Publisher: Team 17
Release Date: October 8th, 2019
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided: Yes
2 years ago, Playtonic released Yooka-Laylee, a spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie franchise. I hated it. Not even gonna lie about. I hated many things. But I decided to try the sequel, the Impossible Lair, this one a 2.5D platformer in the vein of the likes of Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze. And well, I loved it.
The premise is the evil character from the first game, Capital B, has been mind-controlling bees to fulfill his evil plans. These bees are the Royal Beetalion Guard of Queen Phoebee, so she asks Yooka and Laylee to help her out! You must go through 2.5D platforming levels and solve overworld 3D puzzles. Here’s where I’ll talk about the first improvement over the first game.
The characters. Yes, you heard that right. The first game suffered from poor writing and weak characters. Here Playtonic has made significant changes in the writing. The puns are on point and I love it. There are fewer characters than before and it makes the experience much better. No more of the forced interactions the first game had. Here the game keeps the focus on a select few side characters and gives the duo, Yooka, and Laylee, the opportunity to shine. And it works perfectly. I got attached to Yooka and Laylee and felt their appeal as characters. The writing quality has been upped a notch, and it made the experience significantly better.
Before we talk about the level design, I need to talk about the overworld. The overworld feels a lot like that of Mario 3D World. It’s done better though. There are more movement options, better and more rewards for exploring. It feels like a giant level. There are puzzles to do too. Also, the levels aren’t needed to be played in order. More on that later. Playtonic gives up the biggest amount of freedom possible a 2.5D can give you. It’s awesome. It’s a testament to the quality of the game. That’s one thing this game has. Quality.
The concept of the Impossible Lair is that you have this giant and hard level, and you need to beat it. You play it first in which you inevitably die. You then have to go through levels to save bees. Each bee gives you an extra life to help challenge the Impossible Lair. It’s a unique concept, especially for a 2.5D platformer. Playtonic, though, went for a bold direction, not holding any punches with this game. It also gives anyone looking for a good challenge, a way to be satisfied. It’s indeed possible to complete the game without these bees (I haven’t tried but a speedrunner has, and it’s amazing) so basically, you can do a Breath of the Wild and beat the game under 30 minutes. But that’s almost impossible to do. Hence the title of Impossible Lair. And you’d be missing out on where lies the brilliance of this game. That’s right. It’s all about the levels.
The level design here is on point. It’s reminiscent of Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze. An excellent level design coupled with solid and precise movement. Yooka-Laylee’s movement feels so good. There’s a nice mix between using Yooka and the assistance of Laylee. It’s naturally harder without Laylee but it’s not overly hard. The levels are creative with each level presenting a unique challenge. Also, each level is filled with many collectibles so there’s a high incentive to replay each level. The levels are huge too. There are so many hidden areas and places to go. This the most open 2D platformer I’ve played. There are just so many places to explore! Playtonic hasn’t forgotten their 3D roots and you can see some elements of the 3D platformer genre translated into 2D. Tonics being included are a game-changer. They diversify and enhance an already great experience. They add more ways to play and enjoy a game. So yeah, Playtonic has understood 2D platforming very well.
The visuals are great as well. The game looks amazing on my handheld Nintendo Switch. It runs at a steady 60fps. On docked, it runs at 60fps as well but with better visuals. Still, the game is awesome on handheld. It’s amazing how much effort was put here. I’m not surprised though. As much as I hate the original, it ran super well. Playtonic really gives it their all when it comes to porting and making their games onto the Nintendo Switch. We seriously don’t give them enough credit for it. The soundtrack is fantastic as well. David Wise and Grant Kirkhope have done a great job, cementing them as some of the best composers of video games. Like I said, Playtonic, didn’t hold back. They went for quality. That said the only downfall is the length. The game feels a bit short sadly. It also feels a bit slow. This isn’t faced paced platforming. It’s about exploration, but it could’ve used more speed. Still, none of these undermine the quality experience here.
We often talk about the jump made from 2D platforming to 3D platforming, like from Mario World to Mario 64 and how huge it was. This game is proof of the opposite as well. The jump from 3D to 2D can be amazing as well. Yooka-Laylee significantly improves on its predecessor to deliver a very good package. It has a deep understanding of what makes 2D platformers so much fun while also transitioning some 3D elements into 2D (like the exploration aspects). While it may feel slow and at times short, it doesn’t necessarily matter as there’s a quality experience. If I wasn’t a fan of Yooka-Laylee before, Playtonic has converted me. If they continue to deliver experiences like these, I’m all in for Yooka-Laylee. Playtonic has done a fantastic job here.