The excitement that surrounded the release of 2017’s Yooka-Laylee was palpable. A classic 3D platformer created by a team chock full of developers who played a part in the glory days of Rare’s N64 tenure, built on the foundation of Banjo-Kazooie and targeting the same audience that fell in love with the seminal series.
Once the game was finally available, it’s safe to say it didn’t quite reach those lofty heights that so many were expecting, and the reception whilst warm, perhaps didn’t storm the barn as many had hoped.
It’s perhaps surprising then that Playtonic have stuck with their own cutesy platformer mascots once again for Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, an altogether complete 180 on its original 3D premise, this time opting for a more traditional 2D approach with the spit and polish that modern consoles can provide. Safe to say the return of the gibberish speaking bat and chameleon is leagues ahead of their original adventure.
Over the course of the games twenty levels (forty, if you include returning to each level once they’re rejigged for an extra challenge) you’ll discover that the charm and humour of Yooka-Layee is here in spades. The fourth-wall breaking dialogue between the characters who seem to know they’re in a video game series is one of the games highlights, encouraging you to explore and find various anthropomorphic beings who are willing to help you out on your quest. The levels are tight and lengthy with a considerable challenge that will test even the most hardened platformer experts.
Returning are the Quills along with the coloured options which will task you with a small challenge in order to secure extra Quills. Elsewhere are the dastardly TWIT coins, of which there are five per level and normally hidden out of view or initially out of reach. The latter unlocks paywalls manned by the returning Trowzer to open up more of the map.
And what a map it is. Here known as the ‘Overworld’. A top-down area between each level, you’ll be dropped here to open up the rest of the game by exploring and unlocking various new areas by taking on puzzles or mini-missions given to you by Paige. As the game progresses you’ll see more and more of the Overworld and it’s a lot of fun to explore, with secrets hidden in every corner for you to find. It’s here you’ll be partaking in a vast amount of the interactions with other characters and it’s always a delight, for some reason the Banjo-esque overdubbing of nonsense noises isn’t quite as grating as it was in the original game. There’s few enemies lurking around so you’re free to find various treasures that will help you on your way.
Across the Overworld you’ll be discovering Tonics, which can help you on your quest in levels you may be finding a little tricky or if you just want to mess with the game a little bit (4:3 aspect ratios, pixel visuals, big head mode etc..). Once discovered you’ll have to use Quills as payment to enable them, so keeping them topped up with a consistent amount throughout is crucial. An interesting aspect of this mechanic is how they’re utilised in the levels.
Whilst certain Tonics are activated, the number of Quills you end a level with will be slightly minimised. It’s not a huge percentage and over the course of the game you’ll collect so many you’ll barely notice, but it’s worth keeping in mind if you want to use some of the Tonics that are simply visual adjustments. They can be turned off mid-level, but you’ll lose all of the Quills you’ve collected in the level as a result.
Above I mentioned the overall challenge of Yooka-Laylee is certainly testing. Controlling Yooka is simple and straightforward even if his move-set isn’t much to write home about. You’ve only got two hits you can take before you’ll have to start the level over again, and if you keep failing at a particular moment the game will jump in and ask if you want to skip it. If you’re anything like me it just makes you more determined to finish it. If you’re hit, Laylee will fly off and you have a finite amount of time to get her back before she flies away and you’re left to fend for yourself until you can get her back by finding a bell to ring to make her aware of your whereabouts.
Without Laylee you’ll lose a couple skills along with only having one hit before you’re dead. It’s tricky to get her back before she flies off as her movements aren’t exactly easy to follow, at any given moment before she flies away you just have to hope she’s nearby so you can carry on with the level uninterrupted.
Regardless, there’s so much joy to be had in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. Firstly, the game is absolutely gorgeous, utilising a consistent 60 fps throughout to bring a beautiful crispness to each level and the Overworld. The animation of your enemies are fantastic, bringing these storybook levels to life in ways the likes I haven’t seen since Rayman Legends.
The design of each level has been delicately crafted, bathing in the classic platformers of yesteryear with fresh modern conveniences and visuals. Playtonic have seemingly taken everything they’ve learned from the original Yooka-Laylee and blasted it across each level beautifully. It’s a scorcher of a technical achievement and an absolute delight to play with a selection of terrific music that will stick long in the memory, much like the original.
As you unlock more of the Overworld, discovering new levels, hidden secrets and visual delights a wonderful feeling of nostalgia washed over me, like 2D was exactly how Yooka-Laylee was always meant to be. Like Playtonic threw the first game at the wall, and all that stuck was everything that worked only this time, in wonderfully designed levels that suit the move-set and humour of Yooka-Laylee down to the ground.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is one of the biggest surprises of the year and an absolute must-play. Rare are back.
Wait. Playtonic have arrived. There we are.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is available on October 8th on Xbox One, PS4 (reviewed on PS4 Pro), Nintendo Switch and PC.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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