Friday, January 28, 2022

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair Review

Developer: Playtonic
Publisher: Team 17
Platforms: XBO, PS4, NS, PC
Price: $30
Version Played: PC

Donkey Kong Country and Banjo-Kazooie are some of my favourite Rare games. I remember playing BK on N64 and dreaming of a DKC style 2D platformer starring the bird and bear duo. That never happened, though. And it's not going to happen with the current Rare either. Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair comes pretty close, though.

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is 40 levels of old-school 2D platforming action, plus the Impossible Lair itself, which is like 4 levels in one. It's actually 20 levels, but each one has 2 very different versions, so it's 40 levels. For comparison, the first DKC game on SNES had 40 levels too. YLATIL doesn't have any boss battles besides Capital B, who you only fight in the Impossible Lair, but its levels are much bigger than DKC's. There's a lot to do in the overworld in between levels too. This isn't as big as the first Yooka-Laylee, but it's still a pretty big game.
The Impossible Lair is both the first level and the last. You can actually play it at any point in the game. The thing is that, while it's not actually impossible, it's incredibly hard. There's enemies constantly coming after you, pretty much every hazard and obstacle in the game is in it, and there's no power ups or Tonics allowed. It's the kind of level you have to play dozens of times to memorize. It's like something out of Ghosts'N Goblins. It's way harder than anything else in the game. Getting through it with your default 2 hit point Yooka and Laylee is extremely difficult. But thankfully, you can get 48 hit points by beating every level in the game and rescuing all the bees. You rescue a bee at the end of every level and they each let you take 1 more hit in the Impossible Lair. It's still super hard with all 48 bees, though.
The Impossible Lair is split up into 4 sections and you fight Capital B at the beginning of each one. These 4 splits in the Impossible Lair are the only checkpoints, but your progress is saved even if you leave the level. And by progress, I mean the amount of bees you make it to the next section with. For example, if you make it to the 2nd part with 38 bees, you can continue from there with 38 bees after dying or leaving the level. You can also retry previous parts of the level to try and beat them with more bees without losing your progress in later parts of the level. So if you made it to the 4th part with only 1 bee, you can replay the 2nd or 3rd part to try and get there with more if you want. It's a really cool concept. I just don't really like the level itself.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair takes some inspiration from Donkey Kong Country Returns and Tropical Freeze, but it plays a lot more like DKC on SNES. Yooka is the character you actually play as. Yooka runs, jumps, swims, swings, and rolls, just like Donkey Kong. You can even roll off platforms and jump in midair like in DKC. He can also do a tail swipe attack while standing still, a long jump after a butt stomp, and grab things with his tongue, carry them around, and throw them. Laylee is more like DK's friends in Returns and Tropical Freeze. She's more like a power up than a second character. When Yooka has Laylee with him, he can butt stomp and do a helicopter glide while in the air, like Dixie Kong. When Yooka takes damage, Laylee scurries around and you have to touch her to get her back, kind of like Baby Mario in Yoshi's Island but without the crying. Yooka-Laylee is just an egg throwing mechanic away from the Banjo-Kazooie 2D platformer I envisioned years ago.
Of course, good controls can only take a 2D platformer so far. It needs good level design to really stand out. YLATIL doesn't really try anything I haven't seen before, but I think its levels are a lot of fun. There's only one level that I didn't like, and that's the Impossible Lair. The rest of the game is very well done and lots of fun. The levels are big, but they never feel like they drag on and can be finished in a few minutes. There's rope swinging, swimming, buzzsaws, spikes, falling platforms, you know, the classics. There's also keys for opening locked doors, secret bonus rooms, and 5 gold coins hidden in every level, so there's some exploration too. The only kind of level you won't find here is minecart levels. Frankly, I don't miss them. We got more than enough of those in the first Yooka-Laylee. The game does ramp up the difficulty as you progress through the game, but you get infinite lives and plenty of checkpoints, so I never got frustrated with the game. Outside of the Impossible Lair that is.
There's much more to the overworld in this game than the maps in DKC and Mario games. The overworld in YLATIL is more like a level in the original Yooka-Laylee. There's NPCs, puzzles, a little bit of platforming, and even enemies. You can't die on the overworld, though, you just lose some gold quills if you get hit. Solving puzzles in the overworld opens paths to new levels and unlocks the second version of every level, so you always want to explore, talk to NPCs, and just mess around with anything that looks like it might do something.
The thing I don't like too much about the overworld is the TWIT Coin gates. Trouzer the Snake has walls which block your path around the world and you have to pay him coins to open them for you. It's a paywall joke. The coin fees are high enough that I had to spend a few hours of my playthrough just replaying levels to collect more coins. Thankfully, the levels are fun, so it wasn't too bad, but it does feel like they're trying to slow you down so you don't beat the game too quickly.
There's also a bunch of Tonics hidden around the overworld. Tonics are like the Halo Skulls of Yooka-Laylee. They modify your abilities, make playing the game easier or harder, or just put a photo filter on the game. Beneficial Tonics reduce the amount of gold quills you get at the end of a level and Tonics that make the game harder boost the amount of quills you get. You can equip 3 tonics at a time, so I used one that makes Laylee's glide longer, one that gives you more invincibility after getting hit, and another that makes Laylee fly around less after you take damage. These tonics made the game easier, but also gave me a 0.4 gold quill multiplier.
Music in YLATIL ranges from goofy and downright annoying jingles to beautiful relaxing melodies and hard rock jams. It's all over the place. That's probably because 4 composers worked on it. David Wise, Grant Kirkhope, Matt Griffin, and Dan Murdoch all composed songs for this game. Some songs are great and some had me turning the volume down.

I think this game looks really nice. The models are pretty low poly and the textures are not super detailed, but everything is so small and you're running around so fast, you don't really notice while playing. The lighting is also really well done, so it kind of covers up any imperfections. The game just has that kind of colorful Rare box art CG kind of look to it and I love it. It also has an uncapped framerate on PC, if you care about that sort of thing, which I do.
Even with the few annoyances, I love this game. I might even like it more than DKC Tropical Freeze. It's just so much closer to SNES DKC than Retro's games. I also like this game much better than the first Yooka-Laylee because it's more concerned with actually making a good game than with making jokes about N64 Rare collectathons, and I appreciate that.