a fantastic job at layering, meaning that the backdrops are creatively detailed and some models are brought to the foreground. This helps to create 3D space in an otherwise 2D layout.
On top its beautiful design, Vendi has returned to offer Tonics that, in some cases, change the graphical style of the game. They first need to be found in order to unlock them but once you’ve done that and bought them, you are free to swap them in and out to your liking. It’s purely a cosmetic touch, but some are so wacky that you’ve just got to laugh.
Music / Sound Design
The soundtrack is composed by both Grant Kirkhope and David Wise… need I say more? If you don’t know who these composers are, Grant Kirkhope is commonly known for his work on Banjo-Kazooie, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle and the original Yooka-Layle; David Wise is known for his work on the Donkey Country series, including the original trilogy and Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze. This combines both of Rareware’s legendary composers and with both tackling a wide variety of genres, the soundtrack is absolutely mesmerising.
If you’ve played the original 3D Yooka-Laylee game, you may notice some nods with returning melodies snuck in here and there. It’s a neat little touch that reminds us just how happy we are that this legendary team of developers are back and better than ever.
Final Score: 94%
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is the budding duo’s greatest adventure to date. Its 2D levels coupled with the topdown 3D overworld provides a great mix of challenges that contains hours of jolly entertainment. In addition to all that, the beautiful art style and the iconic musical arrangements of two legendary composers propels this game to a whole new level. You can beat tackle the Impossible Lair from the very beginning but with an adventure this fine, why would you?
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- Belinda Cubitt