Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, developed by Playtonic and published by Team17, is the sequel to 2017’s Yooka-Laylee. Out now for Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC, it’s one of the best platformers we’ve seen in recent years. Here’s why.
The original Yooka-Laylee was positioned as a bit of a love letter to the 3D platformers of the mid-to-late nineties. It did fairly well, but was also criticized for feeling a tad uninspired. Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair takes a slightly different approach, applies plenty of polish and adds subtle touches that help elevate it above the crowd for what is perhaps this year’s best entry in the genre.
If Yooka-Laylee was about 3D platformers, then Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is about the entire platforming genre, spanning both the 2D and 3D eras. It blends these together rather seamlessly too, through one of the best implementations of a game map I’ve ever seen. I suppose “game map” doesn’t really justify what the developers would call the overworld, but a lot of the game’s charm comes from how well implemented it is – and it comes across best when comparing it to a regular game map.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair’s overworld is realized in 3D, and while it’s used for selecting your next level (rendered in 3D but played as a 2D platformer), it’s so much more than just a way to pick your next level. A “lite” kind of platformer itself, the overworld allows you to unlock other levels by finding or activating items, finding collectibles and solving puzzles. What’s a really nice touch is that the overworld also allows for some extra replayability, as it can unlock alternate versions of the 2D levels you’ve already played. In these, water may have frozen over, or additional enemies might have appeared, creating a refreshed challenge in a previously explored level.
There’s a narrative behind Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair as well, and it’s connected to the first game. You once again face Capital B with Yooka and Laylee, and a lot of the adventure is you getting ready to face his impossible lair to prevent him getting access to an army of bees. Speaking of which – you also employ the help of Queen Phoebee and her Beetallion, so get ready for a ton of bee-related puns.
What I haven’t even touched on yet is Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair’s core gameplay, which is now much closer to traditional 2D platforming than what we experienced in the first Yooka-Laylee. The technology of 2019 renders all the action in 3D creating a cool 2.5D effect, but the influences of games like Rayman and Donkey Kong County (several veterans of which worked on Yooka-Laylee) are easy to see.
The level designs are excellent, and that’s not even accounting for the alternate versions that are available. The controls also work great, and include a few tricks that are specific to the Yooka-Laylee duo that stars in the game. Laylee’s ability to fly enables you to glide for a short moment, but getting hit means Laylee gets scared and flies off (until you hit a bell to bring her back). This changes the dynamic and also adds the fact that you’re close to having to start back at a respawn point if you get hit again.
Spinning in mid-air acts as a double jump of sorts, allowing you to reach just that tiny bit further, while rolling isn’t just an offensive move when faced with enemies but also provides a little speed boost ahead of a jump. It all works great, and makes exploring the levels a lot of fun. You can either head straight to your objective, or try collecting the many quills, coins and tonics that are littered throughout the game.
With all these collectibles, it’s no surprise that Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair features a lot of unlockable content and secrets. Sometimes, the key to reaching that elusive pickup is to selectively destroy the environment in a special order, or to apply a previously picked up batch of quills towards the purchase of an upgrade or the opening of a door. As such, there’s a lot of lasting appeal to the game – reminding me of the countless hours I spent with the recent Rayman games – brilliant examples of the genre in today’s era. Just going back into Yooka-Laylee to play that one level again, get that one collectible or unlock that new area or version is part of what makes Playtonic’s latest a great platformer.
The audiovisual presentation of the game is also worth mentioning. There was a time where no one was doing 2D platformers anymore because everything had to be in 3D, but games like this showcase how much of a joy it can be to look at traditional platforming. This is thanks to bright and colorful visuals, as well as a host of diverse characters that you encounter along the way. Adding to the experience is a stellar soundtrack, consisting mostly of cheerful yet laid back melodic pieces.
If you’re a platforming enthusiast, then Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is the title to get this year. It’s approachable and thus family friendly as well (despite a few difficulty spikes here and there), features plenty of gameplay diversity over the course of a lengthy campaign and is a joy to watch and listen to even when you’re not playing.