I think we can all agree that nostalgia seems to be playing a big part in video games lately. Face it, it works! And a team who is no stranger to conjuring up nostalgic magic is Playtonic Games, by paying some serious homage to genres of the past. They did it first with Yooka-Laylee, attempting to convey the look and feel of 3D platformers from the Nintendo64 era. Now it’s from one nostalgic genre to another. They have brought back their flagship characters, Yooka and Laylee but this time, in a side-scrolling adventure reminiscent of those from the Super Nintendo. Although I wasn’t drawn in with their first game, I took a platforming leap of faith on this one!
From a story perspective, the game doesn’t offer too much. Capital B, a giant evil bee, has a device that is controlling all of the bees in the “stingdom” (gotta love puns). Yooka and Laylee have to stop him but there is only one problem: to get to him they have to go through the impossible lair. Although YouTube videos will show that it technically is not impossible, it is fairly difficult and lengthy. Unless you are super prepared you will most likely fail the lair. You are rescued from the lair by the Queen bee, who explains that you can make the lair easier by freeing bees scattered throughout the world. Essentially, each level you complete will result in you rescuing a bee, and each bee will allow you to take one extra source of damage when in the impossible lair.
Keep in mind that this is your first introduction to the game: playing the final level and getting crushed. I adore this concept. You can technically roll credits in about 30 minutes or so, depending on how quickly you can speed run the lair. 99 percent of players are probably not going to be able to get that far and instead have a real reason to complete each level and collect these bees. It builds an interest around how long the lair actually is and how far I need to go, collecting bees, before I can turn back and defeat Capital B. Throughout my playthrough, I found myself often going back to the impossible lair seeing how much farther I could get after a few more bees were rescued.
I was extremely impressed with the design for each level. Areas felt well planned out for the mechanics you are offered. Platforms felt spaced properly where a player who doesn’t quite use abilities correctly will find them just out of reach. And with various enemies running, flying, swimming and blasting along your way, it could get hectic quickly. It never felt too punishing though, having a good enough amount of challenge to have fun with but not constantly require repeating a section.
One thing that sets this game apart from most platformers is that you do not just simply jump from level to level. When you aren’t in a platforming 2D stage, you are instead traveling through a 3D overworld. I thought this was actually a smart move on their part to serve as a palate cleanser between each level. You would have to run through the overworld to unlock new areas by paying coins to the trouser snake (yeah, I know what it sounds like), solving puzzles, or just beating up baddies.
Although combat in the overworld was rather lackluster, the puzzles and small interactions with other characters definitely added more charm to the game. You could even change levels by interacting with the overworld. Flood an area with water and the level you initially played now becomes an underwater level. Accidentally pour honey all over the level and now the level has sticky honey everywhere giving you the ability to stick to walls and climb up them. It really was a brilliant way to reuse a level but put a new twist to each.
Personally, I’ve never clicked with the characters from either games but honestly, this game makes up for that by just being an amazing platformer. The game speaks for itself in the way that matters the most: the actual gameplay elements. From a highly fluid dash and jump ability to the slight hover mechanic, I felt that they took something very simple and showcased it perfectly. It felt floaty at first but after playing a few levels the characters really clicked with me. It also pushes you to be more deliberate with your inputs. Simply rushing through and always dashing will get you into trouble quick and I learned that the hard way.
Unfortunately, there was one major negative factor present with this game and that would have to be the load times. Starting up this game felt like an eternity. Of course that is an exaggeration but in this day and age waiting around 50 seconds before you can get into the game is almost unheard of. The solace to this is that once it loads up, the game runs very well and looks amazing. The main load time is when booting up the game and doesn’t take too long per each level. I played this game in a few sittings for long periods of time so the main load time at the start didn’t feel as bad. However, if you plan on jumping in just to play a level or two I could see this becoming frustrating.
All in all, I was very happy with my time playing Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. If you are a platformer fan or just a Yooka-Laylee advocate then this is something you should check out. The game shines where it matters most and adds a unique twist to the way an overworld design can be engaging. I think they found a genre that suits the team but if they want to keep on rolling with another nostalgic genre, after this one, I’m excited either way.