Yooka-Laylee is and the Impossible Lair is pretty much what it says on the tin. Yooka the chameleon and Laylee the bat team up once again to take down Capital B’s seemingly impossible lair in a bright and vividly frenetic 2.5D platformer.
The Impossible Lair is the second in game in the franchise aimed at being a spiritual successor to Banjo Kazooie, but as it ditches half a dimension and turns into a side-scrolling platformer that can feel as challenging as Cuphead. If you’re a fan of this style of platformer, and have a flair for nostalgic-feeling games, this game may well be worth picking up. Unfortunately, despite the playful visual style, it’s not all sunshine and roses.
Capital B is at it again, creating a hivemind control device to enslave the Beetalion Bees that protect Queen Phoebee, the sovereign of the Kingdom. Our plucky heroes dive straight in and attempt the Impossible Lair at the end of the tutorial mission, but fail miserably and are pulled back out into a 3D overworld by the Queen.
You can immediately try the Impossible Lair again as many times as you like, but without the bees forming a shield around you and giving you extra lives, you’re not going to get anywhere fast. Instead, you must embark on a mission to find the 20 chapters of a magical book and rescue the bees contained within. Each bee has it’s own pithy back-story, explaining that they won a place in the Beetalion via social beedia, or something equally droll, but this is about the extent of the story – there’s just enough to give a vague premise and justify a truly staggering number of puns.
Exploring the overworld is quite interesting, spanning areas from deserts and swamps to beaches and towns. As you explore, you will come across the chapters Phoebee accidentally scattered earlier in the game. These are the normal versions of each level, but the real fun lies in altering the overworld in a specific way to unlock each level’s alternate form. For example, you could freeze the puddle that a chapter has landed in, turning the level from a water one into an ice one. Alternatively, you could flip the book upside down or even dangle a fishing rod into it. Some of these scenarios are simple to set up, while others require completing challenge levels that will magically alter the overworld around you in reward. The possibilities here are genuinely interesting to explore. With the levels containing two bees each, that leaves a further eight scattered across the overworld for you to hunt down.
It’s not just bees that you hunt for in Yooka-Laylee – you have world-altering tonics and two types of currency to collect. The tonics are fairly versatile, ranging from more powerful attacks to changing the visual style of the game with some filters. In order to use the tonic you need to first find it in the overworld and then buy it using the first of your currencies – quills.
You pick up quills through the game’s levels the same way you would with most platformers – break boxes, grab them out of the air – there’s nothing special there. The second currency, however, is your more important one. Each level contains five hidden T.W.I.T. coins that you can put towards overcoming the ‘Paywalls’ that Trowzer the Snake has scattered across the overworld. Once you throw enough coins at the Trowser snake, you can proceed with your adventure and find more levels.
As you’re looking to smash and/or collect everything in sight, Yooka’s best bud Laylee serves two important roles. As in the first game, you can jump farther when holding onto your bat friend and you have the buddy bash (ground pound) attack, but she also provides a hit point. When taking damage, Laylee will frantically fly off, presumably because she’s a terrible friend. Unfortunately, she’ll often head back into areas that are virtually impossible to get back to, and with the number of one-way doors in this game, it’s easy to lose Laylee until you find a way to make her reappear. These doors are sometimes physical doors or falling debris, but most often they’re nets you can jump onto but not back down. Either way, if you don’t catch her within a couple of seconds of taking a hit, you’re on your own, and Yooka is far less efficient in this state.
The diversity of the overworld carries through to the level themes themselves, but that doesn’t end up in more variety in enemies. Although you come across new enemies as you play through the chapters, too many of them are impervious to your swipe and buddy bash attacks, meaning that you need to hit them with a projectile fired from Yooka’s mouth. The problem is that there’s so few projectiles in a level and it gets pretty obnoxious when there’s a string of enemies covered in spikes and blades in an aerial section. When you can hit enemies, the hit boxes can go a little weird, meaning that they hurt you instead of the other way round.
The worst thing about the levels, however, is their propensity to cut off the bottom of the screen. One of the most important things in platformers is knowing when platforms end and, around on quite a few occasions when heading downwards, the camera has failed to keep up. Standing still, you can’t see the platform under Yooka’s feet, so it’s a fool’s errand trying to guess where the floor ends and the inevitable fall to your death begins. This, in my books, is unforgivable in this genre, and coupled with the enemy woes, you have a game which is frustrating because it feels poorly designed, not because it is a genuine challenge.
Fortunately, if you find yourself stuck and unable to get past a section, simply die enough times and you’ll be allowed to warp to the next checkpoint, so the game isn’t impossible (barring the final level which is a nightmare), but I’d argue that if you feel the need to add a mechanic that allows you to skip almost all of the game, something’s not quite right.