Despite being highly anticipated, many were ultimately let down by Yooka-Laylee and felt it wasn’t the glorious return of Rareware-style collect-a-thons that they had hoped for. Many series would have given up and vanished into obscurity at that point, but Playtonic was determined to keep at it and released an interesting sequel that took the franchise in a new direction
The game kicks off right away with a 2D-platformer stage where players are fleeing from Capital B, who is attacking a place called the The Royal Stingdom. The queen of this land has requested your help, but Capital B now holds a staff with which he has brainwashed all the bees in the Stingdom, including the Royal Beettalion Guard meant to protect you. Yooka and Laylee are soon beaten and ejected from the Stingdom, back into the familiar surroundings near Shipwreck Creek and the ruins of Hivory Towers.
Queen Phoebee explains that to undo the brainwashing and counter Capital B’s hivemind, the heroes need to travel around the overworld to find various books in which the Beettalion is kept imprisoned.
The fun idea here is that each rescued member of the Beettalion is another hitpoint for you with which to tackle the final level, the titular Impossible Lair that Capital B has made for himself in the Stingdom. You can head back into this final level anytime you want, but it’s a grueling challenge. Going out of your way to gather those 48 bees is not just fun because you get to play the game’s levels, it also gives you better odds at making it through the final challenge. Meanwhile, speedrunners and those not interested in completion can head back whenever they want.
However, this first level is not the only 2D platformer stage. Yooka and Laylee have left behind their 3D roots and in its place is a reimagined take on games like Donkey Kong Country.
The overworld is not just a series of paths that take you between levels, it’s an explorable isometric HUB all of its own, filled with secrets, collectibles, puzzles, and enemies. You have to go out of your way to find the actual levels and there is a lot to find and do in this HUB.
The levels themselves are some pretty darn good 2D stages. The controls are tight, as the duo can move and jump around, perform a basic attack or a roll that doubles as a quick way to get around, you can ground-pound for secrets, get a little extra height and distance out of a jump with Laylee’s wings, it’s good stuff. Each level has a theme and some special obstacles that really set it apart, such as one where you are chased by a giant laser or a breezy stage where you are hopping around on the wings of various windmills.
Yooka and Laylee can also swim underwater, launch themselves via plants (similar to barrels in DKC), and grab objects with Yooka’s tongue for some mild puzzle elements and secrets. Unlike the last game, there isn’t much you can do to learn new moves, aside from equipping tonics that tweak the numbers a bit. Instead, getting hit will cause Laylee to fall off Yooka’s back and, if you can’t get her back in time, then she’ll fly off and you lose some of the moves for which she is needed. It’s similar to Super Mario World 2 in practice, except the crying is exchanged for a slightly less annoying noise.
Levels are still filled up with golden quills, which now allow you to unlock various tonics (which must first be found in the overworld) that give you perks or handicaps. I used one for most of the game that gave each enemy an extra hitpoint, so that I could get a second try whenever bouncing off an enemy was needed for platforming. There are also hidden T.W.I.T. Coins, which are needed to open up more of the overworld as part of Trowzer’s latest money-making scheme.
The core gameplay I found entertaining. I like solving some simple puzzles to reach new 2D platforming stages and most of those stages I enjoyed playing through. However, losing Laylee when hit frustrated me, as she will frantically flap around the screen and, more of then not, got stuck somewhere completely unreachable. There are a few bells spread across the level that will reunite the pair, but you might not find those for a while. This combines with the many secrets, which aren’t always accessible without Laylee on top of being difficult to find. I usually wouldn’t care much, but knowing my progress would be barred off by Trowzer if I didn’t find enough coins encouraged a frankly unhealthy amount of exploration, where I’d throw myself at any odd wall and die dozens of times across a stage, just to be sure there wouldn’t be a secret there. Completing a level with only 1 or 2 coins found felt like a failure, even if I did well in the actual level.
A much-touted gimmick in the game is the ability to transform levels. Sadly, it’s not as exciting at it sounds and usually comes down to just solving a simple puzzle in the HUB world. There are some really cool ones, like an accident whereby a level is filled with a horde of enemies that chase you, but many stages are just generally the same with some small twist, many of them involving water. Many of these puzzles only take a minute or 2 to complete and are right next to the book they will affect, which felt tedious as I was basically playing the same level twice in a row and the alterations were rarely enough to make it feel fresh.
With 20 levels and a number of bees hidden behind secret exits or in hidden corners of the overworld, Impossible Lair has a nice size to it and I certainly didn’t mind the hours I burned on it, but whereas I could see myself going back to the first game to enjoy its characters, worlds, and maybe 100% it, I can’t say the same for Impossible Lair. If anything, the gimmick with changing the levels made me feel like I already replayed it once.
As with the last game, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is a game of innovative ideas, for which I still praise Playtonic, yet while the initial reception was warm, I don’t think Impossible Lair will age well. I will never want to play this game and not get every member of the Beetallion, no matter how boring I find the overworld puzzles or replaying each stage, because I want them for the final level. A final level that should be renamed “The Tedious Lair” if you ask me.
Yes, it’s very hard, but that is true for many parts of the game. The major difference is that now you get a mutilated checkpoint system that feels too sparse and records exactly how many bees you have left. The game wants you to replay parts of the Impossible Lair over and over again until you can reach these checkpoints with a number of bees left that you are comfortable taking into the next section. That is, if you even reach a checkpoint at all. Replaying the early parts of the lair so often became a major frustration, which led to me rushing through them and taking more damage, forcing me to replay it even more.
This level is such a big selling point that they put it in the game’s title and I absolutely hated playing through it. I stopped playing the game literally at the final stretch, because I couldn’t imagine anything that would be more unpleasant to do than going through the opening parts of the Impossible Lair AGAIN.
I honestly can’t comprehend how Impossible Lair was so well-received, keeping in mind it does so many things for which the original game was criticized. People hated the large maps of the 3D game, but praise this oversized, uninspired HUB world. Players felt the fight with Capital B was too long and hard, yet now we have a masochistic 2D gauntlet at the end and that’s just cool? Thought the story in Yooka-Laylee was a bit undercooked? How about not having a story at all? Just some dialogue to start off the adventure and then you”re on your own for the next 12 hours.
The gameplay is generally fine when you’re in the 2D stages themselves, it certainly has tighter controls than its predecessor and enemies are less of a hassle, but I can’t look at this game and see the “best 2D platformer in years” that others are seeing.
I’ll fight you for this Stian.