by Shaun Jones
reviewed on PC
Playtonic Games second attempt at reviving the platformer genre has taken a different approach in comparison to its first Yooka-Laylee adventure. Making the switch from 3D to a more focused 2.5D, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair has taken an old gameplay loop and re-defined it. Oozing with nostalgia, Playtonic has managed to breathe new life into an ageing genre.
Recent revivals such as the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane trilogy, have re-established the platformer giant and helped to introduce 3D platformers to a new generation of eager players. Nintendo still has a thriving market on the Switch, including Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, a 2.5D platformer which goes head to head with the Impossible Lair. As similar as they may appear, Playtonic has managed to keep things different enough to make both a worthwhile investment.
FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY, STING LIKE A BEE
Essential to a platformer, controls must be responsive and intuitive. Fortunately Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair controls effortlessly, feeling accurate and snappy enough to ensure you're not fighting the inputs whilst navigating the treacherous environments. Pick up and play is an easy affair, movement can be done with the D-pad or the analog stick, with a jump, attack and interact input accompanying. Within minutes navigating the various levels and obstacles felt natural, albeit a little frustrating. Platformers are known for being hard to master, the precise timing and angle of your movements coming with practice. Granted this is not Dark Souls, but you will still die a fair bit as you learn the rhythm of each level. Luckily, the game doesn't punish you too hard for failing endlessly at that one easy-looking jump. But the game does ramp up the difficulty as you progress which makes you feel like you are genuinely improving.
Exploring the Overworld rewards you with hidden paths, and often side-quest like tasks for you to complete. Rather than pull you from level to level, Playtonic has crafted a 3D exploration-based puzzle hub — a welcome change of pace to the chapters themselves, providing a much needed slower pace in-between levels. The characters and stories that inhabit this world are genuinely funny and engaging, however, if you are not a fan of often hilarious yet cringe-worthy puns, step away now.
Visually the game is stunning to look at, exploring it's vibrant levels really is a pleasure. While it's not pushing technical boundaries like Red Dead Redemption 2, information is well presented and nothing gets in the way when you need to see the next hazard approaching. Combat, while simple, is effective and fits nicely with the game's quick-paced nature. Some of the enemy animations are great, rewarding a well-timed attack with an entertaining death animation. Complementing the often chaotic gameplay is a musical score worthy of its own release. Simple and subtle is the key here, however the atmosphere of the game favours warmth and accessibility. Some of the scores fit perfectly with their in-game environment and provide a real ambiance to the experience.
It's this overall feel-good aesthetic that helps keep frustration low, as you navigate the same death-dealing conveyor belt for the twentieth time. Levels also have an alternative version unlocked in the Overworld, and these can be stark contrasts. Floods or gale-force winds can change that level you mastered into a different beast, filled with new paths to explore and challenges to overcome.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair offers up a fair bit of content. The levels are lovingly crafted and provide some truly intense sections. However, Playtonic is not content with just giving you the world as it is. Tonics are collectibles scattered around the Overworld and can change the game significantly. Big heads? You got it. Slow motion? Covered. There are many quirky and unique modifiers such as black and white, or upside down mode. These tonics are equipable before each level and depending on their effect, will determine the rewards earned in each level. These give the game an extra depth and extend the re-playability tremendously, alongside coin collecting and achievement hunting.
So who is the game for? Fans of Donkey Kong and other 2D platformers will feel right at home. Newcomers to the genre, though easy to pick up and play, may find the harder levels frustrating. These are not impossible however and the game even includes a fourth-wall-breaking skip mechanic. Yooka-Laylee embraces its identity, something that should be applauded in today's copy and paste society. Granted, it's not a new formula, but Playtonic has added enough variables to ensure it feels fresh. On PC it performs well aside from a few bugs I encountered at the beginning of the game, and load times are snappy — perfect for retrying that hard to nail section obsessively.
Ultimately Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is an excellent throwback to platforming glory years. Despite a few bugs and sound issues present during the earlier sections, the game is simple and stylish, a joy to play. If you are on PC, you owe it to yourself to pick it up — this is the closest you will get to a Nintendo platformer on the system. The level of love Playtonic have squeezed into this game makes Yooka-Laylee stand firmly on its own two feet.
Tight controls, easy to play yet hard to master, fantastic musical Score, vibrant world, excellent Overworld mechanics
Few bugs, puns can become a bit too much, some frustrating difficulty spikes