Comprised of a number of ex-Rare members, Playtonic Games first game Yooka-Laylee back in 2017 leveraged much of what made Rare’s own classic 3D platformer Banjo-Kazooie so popular and it became a Kickstarter success. They would return again to their creation two years later but with a twist that evoked pre-Banjo 2D platformers.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair tasks Yooka (a chameleon) and “passenger” Laylee (a bat) with traversing a number of side scrolling levels to collect quills and coins while a losing/defeating enemies and obstacles in their way to freeing a number of bees that will help you take on the game’s “Impossible Lair”. In a neat twist, you can take on the lair at any time but to successfully navigate it you’re likely to need to the additional hit points the bees provide so collecting as many as you need is important. By default Yooka-Laylee can only take two hits: one scares off Laylee requiring you to either catch her again or summon her back with a bell and a second which takes out Yooka completely. So it’s important to keep the two together as much as you can to improve your chances.
The levels are connected via an overworld/hub that takes on the form of a level that’s viewed from overhead and has its own challenges to beat – they may not be overly taxing but enough to keep you occupied. As you complete levels and explore the overworld more areas open up to reveal additional levels and secrets. The individual levels are mostly short enough to complete in five to ten minutes each but with the amount of secrets and collectibles to find it will take repeated attempts to find everything. Additionally some levels can be tweaked in the overworld which changes them enough to reveal new areas so there is always a chance you’ll get to tackle a level in a different way.
The difficulty curve is gentle to begin with and I found I worked through the early levels at a fair pace but there are some serious challenges later on that may surprise to you. The game has a generous aid where if you encounter a section that you can’t overcome it will offer to skip it for you so that you can continue to play and not be stuck. With so much to see and do I think it’s a nice touch that not only keeps players invested but also gives them a fair chance of seeing the game through to the end. It might be a big help too for parents introducing the genre to their kids and wanting to avoid them hitting a frustrating wall in ability versus progression.
Throughout the game there are a number of items to collect that can help you on your way. There’s the quills which are found by bashing boxes, enemies and the special quills you encounter and are the base currency used to buy hints and unlock items. Then there’s the coins hidden in each of the levels and can be used to unlock new areas in the overworld. Finally there are the tonics which when unlocked (with quills) can apply game modifiers – a few of these will do things like make it easier to catch Laylee again after a hit, some will impact the difficulty but reward with more quills and others are purely gimmicks such as switching the aspect ratio to the old television 4:3 format. For the completionist gamers there’s plenty to find.
Visually the game follows a line somewhere between Banjo-Kazooie and early Pixar (A Bug’s Life immediately comes to mind). Levels are brightly coloured and enemies are almost Muppet like with some amusing animations thrown in randomly when you beat them. The apple doesn’t fall far from the Banjo tree in other parts of the presentation with the gobbledygook chatter from characters and screen transitions all seemed to me of clear indicators (to me) of the game’s lineage. I don’t mind it at all and from my perspective it’s nice seeing the developers not shying away from that either.
I’m really happy with my time so far on Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. It’s a friendly and accessible game that gives a broad cross section of players an opportunity to get deep into it while also offering its share of challenges too. After spending many months playing games set in dark, grimy worlds where I’m usually shooting things this is a nice change and a great little distraction too. 🙂
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is out now on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Switch. Played on Xbox Series X via Game Pass.