While 2D platformers were once the kings of gaming they’ve long been overshadowed by larger open-world titles, first person shooters, and engrossing RPGs. In recent years, this has led to smaller studios picking up the mantle and leading a renaissance of sorts for platformers which I for one, have thoroughly enjoyed. I was an original backer of Yooka Laylee when it was announced (yes you can find my name in the credits) and as an homage to some of my favorite titles of all-time in Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie, I felt it was a solid title. When the follow up from Playtonic and Team 17 was announced as a pure 2D platformer, not many knew what to expect (including me). After spending time with it, I can say one thing for certain. I should have never doubted them.
The Impossible Lair begins by re-introducing you to some of the cast of characters while immediately setting the stage for the “Impossible Lair” itself; which is a very long and challenging stage in the game that you have access to immediately. Only after a few deaths from attempting it did I realize that you’re not supposed to beat it initially. Rather, you are presented with a 3D overworld to discover and explore which is where you will spend your time unlocking health and abilities to assist you.
The overworld reminded me heavily of Super Mario World 3D in that it’s essentially a game in itself. While discovering the platforming levels you will play through in the world, you are also uncovering secrets, meeting with characters, and playing mini-games. As with everything in Yooka Laylee, it’s whimsical and charming, and I found myself enjoying the overworld just as much as the platforming itself at times.
That said, the core platforming levels are tremendous. While the first few levels felt very basic and I started to get worried the game would be too simple for my tastes, it ramps up rather quickly in both difficulty and complexity of design. The game strikes a very fine balance between being challenging yet accessible, which is not an easy task in this genre. It accomplishes this in a few ways, the first of which is by using Laylee as essentially a single hit “shield”. It’s fantastic as there’s a real risk vs. reward feeling after you’ve been hit of trying to re-acquire her. As you also lose a few key abilities without her, she becomes essential at times. The second way the game achieves balance, and by far one of my favorite features in the title, is the use of Tonics to alter the game mechanics.
Tonics can be found throughout the game world and fundamentally change aspects of the game for the player. There are over 60 in total and they offer a wide array of changes that can impact the way you play. At the start you can have up to three active at a time (eventually you unlock the capability to have four simultaneously) and depending on their abilities, can make the game more or less difficult or merely offer a fun dynamic. For example, there are tonics that allow you to play in black or white, the Game Boy Advance color palette, 480p resolution, etc…. Each of these are just for fun while others, such as making each enemy take twice as many hits to kill, changes the difficulty. The capability for the player to adjust the game to their liking, prior to every level, is a brilliant choice and adds to the accessibility of the title. Want to slow down time at will while running through a level with big-head Yooka? Have at it.
Further complimenting the level design is a beautifully colorful palette that breathes life into each level. In terms of artistic direction, Yooka Laylee and the Impossible Lair is certainly one of the most impressive 2D titles I’ve played in a long time and I often found myself getting distracted by just how much was being represented on the screen at one time. In fact, if I could find any fault with the game’s platforming, it’s that sometimes I couldn’t distinguish if something was in the playable field or merely in the background.
Acting as a cherry on top is the score. Composed by the talented team at Playtonic in Dan Murdoch, Matt Griffin, David Wise (and likely others!), the tracks are perfectly suited to the whimsical nature of the game. You’ll find yourself often humming along as you play and sometimes long after.
Yooka Laylee and the Impossible Lair is one of the more enjoyable titles I’ve played this year and it certainly left me pleasantly surprised. It’s charming, colorful, and a joy to play and in my opinion, stands tall among some of the best 2D platformers. In terms of structure, it’s similar in nature to some of the big hitters like Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze. But I’m not afraid to say, they could learn a thing or two from Yooka Laylee and the Impossible Lair. As a total platforming package, Playtonic has delivered one of the recent greats.
Final Verdict : 8
Fun Factor : 9
Technical Prowess : 7
Time Investment : 15-25 hours
Replayability : 6