Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair calls into question what it means for a franchise to evolve. In the past, one example would be a game series making the jump from 2D to 3D, such as when transitioning from the Super Nintendo to the Nintendo 64. However, what does it mean for a franchise that does the opposite of this? Would this be considered a step back? Luckily, Playtonic proves that a franchise’s evolution comes from a refinement of mechanics and a plethora of creativity rather than a genre.
While Impossible Lair may seem like your standard 2D platformer, it actually incorporates some interesting ideas that help to strengthen the overall experience. Levels are organized into chapters that can be accessed from the top-down overworld, but this overworld serves a much greater purpose than simply linking the stages together. It acts as a giant puzzle-based map that slowly opens up as the environment is played with. Blocks can be destroyed by bombs to access secret areas, waterways can be created by pulling certain levers, and mountains can be moved by completing certain challenges. It’s a ton of fun, and packs in a lot of extra content outside of the main stages.
Those stages themselves are also affected by the changes made to the overworld. For example, if the water surrounding a stage icon is frozen, then the stage itself will be covered in ice. All 20 levels in the game have an alternate form, in effect doubling that amount. The alternate versions are vastly different from the main ones, so there’s never a time where the game feels repetitive. It’s an awesome way of adding some variety to a genre that can sometimes struggle with too much similarity.
But make no mistake — this is a 2D platformer in the purest sense. Each of the game’s stages is filled with quills to pick up, coins to collect, and enemies to squash. The coins serve as Impossible Lair‘s hidden collectibles, and there are only five per stage. Some of these coins are hidden very well, making multiple playthroughs almost necessary to collect them all. Quills are used to purchase game-altering tonics that vary in effect. Some will only change minor things about the visuals, while others will alter the way the game is played. These tonics are completely optional and only serve as a bonus.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is one of the year’s coolest surprises, and is an easy purchase for any 2D platforming fan.
The controls themselves are simple and precise. There is only one running speed, meaning that a button does not have to be held down to run faster. Yooka also has a rolling attack that can be used off a ledge to gain some more distance when jumping. This roll also boosts his temporary momentum, giving the player more movement options. It feels very refined and becomes second nature after only a few stages. Complaints about mechanics and movement of the first Yooka-Laylee are common, so it’s nice to see that the devs have clearly listened to feedback and put gameplay first.
One of the most interesting aspects of Impossible Lair comes from its name. As soon as the introductory sequence is finished, the final stage can be tackled at any time. This area is an absolute gauntlet of hazards and enemies, making for a run that is as challenging as it is lengthy. Since Yooka and Laylee normally take only two hits to kill, it seems like an impossible task at first, but that’s where the other stages come in — completing each stage gives the protagonists another hit point in the form of a bee protector. You can get a total of 48 extra hit points that you can take to the last stage, making it seem much more doable.
The sound design is top-notch of course, with Grant Kirkhope and David Wise lending their talents to the tracks. Each stage has a catchy tune that perfectly symbolizes its environment; it doesn’t get much better than this in terms of sound design. The visuals are also fantastic on Switch. Environments pop in both the overworld and the stages themselves. Impossible Lair also runs at a brisk 60 fps, which is ideal for a skill-based 2D platformer.
It’s going to be exciting to see where the franchise goes from here. Will Playtonic go back to a 3D world for their next game? Or will they experiment with a completely different genre again? (Yooka-Laylee Kart, anyone?) Regardless of where they decide to take our favorite Bat and Lizard duo, it’s clear that they’re growing as a development team, and are capable of creating fantastic experiences. Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is one of the year’s coolest surprises and is an easy purchase for any 2D platforming fan.