By Josh Speer / October 28th, 2019
|Title||Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair|
|Publisher||Team17 Digital Ltd|
|Release Date||October 8th, 2019|
|Platform||PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone – Mild Cartoon Violence|
I never expected Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. Not only did the release totally sneak up on me, I somehow missed it entirely at PAX West this year. So when I suddenly saw it announced in the Nintendo Download I cover weekly, I was happily stunned. After all, I did back the original Yooka-Laylee, and while I enjoyed it, it felt a bit hampered by its adherence to 3D platformer norms. Which is why it’s so funny that I loved Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. Who would have guessed that transitioning from being influenced by Banjo-Kazooie to being influenced by Donkey Kong Country would make all the difference?
The game starts when our heroic duo crash lands in the Royal Stingdom. Capital B is up to no good, and after being taught the platforming ins and outs by the introductory level, things get dramatic. Capital B has a device that enslaves other bees, and he uses it to take control of Queen Phoebee’s Royal Beetallion. Each of these 48 elite guards now protects the dastardly villain from damage. Luckily, due to some quick thinking, you escape further conflict and land just outside his Impossible Lair. Phoebee uses some magic to create books so you can free the trapped Beetallion from Capital B before he took control of them. That doesn’t mean each one captured will be taken from him, mind you, but each guard freed protects you from harm. While you’re more than welcome to tackle the Lair first, you’d be a crazy person to do so because the titular Impossible Lair is a devious gauntlet of instant death traps, cleverly placed enemies, tricky platforming and multiple boss encounters against Capital B. It also contains zero checkpoints, so one death and you have to start over from the very beginning. So assuming you’re not a total masochist, let’s talk about the rest of the game first.
Each of the books created by Phoebee serves as a level, and is tossed across a vast overworld. You unlock stages in groups, and though you don’t have to tackle them in order, it’s not a bad idea to do so. Namely, that’s because progressing any farther means getting past multiple paywalls set up by the conniving Trowser, and he charges you varying amounts of T.W.I.T. coins found in each of the many stages to proceed. Another reason it’s good to play each level as you unlock them is so you get flush with Quills. You can often do this by chasing Ghost Quills, or just by finding loose Quills littered about each stage. These are occasionally used to unlock things on the overworld, but they are also used to unlock Tonics. There’s a ton of Tonics in the game, and to use them first you have to find them, then pay their Quill cost. They provide a wide array of effects, some changing how a stage looks and others making the levels easier or harder with various effects. If you make a stage easier, it will take away from your Quill total at the end of each stage, but if you make it harder, you’ll be rewarded with more of them. I actually really liked this setup, since it offers the tools to tweak the game as you please. Given that I’m a platformer purist, I only really used one Tonic in my entire playthrough, which made it so Laylee would stick around longer after taking damage, giving me longer to grab her before she flaps away.
It would be an easy assumption that the overworld is small and basic, but the truth is the opposite. Despite not being in full 3D, the top-down overworld is quite expansive and riddled with secret passages. There’s dark forests, beach-side grottoes, dank caverns and more. Getting from point A to point B can sometimes be a hassle, and often requires returning to areas from a different vantage point. Most noteworthy is that you will find Pagies on the map, and by clearing their challenges, they’ll reward you by altering some aspect of the overworld. This always opens up a path you couldn’t access before, making it easier to get around and find new things.
Another cool part of this aspect of the game is altering stages. Every single stage in the game, other than the Lair, has both an original and alternate version. You might come across a stage and by freezing it with an ice fruit, you’ll unlock an alternate version that’s totally different. These changes are very clever and often required some extra sleuthing to discover. I really enjoyed it, especially since there’s technically 48 stages instead of the base 24. That may not sound like much, but trust me it’s a very meaty experience. In my nearly 13 hours playing the game, I still haven’t unearthed nearly all the achievements, Tonics, Beetallion guards, T.W.I.T. coins or other assorted goodies. Overall it’s a really cool overworld, but with one niggle. It can be time-consuming wandering around, since after you quit and return to the game, you always start right next to the Impossible Lair. For most of the game that meant constant backtracking, until I finally stumbled upon the game’s warp feature. You can basically select any stage from the map and warp instantly there. This is great, but it would have been better if the game told me it was available.
Much like the game’s overworld, the stages in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair are also deceptively complex. While you can beat most of them in less than 10 minutes, finding all the hidden T.W.I.T. coins can be a challenge. Much like in Donkey Kong Country, things are deviously secreted away, and there were many stages I beat without finding more than a couple out of the possible five coins. Though most stages are standard platformer fare, moving from the left to the right, some mix things up with vertical climbing and even some backtracking. A good example is one that requires you to find five gems to exit the stage, and they’re in all sorts of places. Thankfully, each stage has checkpoints, and you can even spawn more of them with one handy Tonic. There’s a ton of creativity on display, from spinning windmill villages to underwater galleons to dangerous factories to honey-covered towns. There are even some pulse-pounding stages where you’re running from impending death the entire time. It’s all good fun, and will keep you busy without being overly unfair. Just be ready to play most stages more than once to find everything.
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