Back in 2017, I played and reviewed the original Yooka-Laylee game over on Virtual Bastion, the spiritual successor to the much-loved Banjo-Kazooie series, made by the very same people who brought us the famous bear and bird duo back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. I had some mixed feelings about the game, and owing to the fact that I wasn’t alone in my feelings, considering the game’s lukewarm reception, I assumed that was that. Yooka-Laylee was a rather unsuccessful experiment to revive a long-lost style of game from the dead, and there was a good chance we’d never see our chameleon and bat pair ever again. And then, much to probably everyone’s surprise, along came Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. And while I wished Playtonic luck in their endeavors, I must admit that I was a bit reluctant to give the series another chance.
Until people kept telling me how good it was. With Christmas of 2019 upon us, I decided to purchase the game at Wal-Mart when I discovered that it was sold out at the local GameStop (a good sign, I suppose?). Even so, it was months before I finally got around to playing it, and when I finally did…let me tell you, as a person who wasn’t terribly fond of the first game, The Impossible Lair is way better!
While the first game was like an unpolished Banjo-Kazooie game, The Impossible Lair is far more akin to the new Donkey Kong Country games, Returns and Tropical Freeze. But…possibly even better. In addition to being a very competent 2D side-scroller, you also have a large overworld, complete with puzzles to solve in order to unlock new sections of the map and alternate versions of each stage. (More on that later.) And while Yooka and Laylee’s move set is pretty simple, it gets the job done quite nicely. You can roll into enemies and move much faster by rolling, and Laylee herself grants you additional abilities like the buddy slam and a twirl that can extend a jump or slow down your descent. I bring up her abilities separately from Yooka’s because, if you take a hit, Laylee just might fly away if you’re not fast enough to get her back. I really like that the game rewards you for being careful and that Laylee is an important part of the team.
While most of this game is a pretty basic 2D platformer, there are two major distinctions that set it apart from other games of its genre. For one thing, I can’t help but compare this game to Breath of the Wild because of The Impossible Lair itself. Yes, Breath of the Wild! In BotW, you could technically head straight for the final boss and beat the game right away. (I mean, it would be really tough to do that. But you could.) In this game, you actually start at the Impossible Lair. And unless you happen to be a truly spectacular platformer, you are not going to last very long. So your goal in this game is going to be to prepare for the Impossible Lair by completing the various chapters and rescuing the Royal Bees, which grant you an extra hit in the Impossible Lair. There are a grand total of 48 of these bees to find, 40 from the game’s 20 stages, 4 on the overworld, and 4 from finding secret exits.
The other unique feature is that each chapter has an alternate version. You can flood a world, flip it upside down, make it windy, or even fill it with extra enemies. And even though you’re technically playing through each stage twice, they all feel unique and different enough that you won’t really feel like you’re simply redoing everything over again. This is kind of like your ability to expand worlds in the first game, but instead of making an already large world even bigger and more tedious to traverse, this actually makes each stage feel fun and new again.
There is one caveat that I must mention based on other people’s comments on the game, however. I read that the Impossible Lair itself ruined the game for a lot of people. Most of the game is fairly easy, but the Lair itself…it’s really hard. You remember those optional K levels in DKC Returns and Tropical Freeze that you unlock by collecting every KONG letter? It’s like those, except 30 minutes long and required in order to complete the game. If you’re more of a casual gamer and don’t enjoy wickedly difficult platforming, I gotta warn you, you may not enjoy playing through this game, only to have completion barred to you just because of the final level.
But if you do enjoy levels like this, I wouldn’t let the Impossible Lair scare you off. Yeah, it’s hard, but it is a rather fun test of your skill, and you will get better if you just practice. Heck, on my first try, I reached part 2 with 2 bees. Yes, 2. After a few tries, though, I reached part 2 with 42 bees! Now that’s a big difference. Also, back in April, Playtonic added an update where the Impossible Lair now has checkpoints, in a sense, allowing you to redo a specific section with the best number of bees you had when you reached it. So be sure to download that update because it makes this area much less awful! After three hours of futile attempts, I returned to the game the next day and picked up from where I left off in part 3. Which was pretty convenient, I must say.
So aside from that one word of warning, I would highly recommend this game, which is not something I could really say for the first game. Playtonic clearly listened to their fans and gave us an improved gaming experience, and I really appreciate that. My only complaint is the fact that the camera sometimes zips around, which is…weird. Sometimes it will move really fast, and while it doesn’t hurt my gameplay or anything, it’s always a bit strange when it happens. (As a side note, I didn’t find the characters’ voices annoying in this game, either!)
The people at Playtonic, back when they were still part of Rareware, gave me a handful of the games I cherish most from my childhood. As such, I personally want them to succeed, and I can’t help but feel proud of them for taking the mixed and negative reactions to the first game and really delivering something beyond our expectations. It was a bold move indeed to go from an open 3D platformer to a 2D side-scroller, but their willingness to experiment really paid off. If there happens to be a third Yooka-Laylee game in the years to come, then count me in! I’d absolutely love to see what’s in store for our dear chameleon and bat duo’s future!
Dear readers, did you enjoy this game? Did you find the Impossible Lair to be too difficult or did you think it was a fun challenge? Did you beat the game, and if so, how many bees did you have left at the end? (I had 0. And Laylee had abandoned me, as well. Yooka was quite the trooper, I must say.) Don’t forget to leave your thoughts in the comments below!
This post was originally published on Virtual Bastion on June 23, 2020.