Developer: Playtonic Games
Publisher: Team17 Digital Ltd
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: eShop download
Category: Action, Adventure, Platformer
No. of Players: 1 player
Release Date: October 8th, 2019 (EU & NA)
Price: $29.99 USD
I was shocked at first seeing Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair when it was revealed a few months ago, as I had thought with the mixed criticism surrounding the first game, the series wouldn’t continue moving forward. Yooka-Laylee was a fundraised indie-project made by veterans of Rare Ltd that had worked on the original Banjo-Kazooie games. The Kickstarter campaign ended up raising over 2 million euros, with over 73 thousand backers supporting the spiritual successor.
Once the game finally released in April of 2017, it was received with mixed reception with some people saying it didn’t reach the high-quality standard to that of Banjo-Kazooie. After that, the series went quiet for two years before Playtonic Games announced that a new entry in the franchise will be releasing, this time instead of it being a 3D open-world collectathon, it’ll be a 2.5D platformer inspired by the Donkey Kong Country games. I was excited, I needed to play this game. Even with the issues I had with the first entry, I was willing to try out this new title and see how well it compared to other 2D platformers.
The game starts with our titular protagonists heading to the Royal Stingdom to help Queen Phoebee defend against Capital B, the main antagonist of both this game and the previous entry. This time around, Capital B. uses the power of the Hive Mind, a device that controls bees, to take over the Royal Beetallion. After the intro dialogue, players then start the game’s tutorial level, and once finished they go into the Impossible Lair. The Impossible Lair is the game’s first and final level, it’s the most physically and mentally challenging stage in the entirety of the game.
Players can attempt to beat the Lair in their first run, but will most likely fail rather quickly. Upon failure, Yooka and Laylee are thrown into the overworld and must head out into the Royal Stingdom to find the captive Beetallion Bees to help aid them in the Impossible Lair. Each bee that is rescued is an extra hit point for the Impossible Lair, making the run easier to go through.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair’s story isn’t at the forefront of the adventure but more of an extra layer to the overall experience. Aside from the beginning and ending of the game, you won’t get more plot out of the narrative. The writing, however, is just as great, if not better than the original Yooka-Laylee. Witty and clever writing makes most dialogue funny to read, giving some great laugh out loud moments.
It also gives the characters in the overworld charm and personality. Yooka is heroic, while Laylee likes to taunt and make fun of characters. It was always a joy to interact with characters as their dialogues were hilarious to read. There is also a LOT of puns, from character names to locations, to dialogue filled with bee-themed puns.
The overworld hub is a 3D world filled to the brim with charm, color and secrets to discover. You move in a 3D space with a slightly more limited moveset, to prevent cheating into areas not meant to be reached. Here you can talk to the wonderfully colorful cast of characters, discover levels and find hidden Tonics, as well as a few secret Beetallion hidden in hard to reach areas.
There’s a total of 20 levels (called Chapters) to find in the overworld, each with its own variant, making the number of levels a whopping 40 in total. By interacting with the overworld, you can change the level’s state to make it a brand new stage to play in. For example, if the chapter is in a lake, by freezing the lake in the overworld, the level will now change to be an ice-themed stage.
Finding ways to change the level is a lot of fun, as it requires sidetracking from the main path to find an alternative route. Discovering how to change the levels and how they’re affected inside is a joy; and fortunately, the process is always unique, the level will never get the same changes twice.
Chapters take a 2.5D approach, reminiscent of the Donkey Kong Country series, closely resembling the gameplay of DKC Tropical Freeze. Levels are filled with tough platforming, uniquely challenging enemies, quills scattered all over the place and five collectible coins. Quills are like the coins of Super Mario or the bananas of Donkey Kong, but unlike those games where they don’t have much value, quills do serve a purpose, to buy Tonics or open cages. Quills can be found lying around, inside breakable boxes, or by interacting with ghost quills.
Coins are the hidden collectible. There five in each level and placed in secret areas. Some coins can be grabbed by doing some platforming, while others require a more tactical approach, like carrying a bomb to a gate to break it and get inside. Coins are used to open Trouser’s “Paywalls”, which once opened expand the overworld map to find new areas and Chapters. There’s a whopping total of 200 coins to collect, though only half of them are needed to reach the final area of the game.
Yooka and Laylee feel fantastic to control, they’re tight and responsive, and physics feel natural and well-balanced. Unlike Donkey Kong where his jumps feel heavy, Yooka’s jumps feel just right, giving me all the control on how high or low I want to jump with the right sense of gravity force to push me down. Yooka can also roll, plowing down through rows of enemies, Yooka has a tail whip attack to defeat enemies close-up, Laylee can help Yooka twirl in the air to get that extra bit of air time, you can also ground-pound with the help of Laylee as well, and Yooka can stick out their tongue to grab fruits and bombs.
In the first game you’d buy moves from Trouser, but this time around your entire move set is available from the get-go. There’s a unique twist when taking damage, as with the first hit you take, Laylee will fly out for a short bit in a sporadic manner before flying off. In that time, you can grab Laylee to rejoin you before she takes her leave, of find a Laylee-Bell in the level to call her back. This reminded me a bit of Yoshi’s Island, where Baby Mario is in this scenario, Laylee. Without her, your movement options are limited, you can’t twirl or ground-pound; this can sometimes prevent you from finding a secret area only accessible with her moves.
CONTENT & FEATURES:
In the overworld you can find hidden Tonics, secret collectibles brought back from the first game. There’s a total of 62 tonics (66 if you pre-purchased or bought them as paid DLC), and of those, 61 of them are found in the overworld (more on the final tonic later). They’re hidden underground, behind a puzzle or in hard to reach areas that require tight platforming.
Once collected, you can purchase them using Quills found in Chapters. Tonics can only be used inside chapters, and their uses range from visual changes, improving Yooka and Laylee’s movement or for those looking for a greater challenge, making the adventure harder.
The most beneficial tonics are those that attract quills like a magnet, increasing swimming speed; while there are more harmful tonics like the “Less Checkmates” tonic, which reduces the number of checkpoints per level to only one. There are visual tonics that change the game’s screen ratio, adds filters, screen resolution, saturation, and a few others. There are also tonics that change Yooka and Laylee’s appearance, like the “Yooman” tonic that makes Yooka have the body of a human.
Players can equip three tonics per level, with a fourth secret slot available later in the game. There’s a Quill Multiplier that can either add or subtract quills from your total amount collected at the end of a level. Certain beneficial Tonics take some percent from your multiplier (like the “Run Faster” tonic that subtracts 0.1% from your quill multiplier).
There’s also “harmful” Tonics that add some percent to your multiplier (my favorite being the “Less Checkmates” tonic, which adds 1.0% to your multiplier). The multiplier serves as a balancing system, so players can’t just equip all the great tonics and get the same rewards as those that equip the challenging tonics.
The game’s soundtrack is god-tier, the best OST for a videogame in 2019. The composers did a wonderful job of creating the right tones for each level; water levels have relaxing themes while chase scenes have a more rapid, intense approach. Songs are catchy, I was humming to the tune while playing through levels, and I’d even stop playing for a bit just to listen to the entirety of the track.
The main title theme is simply outstanding, and I’d like to give a special shoutout to Chapter 9’s theme, Urban Uprise, with its wonderful use of the guitar and bongos. The Impossible’s Lair theme is intense and dramatic, even though I was stuck in that god-forsaken level for over three hours, the same song never got old. Tracks are memorable and will get stuck in your head way after you’ve beaten the level.
I want to give a special thank you to the composers of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, Grant Kirkhope (well known for his work on Banjo-Kazooie), David Wise (known for his work on the DKC series), Matt Griffin and Daniel Murdoch, for creating an amazing soundtrack, it’s the biggest highlight of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE:
The game’s visuals are astonishing. It’s vibrant colors and character designs, as well as level settings and background, make for one of the best-looking indie games of 2019. The levels stand out for their uniqueness in setting, all of them standing out from one another, as well as the detailed foreground and background.
Character designs are charming with their characteristics designs. Textures look great, including the flames of the fire, the reflexion of the light on the water, the solidness of the ice, etc. Lighting is also great, though there was a minor green lighting glitch in the factory level.
As for performance, the game runs at a solid 60fps, both in handheld and docked. Load times, however, are varied. There are long load times from the title screen to the world hub, as well as when loading a level. But load times for the rest of the game are rather quick, including when dying, which is fast and gets players back into the adventure quickly.
I went for 100% completion before making this review, as I genuinely enjoyed Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair so much I wanted to see it all before giving my final thoughts. I grabbed all 48 bees from the Beetallion, all 200 coins, unlocked all the achievements, and collected 61 out of the 62 tonics. But, where is that final tonic? After searching all over the overworld, I decided to look it up online to see where it was hiding. Unfortunately, it isn’t in the world hub; in fact, it’s only unlockable at the start of the game. The final tonic can only be unlocked at the first attempt at the Impossible Lair (after the tutorial), you need to beat the Lair without any help from the Beetallion, in your first try. If you fail, you have to erase that file and start all over again.
The Impossible Lair is near impossible, I struggled even with 48 extra hit points, I wouldn’t even dare attempt to do it with only one hit. My issue here isn’t this challenge, it’s the fact that I now have an almost complete file that can never be complete because it can only be unlocked at the start. To discover this is the only way to get that final tonic, was simply infuriating, to say the least.
Speaking of tonics, I’m not a fan of the visual tonics. Most of them ruin the game’s presentation. As mentioned earlier, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible looks stunning, so to have it covered with a filter tonic that ruins the color, or to have the resolution be 144p (yes, there’s a tonic that gives you that screen resolution), simply ruins the experience. To those tonics that look somewhat decent, I’d equip them at the beginning of the level to see how they look and unequip them soon after. None look as good as the game’s standard presentation.
There’s an odd difficulty spike in some levels, and I don’t just say that because I had the “Less Checkmates” tonic equipped. There are certain areas that ask for some very tight platforming and quick time reactions with jumps. The difficulty feels unbalanced at times and some segments in a level proved much harder than other areas in that same level.
My final note to talk about is how HARD the Impossible Lair is. A normal run takes around twenty minutes; even with all 48 bees at my disposal, I failed ten times before finally completing it. This level alone took me around three hours to complete, I had to take a one-day break just to be mentally prepared to tackle it once more.
Though the game is more challenging than other platformers, no challenge comes close to the difficulty found in the final level. It’s heartbreaking to get to the final boss, just to lose to some ridiculous mistake and have to go all the way back to the beginning. Cruel enough, there aren’t any checkpoints to help out halfway through. It’s one of the toughest challenges in any platformer, and you might as well consider it impossible to do if you want to try and get that final tonic.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is one of the best 2D Platformers out there. Though it’s inspired by the DKC series, it’s far better than those games. It was a joy to complete through in its entirety, and I can’t wait to see what’s next in store for the series. If you like challenging yet fair games, buy Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. You won’t regret it.
THE VERDICT: 9/10
*A download key was provided by the Publisher for the purposes of this review
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