Review – Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair
Yooka-Laylee was one of my favorite games of 2017. I don’t care that critics lambasted it or that a lot of people said it was too similar to other 3D platformers from the Nintendo 64 era. In fact, that was exactly what I was hoping it was going to be. It filled me with such nostalgic happiness in a way that only the reveal of Banjo for the Super Smash Bros Ultimate roster could rival. I wasn’t expecting for developer Playtonic to release a brand new game so soon, as they took quite a bit of time developing Yooka-Laylee, but here we are with a brand new adventure featuring the chameleon and the bat, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair continues Playtonic’s wave of bringing back the joy and fun of Rare games of the past. It’s a shame we can’t (and shouldn’t) expect too much from the lifeless husk that is that company nowadays. If the original Yooka-Laylee was a love letter to Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie and, to a lesser extent, Donkey Kong 64, The Impossible Lair is basically the Donkey Kong Country trilogy starring a reptile and a flying mammalian.
I’ll be honest with you: I love Rare. It is, by far, my favorite developer of all time. But if there’s one franchise from Rare I never cared that much about, that franchise is Donkey Kong Country. I’m not saying it’s bad, far from it in fact. I just never found it as appealing as other 2D platformers released for the Super Nintendo like Super Mario World, Super Castlevania IV, and ActRaiser. Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair wouldn’t be able to appeal to my nostalgic heart like its predecessor did so brilliantly.
The gameplay is very similar to Donkey Kong Country when you stop and think about it. Yooka can run and curl into a ball like DK used to, as well as grab nuts and bombs akin to how our favorite gorilla used to grab barrels in order to kill Kremlings. You can do a very short hover with the help of Laylee, in a very similar manner to Dixie Kong’s whirling ponytail. The game’s health bar functions more or less like in the Country games: get hit once, you lose your partner, get hit again and you’re dead. Besides a ground pound, that’s all you can do. It’s a bit more complex than the original Donkey Kong Country games, but far from what you could do in Yooka-Laylee.
One thing that really impressed me in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is how well it runs. A locked 60 frames per second at all times, while still looking excellent both on docked and portable modes. We’re so used to seeing multiplatform games running with lots of compromises on the Switch, but that’s not the case here. Sure, the game clearly runs on a noticeably lower resolution, but given its art style and overall design, that doesn’t hinder its looks and performance at all. Playtonic clearly loves Nintendo, and their effort to make this game look and run as good as possible on the Switch is clearly visible.
One thing I knew I could count on, is that the soundtrack would be excellent. David Wise and Grant Kirkhope are back in action, but this time around the game sounds a lot more like the works of Wise. This means that it sounds a lot more like the 16-bit Country games instead of the goofy masterpieces Kirkhope composed during the Nintendo 64 era. Is that an issue? Not at all! While I agree that this soundtrack isn’t as memorable as the one in Yooka-Laylee, this one is still miles ahead of most soundtracks from nowadays. Those guys couldn’t make a bad soundtrack even if they wanted to. The goofy voice clips make a comeback as well, but in a much more modest way. Just one tiny voice clip is uttered at the beginning of each sentence, instead of the charming barrage of nonsense featured in previous games. It’s sad that they removed the dumb dubbing, but Playtonic did listen to what the majority wanted, I suppose.
So I guess we’re all good when it comes to the game’s technical department, right? Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair looks, sounds, and performs incredibly well for a Switch multiplatform game, so there’s no way I wouldn’t enjoy it. That’s what I thought at first too. Then, not long after the game started, what I feared the most started to happen: my lack of interest towards Donkey Kong Country made me lose interest in this game very quickly in the beginning.
It’s not that I wasn’t having a good time, but I wasn’t impressed. The first couple of levels played too much like the trilogy of games I never cared about, so I wasn’t magically glued to the front of the screen like I was when I finally got my hands on my backer’s copy of Yooka-Laylee. The long loading times and slow-paced storytelling didn’t help either, but the more I played the game, the more fun I started to have with it.
Later levels began to test my wits and reflexes. They are well-designed and their secrets are extremely well-hidden. Every single level can be altered via the game’s overworld. If a level gate is located in a riverbed, you can switch between a dry and wet version of it, for example. If you spill honey on top of a specific level’s gate, all of its machinery will stop working and you’ll be able to climb on walls due to the sticky honey being slathered all over it. You just need to figure out how to unlock these variations by performing various tasks on the main overworld. This could be via a switch, a dam, or by completing a Pagie Challenge, making the game a lot more challenging and unique than I could have ever expected.
Other Yooka-Laylee characters make a comeback, for better or for worse. Trowzer literally acts as the game’s paywall, forcing you to look for the secret coins hidden inside the levels in order to afford his annoying fees. I ended up loathing his presence throughout the game, although I’m pretty sure that was Playtonic’s main intention. Vendi, the vending machine who wears a Tupac-esque gang bandana for some reason, also makes a comeback, letting you know that tons of different gameplay-altering tonics are scattered throughout the overworld. They range from the simplest things like making it easier for you to catch Laylee back after she’s been hit, to bizarre stuff like literally making the game look and feel like an old-school Game Boy title, complete with the old shades of green and minuscule resolution.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is a lot deeper and entertaining than I could have ever imagined. The fact that this Donkey Kong Country-inspired game won me over, even though I don’t like its main source of inspiration that much, shows how good it actually is. It’s challenging, charming, chock-full of content, and incredibly well-polished for a multiplatform game on Switch. I still prefer Yooka-Laylee, without a doubt, but I really enjoyed my time with this 2D spinoff. That’s two for two already for Playtonic, and I can’t wait to see what else they have in stock.
Even though it’s not running at the highest of resolutions and its usage of Comic Sans is near criminal, this is easily one of the best looking and best performing multiplatform games on Switch.
The gameplay is not very different from the one featured in Donkey Kong Country, although there’s a lot more you can do on the main overworld.
The soundtrack might not be as memorable as the one featured in Yooka-Laylee, but it’s still another fantastic collection of tunes composed by none other than David Wise and Grant Kirkhope.
It’s more than just a Donkey Kong Country clone. The way you can alter the levels’ designs by messing with the overworld adds another layer of depth and replayability to what would have otherwise been just another nostalgia-fueled platformer.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair was provided by the publisher.