Playtonic has never been shy about their love of retro gaming, particularly with regard to 3D platformers. Their first foray into paying homage to the classic genre was 2017’s Yooka-Laylee, an unapologetic refresh of Banjo-Kazooie – of which quite a few of the Playtonic team members had previously worked. Yooka-Laylee was generally well received, so it should come as no surprise that the Playtonic continue the trend with their sophomore effort. For Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, however, they’ve chosen to eschew the full scale 3D platformer/collectathon and instead Yooka (the titular chameleon) and Laylee (Yooka’s bat companion that can be found perched on his head) are thrust into a hybrid 3D over world with 2.5D levels.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair sees the plucky duo in yet another battle with the troublesome Capital B, who has created an impenetrable fortress known as …yeah, the Impossible Lair. Queen Phoebee is willing to give Yooka and Laylee access to her invincible Beetalion, but Capital B has constrained the individual bees and hidden them within the pages of story books scattered across the world. Players can move around the 3D over world with some mild platforming to reach these books, which then lead to 2.5D side scrolling platformer segments. While the over world boasts approximately 20 books, there is the additional element of changing up the over world to create modified levels. A book that is in water, for example, can be hit with a freeze berry to create an entirely different level that is frozen over and icy.
Each level of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is meticulously designed with an incredible amount of attention to detail. Every level is brilliant and vibrantly colored, but that does result in one of the game’s greatest downfalls. The lack of color contrast between the brightly hued Yooka & Laylee, and the colorful world that surrounds them means that it can be easy to lose them in the chaos of a scene at any given time. There’s just not enough contrast between the characters and the background scenery, especially in moments where the camera is panning because of a chase sequence.
There are five collectible T.W.I.T. coins hidden throughout each level that rewards players who dare stray from the obvious path, and you’ll need these coins to pay off Trowzer Snake, the humorously named merchant from the previous game, so that you can access more of the over world. In addition to collecting the Beetalion and the T.W.I.T. coins, quills return in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, though they’re less of a collectible that you need to find 100% of and used more as a fluid currency. You can equip the tonics that you find in the over world (yet another collectible, though one that can be used to make the game easier or more difficult) to affect your quill pay out at the end of a level. Tonics that make the game easier can result in earning less quills, while ones that make the game harder obviously increase the number of quills you end up with in the end. Quills can be used to unlock the aforementioned tonics once you find them in the world.
Ever paying homage to Banjo-Kazooie, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair uses the same garbled voice acting as its predecessor. Its charming, initially, but as you creep closer to the 20 or so hour mark of gameplay, hearing Yooka’s awkward grunts and groans with every leap and jump the sound effects start to lose their appeal. While the voice work does over stay its welcome, Yooka Laylee’s soundtrack is impressive and fitting, properly setting the tone for each of level variation.
It wouldn’t be fair to write a lengthy review about Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair and not brag on the game for its reasonable difficulty. Often times, 2 and 2.5D platformers – especially those relying on gamer nostalgia – rely on being excessively difficult just for the sake of it. Yooka-Laylee, though, ignores that convention and instead opts to be surprisingly accessible to all ages and skill sets. Levels are littered with ample checkpoints (but for those masochists looking for a challenge, there’s a tonic to decrease the frequency of checkpoints), and there’s never any punishment for death beyond being reset to the most recent checkpoint so you can freely try again. Yooka-Laylee knows that trial and error is par the course, and embraces that aspect rather than punishing players. The levels are clearly designed with speed running in mind, though there are no time requirements baring down on you as you progress. In fact, you can just equip a tonic if you want to take a more leisurely approach a level. Its a breath of fresh air in an era where games frequently relish being ‘The Dark Souls of” their genre.