Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair Review (12 hours, PC)

I have a confession:  I just watched someone beat the final level of Yooka Laylee and the Impossible Lair on YouTube.  It is too hard.  It is literally called “The Impossible Lair.”  Moving on, Yooka Laylee and the Impossible Lair is a sequel to a game I own but have never played, made by former Rareware developers who formed a new studio, Playtonic Games.  I was reading that the devs didn’t want to call this a “spiritual successor” to Donkey Kong Country, but that is exactly what it is.  The similarities are alarming, right down to being able to roll off of a ledge and then jump in mid-air, just like in DKC.  Of course, the Donkey Kong Country SNES trilogy will go down among the greats as far as 2D platformers.  YL:IL is a good game, but the final level is far too difficult, preventing many players from watching the end credits roll.

Yooka Laylee and the Impossible Lair is a vibrant and exciting 2D platformer that puts players in the shoes of Yooka, a lovable chameleon, and Laylee, a wisecracking bat.  The game works similar to Yoshi’s Island, where if you lose Laylee, he floats just out of jumping range for you to grab again.  Laylee also is your first and only line of defense against restarting the level; your next hit kills you.  Pro-tip, you don’t ever want to lose Laylee.  There are some collectibles, but it’s not too big a burden, and it’s easy to understand what they all do.

What struck me when I first dug into YLIL’s levels is that these longtime game devs have clearly taken advice from their Quality Assurance Department over the years.  The stages have just the right amount of challenge without being too difficult.  In addition, if you keep restarting at the same checkpoint, the checkpoint (which has googly eyes and a face) will ask you if you want to just skip ahead to the next checkpoint.  This feature definitely has the potential to prevent a lot of frustration, but I only ever needed it about twice.  Playtonic Games is clearly home to masters of 2D platformers, still perfecting their craft.

The graphics are damn good.  The last PS4-era game I played was Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and it didn’t really wow me.  But YLIL did wow me … something about the cartoon-y aesthetic with the high polygon budget.  The music is also a hit.  The soundtrack is in part by David Wise and Grant Kirkhope, two legends of Rare Soft game music from the 90’s.  The soundtrack might not reach the same highs as the original DKC, but what soundtrack can?  I was learning about RTX Remix, a set of sophisticated modding tools for adding ray-tracing to virtually any 3D game, and I think YLIL could really benefit from it.  I can see global illumination working well.  But that’s just an aside.

This is a 2D platformer from a bygone era.  When I played it, I kept thinking “No one makes games like this anymore.”  New Super Mario Bros. never grabbed me, and most seemed too easy.  On the other hand, this is challenging but never impossible … at least right up until the last level where the devs are having fun with pixel precision, and are taunting speedrunners all the while, and it does feel impossible.  I hope Playtonic Games will continue to make games.  I see they’ve gotten into publishing (with the brand Playtonic Friends), which seems like a great way for a small studio to grow their business after turning a profit.  Final note, one sentence in this review was made with the assistance of A.I.  Can you spot it? 

4/5

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