Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair Review

Since Microsoft bought Rare in the early 2000s, many of the studio’s most popular IPs have been neglected. This includes the 3D platformer series Banjo-Kazooie, which hasn’t had a proper entry since 2000’s Banjo-Tooie. Former Rare developers noticed fan demand for a new Banjo-Kazooie, and set to work on a spiritual successor called Yooka-Laylee, which broke Kickstarter records. The final product was met with mixed reviews, but the studio moved forward with the series regardless of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair.

While the original Yooka-Laylee game was clearly meant to be a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair take their cues from other Rare titles. Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is very similar to Donkey Kong Country, with everything from the music (which is mostly good, by the way), to running around enemies, to launching characters from in cannons that are exactly the same as Donkey Kong Country’s barrels. Even the quills that players collect throughout the levels are Donkey Kong Country’s bananas by a different name, and are laid out in a way that is very reminiscent of those games.

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair take the most inspiration from Donkey Kong Country, but it also has elements of the newer Rayman games, and even Yoshi’s Island. Whenever Yooka takes a hit from an enemy, Laylee will start fluttering around, and players must retrieve her within a certain amount of time or risk losing her, similar to the baby Mario gimmick from in the Yoshi’s Island games. Although the difference is that if Laylee leaves, Yooka will be able to continue the level, albeit with only one hit point.

yooka laylee and the impossible lair review

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is a 2.5D platformer for the most part, but it also plays like a Zelda game. The entire world is like a huge level in itself, filled with puzzles, secrets, and more. We found that exploring the world and uncovering its secrets was fun and rewarding, and mixing Zelda-like gameplay with more traditional platforming really helps Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair stand out, even that it’s shamelessly copying other games.

The overworld is where players can find Tonics, which is another interesting idea in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, and it’s always fun to find new ones. Tonics can change the Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair experience by offering cosmetic changes, in addition to gameplay tweaks. For example, there’s a Tonic that makes Yooka’s head grow bigger, and another that makes him invincible for a longer period of time after being hit. On the other hand, some Tonics make the game harder, like one that removes most of the checkpoints. Players are rewarded for using Tonics that increase in difficulty because it gives them a quill multiplier, and on the other hand, they won’t find some quills if they decide to use the easier Tonics.

While the quills in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair are almost identical to the bananas in the Donkey Kong Country games, they are more important, as they are used to unlock Tonics that players collect. However, they are not the only money in the game. Each level has five coins for players to find as well, which are mainly used to unlock Trowzer the Snake’s “paywalls” and access new areas with more levels. Many collect-a-thon platformers struggle to make their currencies really feel valuable, but Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair pull it off, making it worth it for players to go out of their way to collect the most quills as possible.

yooka laylee and the impossible lair review

The “paywalls” that block players’ progress can be annoying as they sometimes force players to redo levels to get more coins, but they are a great example of the sharp sense of humor of game. Paywalls are clearly happy with the game industry’s reliance on microtransactions, and the game has a cast of interesting characters who are all fun. Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair may follow Donkey Kong Country, but it retains the humor style of Banjo-Kazooie. It even pokes fun at itself and the mixed reception of the first game, which we found to be one of its funniest jokes.

But while Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair may be self-aware enough to acknowledge that the first Yooka-Laylee game didn’t exactly live up to expectations, it also had its flaws. The game has only 20 levels, with each level having a variant that makes it quite different. Players change their levels by solving puzzles in the overworld. For example, a level can transform into a water level if players manage to flood the area. Sometimes these level variants offer such different mechanics that they might as well be completely new stages, but other times the levels are too similar and feel like padding. It doesn’t help that, aesthetically, all the levels look the same, which means none of them really stand out and they all blend together.

The other thing that can feel like it lengthens the length of the game is the way the final level plays out. The titular “Impossible Lair” is the final level of the game, and its gimmick is that players can attempt it any time they want. They can make it easier by completing levels to collect bees, which serve as extra hit points for Yooka and Laylee, with a total of 48 bees to find in the game. This means that players can attempt the Impossible Lair with up to 50 hit points to their name (counting Yooka and Laylee), but even with all that extra health, it’s still very difficult.

yooka laylee and the impossible lair review

The Impossible Lair is a neat idea. However, this feels like padding because, by design, players will be replaying large sections of it over and over in their attempt to get to the final boss. This means repetitive, boring, Koopaling-esque boss fights and doing the same platforming challenges over and over again. It gets tiresome very quickly, especially when it comes to the dull, unimaginative boss fights.

It doesn’t help that the platforming itself isn’t quite as accurate as it could be. The platforming in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair feels slippery, with Yooka often moving a bit further than the player expects after the rolling/jump combo, which is required in many parts of the game. This makes some of the harder levels, and the Impossible Lair in particular, a bit frustrating at times.

While the platforming feels a bit broken, the game runs admirably. Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair maintain a consistent 60 frames per second, and everything is smooth, well-animated, and generally looks great.

yooka laylee review

That said, the game does suffer from some notable technical problems that we encountered during our time with it. There were times when we tried to get Laylee back after a hit, but the bat wouldn’t come back to us. Another notable bug forced us to just die over and over again until the game let us skip a section, as there was a platform that seemed stuck in the background and wouldn’t let us jump to it so we could continue properly.

These bugs and the small amount of content make Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair feel a little rushed. The levels almost all look the same, the alternate stages feel like padding, and the Impossible Lair gimmick is bound to be divisive for platforming fans. Its biggest issue, however, is that the platforming isn’t nearly as accurate as the games that inspired it. It has enough of a unique idea that some platforming fans may still want to check it out after the price drop, but don’t expect it to blow your mind.

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair launches on October 8 for PC, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One. Today Technology was provided with a PS4 code for this review.

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