Yooka-Laylee is an interesting duo; initially created as a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, they quickly gained popularity and garnered a following. For the next outing of the chameleon and bat pair, Playtonic Games decided that they wanted to take a step back into the classics rather than try to recreate the 3D platformer as a follow up.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is a unique game in that the Impossible Lair is immediately available for players to take on if they want to. The catch is that the Impossible Lair lives up to its name. It’s not exactly impossible, but it’s so improbable that you’ll beat it on your first attempt that it might as well be impossible. So how does one go about beating the Impossible Lair? You take on the other levels in the game to free bees, which will each allow you to take an extra hit in the Lair. At any time, you can head back to the Impossible Lair to try it again, but they made it pretty clear that you’re going to want to take every advantage you can get.
Instead of the expected 3D platformer, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is a side-scrolling platformer. Moving to a side-scrolling perspective creates a game that’s reminiscent of classics like Donkey Kong, but don’t assume that means that this game is any less content packed. I was given the opportunity to play through a couple of levels and even though I was scouring every inch I could, I still came up with a bunch of missing collectibles by the time I hit the end. Then there are alternate versions of levels created by changes on the overworld map, which effectively doubles the size of the game.
If you take a hit, you’ll lose Laylee the bat. She’ll fly around briefly, and if you don’t catch her, it’s up to Yooka to make it to the end. It will be a lot more difficult, but it’s still possible to complete a level without the help of Laylee’s abilities. She provides a lot of mobility special moves, as well as being a force to reckon with when pitted against enemies. Much of Yooka-Laylee is about finding perfect lines and myriad secrets through the levels, especially when aiming for a speedrun. If you take a hit and lose Laylee, these lines and perfect runs are going to end up being tough to complete in the same way.
While the side-scrolling may have been inspired by the likes of Donkey Kong and other classic 2D platformers, the overworld was definitely drawn from classic Legend of Zelda, and even to a certain extent, Super Mario Bros. 3. Each of the levels are accessed from nodes on this hub area, and puzzles within the overworld map will help move you forward as well as create those changes that make alternate versions of each level. Even with as much as they were showing me, there were still some elements about the game that they remained pretty secretive on, including things you could potentially spend your quills (the currency in Yooka-Laylee) on and bring into levels for some kind of effect.
I was particularly struck by just how well Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair called back to those classic gaming masterpieces in a way that felt more homage than copy. Yooka-Laylee still manages to be a game that feels right at home today, but it channels elements of nostalgia that I fell in love with over two decades ago. Its levels are laden with secrets to find, and although the levels are perfect for bite-sized quick play sessions, this will be a game that will beg for “just one more.” It was tough for me to give up the controller in the booth, as I just wanted to spend even more time with Yooka-Laylee.