Playtonic Games’ stable of veteran developers made its debut two years ago with Yooka-Laylee, a faithful spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie. Since Playtonic consists of many former Rare employees who created Banjo-Kazooie, the team effectively captured what many fans loved about that series. Now, that same team, which also features former members of the studio behind the original Donkey Kong Country games, is tackling the 2D platformer genre in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair.
Much like the platformer duo’s debut adventure, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair sees the eponymous chameleon and bat combo working through 20 2D levels with the hope of getting enough help to defeat the ultimate challenge: Capital B’s Impossible Lair, an extremely difficult level that’s four times as long as any other stage in the game with no checkpoints. Yooka-Laylee can take just two hits – the first hit sends Laylee the bat flying off, and Yooka has to try and recover her before she vanishes (much like Yoshi in Super Mario World) – so I didn’t last long in the early version I attempted. Thankfully, you’re able to bolster the heroes by finding 40 bees scattered throughout the 20 levels.
You can actually go straight to the Impossible Lair at the start if you want, but you won’t have much luck. Unless you’re a masochist, you’re going to want to collect as many bees from the various stages as possible. Each bee you find joins you in your Impossible Lair run, absorbing one hit for you. In the early version I tried (Playtonic tells me it may change by the time launch rolls around), the lair starts off with a difficult boss battle before dumping you into a moving-platform hell full of enemies, laser-focused flamethrowers, and other deadly obstacles. I didn’t even make it out of the first room, even with the six bees that joined me.
Over the course of the 20 stages, you travel across diverse locales like forests, towns, and even a blimp in the sky, and encounter all sorts of obstacles and baddies. Thankfully, Yooka-Laylee attacks these challenges with a strong moveset inspired by the 2D platform superstars of yesteryear. Yooka the chameleon can jump, roll, and lash his tongue out to grab objects. Laylee the bat can do a twirl-jump, a ground-pound, and boost Yooka’s roll. You always control the two in tandem though, as I mentioned before, Laylee will fly off if you take a hit, leaving Yooka without Laylee’s special abilities if he can’t catch her in time.
Between stages, you can explore the overworld. While normally just a hub to get you to your next level, in true Yooka-Laylee fashion, the overworld map, which changes the view to an isometric perspective, is dense and full of secrets. In one sequence I saw, Yooka blew up a wall with a bomb to open a new area. Though there is much to do in the overworld, Playtonic intends this area to be a chiller experience than the mainline 2D levels. Still, however, exploration is greatly rewarded.
In addition to finding quills, the main form of currency in Yooka-Laylee that can be used to buy items to bring into the 2D stages, you can also unlock special second states of the stages. These new versions of the stages fundamentally alter the level you’ve already beaten, and offer up a new bee to find within that course. One second-state version changes the orientation, so you’re climbing vertically instead of going left to right, while another floods the forest so it becomes a water level. These add new twists to the game, and I’m excited to see what else Playtonic can dream up to mess with players hoping to collect all 40 bees.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Playtonic game without collectibles. The original Yooka-Laylee went a little overboard with its collectibles, and often frustrated players with how hard it could be to grab everything. Thankfully, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair tones down the overall number of collectibles, with quills and bees found in the stages serving as the most important ones. While old-school fans of Banjo-Kazooie may lament the death of the collectathon elements found in the first Yooka-Laylee, I greatly welcome this scaling back.
Playtonic, despite having its DNA rooted firmly in the original Donkey Kong Country, sees the game as inspired by modern games, directly mentioning Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze as inspiration. After playing through three levels and attempting the Impossible Lair, that’s obvious; Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair plays tight and modern, with challenges that feel new and exciting, rather than ripped out of the ’90s like the first Yooka-Laylee game sometimes did.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is set to launch sometime this year on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.