The first Yooka-Laylee game was incredible and soon became one of my all-time favourites. When I found out that its sequel would be a 2D platformer, rather than a 3D platformer like its predecessor, I was a bit disappointed. I was still going to get it as soon as it came out, but I thought it might be a step down from the first game due to the change in formula.
As it turns out, I had absolutely nothing to worry about. Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is just as good as the first game and, depending on my mood, I sometimes think that it might actually be even better. Like the first game, it is now one of my favourite games.
There are two sides to the game: the first is the 2D platforming. Every level is beautifully designed and has just the right balance between being fun and being challenging. There are tonnes of beautiful environments (forests, airs ships, cliff sides, towns, factories and more) which look really nice and are full of nice little details – then each level also has an alternative form. For example, a level with a lot of water in it might change so that all the water is completely frozen and you don’t swim in it anymore, one level in a factory gets completely flooded, one level even gets rotated by 90 degrees, which changes everything. It’s always fun to play a level again in a new way and this is a fun new mechanic that I’ve not seen in other games.
The other side of the game is the world map, which isn’t just a map, but more like it’s own game. Building on top of the more interactive map from Donkey Kong Country 3, you walk around in a 3D overworld with a kind of top-down perspective. To me, it felt a little similar to the 2D Zelda games, except that it was pretty much better than all of them. You walk between different Grand Tomes (which are the entrances to new levels) which are scattered around the overworld and you have to find ways to do things to the Grand Tomes so that you can unlock the alternative versions of them. Sometimes its as simple as waiting for the tide to come in and spill over it, other times its very convoluted, like a particular instance where you have to make a frog start fishing inside the Grand Tome. The overworld is, honestly, just as nice to explore as many of the 2D levels – with deep forests, beautiful beaches, dark castles and more. There’s even an NPC who tells you that there’s a really well hidden secret somewhere in the world and, to my knowledge, nobody has ever fond it. How exciting. In order to progress in the overworld, you need coins which you can collect in the 2D levels.
Now, as you can probably tell from the title, there’s a really hard level called “The Impossible Lair” and this is something you can actually access right from the start. The idea is that for each of the 2D levels you win, that’s an extra hit you can take in The Impossible Lair. As someone who has been playing 2D platformers for my entire life, I arrogantly believed that I wouldn’t have too much of a hard time with this – but let me tell you, this is a very, very tough level, even if you have loads of hits you can take. Frankly, I almost gave up on it, but I was able to persevere because I love Yooka-Laylee so much. I’ve seen a lot of people who got very angry over the difficulty of The Impossible Lair… but, to me, it seems like the whole point was that it was supposed to be really hard? And after a lot of tries, it is manageable. Though there’s an extra reward for doing it without any extra hit points, which I can’t imagine myself doing any time soon.
The real icing on the cake for this game though, is that its absolutely charming. Dialogue with characters on the overworld is hilarious and there’s a nice mixture of new and old characters (though I wish Clara Lost were in it). There are tonnes of references to games like Donkey Kong Country (some of them pretty overt) and you can find and purchases lots of fun different Tonics which alter gameplay in different ways – sometimes making things easier, sometimes making things harder and sometimes just changing how things look. On top of that, it has just about one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard for a game – it’s one of those ones where you’ll stay in a certain spot in a game just to hear the music.