Playtonic Games is back with another entry in the Yooka-Laylee series, because it is a series now. However, this time, instead of giving us another 3D platformer, they decided to shake it up and go 2.5D with a side-scrolling platformer. Was that really a good idea or did they take a huge misstep? Does Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair even need to exist?
I was definitely a skeptic when I found out Playtonic had abandoned the original’s 3D world. To be honest, I never actually finished the first Yooka-Laylee due to the performance issues at launch and I forgot to go back once they fixed them. This time, I played through all of Impossible Lair till the credits rolled, and I can say I had a splendid time, barring a few grievances.
A Tale of Two Buddies
You shouldn’t have any issues jumping into Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair if you missed out on the original Yooka-Laylee. There’s not really a story continuity that matters between the two games. The game will tell you what’s happening pretty early on, so I won’t waste time telling you that Capital B is stealing all the bees.
This game doesn’t rely on narrative to drive the game forward. There’s some quirky dialogue along the way, but it seems there’s less of it than in the original game.
Jumping, Rolling, Falling
When it comes down to it, most of the gameplay mechanics and powerups don’t even translate over from the previous game in the same way. For example, Pagies, which are basically gold book pages with faces, alter the overworld when you complete their challenges instead of being collected to spend on Grand Tomes like in the original.
Playing through Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is typically a great experience. Movement is fluid and simple, and levels are varied. There’s something new to scale each time you enter a level.
Just about every level in Impossible Lair has another version of itself, like a remix. Something in the overworld (different in every case) changes the state of each level, either giving a completely new challenge or rearranging what you had previously played. One level is suddenly covered in sticky honey while another is turned into a fast, auto-scrolling challenge. I’m usually against the idea of developers reusing levels, but this is an example where it’s been done right.
For Yooka and Laylee, most of their unique moveset is gone. They really only have, like, four moves: roll, air twirl, ground pound, and then Yooka can stick his tongue out and grab items. It’s kind of disappointing, but what can you do? Most of the gameplay spice comes from the levels and enemies. The duo doesn’t really gain any abilities throughout their adventure. When you take damage, you lose Laylee and are left with Yooka. Laylee starts to panic and fly around, then you have a few seconds to get her back. She functions as a detachable hit point that you can reclaim. If you lose her, you can use one of the bat bells to get her back. These bells are spread throughout the level. If you get hit and you don’t have her, you die and go back to one of the many checkpoints.
In the last game, Trowzer—basically a weird snake dude in shorts and a hat—would give you the option to learn new abilities. In this game, he puts up aptly named Paywalls to lock out portions of the overworld. It’s a funny concept, but the execution is a little frustrating. You collect Trowzer coins in every level, of which each level has five. You spend these coins to pass the gates. Eventually, the number of coins you need to pass some of these walls gets kinda high. Unless you go back and find more coins, you won’t be able to experience all the levels. It’s cool as a bonus for players who explore every level more but a bummer for players not interested in collecting them.
Back to levels, each version of a level gives you one bee for your Beetalion, which gives you what amounts to a hit point for the Impossible Lair. The Impossible Lair is the last level in the game. You can go to this lair at any point during the game and attempt to beat it, kind of like Breath of the Wild, but you can literally go straight to the final level right off the bat.
It’s a cool idea, but here’s my problem with it: there aren’t any checkpoints in the level. Instead, you have a number of hit points equal to the number of Beetalion units you have collected. Once those run out and you die, you have to start all over. You still have the same number of hit points, but it’s a long level. Instead of making the challenge more manageable, it feels like having more hit points just makes you more careless. Rather than feeling empowered by collecting more bees, I felt frustrated when I lost even with 16 or more of them. There are some points in the Impossible Lair that just drag on and it sucks to have to go through them over and over. It’s a good last level, but I didn’t want to play it that many times.
“Beautiful with a capital B”
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair has really pretty visuals to look at. Colors jump out of the screen and effects do their jobs well. There are some neat moments when characters will plunge towards the player, almost as if you’re wearing 3D glasses. It’s a nice touch that happens just enough to be a visual surprise.
I think my biggest problem lies with the art direction of some of the characters, which carries over from the last game. Vendi is legitimately hideous to look at, to give just one example. It’s like some of these characters are concept design rejects but still somehow made it into the game. I don’t think I’m alone in this opinion. Some of them are just objectively unappealing to the eye.
Switching gears, I didn’t experience any hiccups with the framerate at any point during my playthrough. The game runs smoothly, something I’m really happy with. Animations aren’t incredible, but they are still charming and more natural than in the first game. In addition, I didn’t run into any glitches at any point. Excellent job, and congrats to Playtonic for optimizing their game. It shows!
Put the Music on Blast
For me, the absolute highlight of this game is the musical score. Grant Kirkhope and David Wise are back, and they’ve put together some certified bangers. Dan Murdoch and Matt Griffin also wrote some songs for the game. Apparently, the two composers are being mentored by the other two veterans. Very cool. All in all, there are tons of great songs in this game. I’m not going to lie, I even went back to some levels just to have the music in some levels play again. It’s that good.
There were also times I would pause the game for a while, just to hear some of the music. I’ll definitely be downloading the soundtrack when it drops on Apple Music, or Spotify, or wherever it ends up being uploaded. I think the music is the strongest aspect of the game, but that doesn’t mean the other aspects weren’t great.
Also, I guess Playtonic decided to set mumbling character voices (I’m not sure what to call those sounds) off as a default because people complained about them in the first game. First off, WHAT THE HELL?! I immediately turned them back on. Maybe I’m too nostalgic for Banjo-Kazooie, but damn it if they aren’t charming and cute as heck.
Keep the Fun Rolling
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair provides plenty of fun for fans of the platform genre. If you’re not into that, this game isn’t going to change your mind. I haven’t even gone into all the mechanics in the game. There are world-changing tonics to collect, quills to find, and mega(?) quills to pursue.
At the end of the day, this game is a huge improvement from the original and well worth your time. The game may have some small drawbacks, but it shines in most of what it sets out to do. In a world of dozens of platformers, it manages to hold its own. I was against another Yooka-Laylee game, but I’m thinking another entry wouldn’t be so bad.
This review of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is based on the PlayStation 4 version. A review code was provided by the publisher.
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