Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair Review
Much like any artistic medium, video games often require some trial and error before you strike gold. Developer Playtonic Games created a heartwarming spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie franchise back in 2017 with Yooka-Laylee. Despite its warmth and lovable charm, it was unfortunately overlooked by many with the 3D platformer genre seemingly passed its prime. Not one to give up on their beloved duo, Playtonic went back to the drawing board and emerged with Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair and this, my friends, not only manages to strike gold but hit a nice pocket of oil as well.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair brings back many of the beloved characters from the first game who will gladly drop little nods to their previous adventure without bogging down the sequels’ narrative in former plotlines you may not know. Capital B is at it again, trying to take over the land. This time he has invented a mind-control device to place all of the bees under his command. Queen Phoebe has asked you to stop Capital B and smash his device, but the nefarious foe is hiding inside the Impossible Lair; a dungeon he is confident is so unbeatable that the front door has been left unlocked!
It’s Time to Bee a Hero!
You’ll be able to tackle the Impossible Lair as soon as the game begins. If you manage to beat it that fast than kudos to you! The lair consists of challenges and puzzles featured in every chapter across the game, and completing a chapter will free one of the Beetalion, the members of the royal guard. Each Beetalion will act as an additional hit point while tackling the Impossible Lair so be sure to load up on those bees! Chapters are beautifully designed with just the right level of progressive challenge. Nothing feels insurmountable or devastatingly impossible, and since you have unlimited lives and no time limit, the game truly encourages you to take your time and plan out your next move. Each stage is littered with hidden areas and collectibles to find, not to mention the vibrant colors and nostalgic side-scrolling perspective makes for an overwhelmingly enjoyable package. Each chapter can also be modified in the overworld to create a new variant of the stage. These can include flooding a stage, freezing it, setting it on fire, filling it with sticky honey, and many other creative ways to make these unique areas well worth exploring twice.
I would be remiss if I neglected to mention the outstanding soundtrack to the game. Industry legend Grant Kirkhope returns once again to provide the score and the music for Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, elevating the experience even higher. I found it impossible to be frustrated while playing this game because the music is so rich in positive, cheerful notes. The audio team at Playtonics also put in phenomenal levels of detail, having the voice actor of Yooka re-record all of his lines with his fist in his mouth to represent him holding an item with his tongue. Speaking of positive interactions, the game features numerous stages with underwater levels and they are surprisingly extremely enjoyable. I know it sounds like sacrilege to admit, but Yooka-Laylee’s underwater segments are a joy to play. Not only does the music shift similar to that of Banjo-Kazooie, but the duo does not require a steady supply of air or to resurface. Swimming handles like a dream and it controls just as easily as wandering through the grass.
Water You Waiting for? Find Those Bees!
Play-Tonics (or simply Tonics) return to Yooka-Laylee, this time to greater effect. Up to three (and eventually four) unlocked Tonics can be equipped in tandem, offering effects like slowing time, playing stages mirrored or upside down, switching to GameBoy-style graphics, or even completely changing the color filter. Some Tonics only offer cosmetic changes, however, those that create an easier experience will diminish your quill modifier at the end of the chapter, whereas those designed to increase the difficulty will upgrade your modifier. I found a Tonic that lets me keep T.W.I.T. coins – an important currency – if I die, but it reduces my modifier. I can easily play a chapter to collect all the coins and then tackle it again to farm quills with different modifiers. It’s a fun system and one that can make for some wild combinations.
While Playtonic is, of course, it’s own studio, it is well known that many of those working for the developer come from Rare. This is obvious in the style both Yooka-Laylee games offer, as well as bringing back Grant Kirkhope to keep his signature sound alive. There are also a number of other touches throughout the game that gives it that classic Rare feeling. Anthropomorphized characters are reminiscent of those you would find in Banjo-Kazooie or Conkers Bad Fur Day, and that oh-so-familiar tongue-in-cheek sense of humor is here as well. Much like a good Pixar film, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair offers jokes enjoyable by folks of all ages, such as Trowzer the Snake who erects walls which you must pay to progress beyond; literally a paywall.
With charm, wit, and brimming with positivity, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is a fantastic new direction for Playtonics dynamic duo. It features classic gaming tropes while remaining fresh, simple yet fun puzzles, responsive and easy controls, and a difficulty curve which feels tough but fair. This is a love letter to side-scrolling games while still being wholly unique. It has amazing underwater controls, a pun-filled sense of humor, and some of the best music I have heard in gaming to date. Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair strikes gold, and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for their next adventure.
**PS4 code provided by the publisher**
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Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair Review – Bee-utiful Top to Bottom