I grew up with Rare games, leaving me with a ton of incredible memories. I remember finishing the original Banjo-Kazooie for the first time, I remember finding the Ice Key and unlocking dragon Kazooie in the sequel, I remember thinking Conker’s Bad Fur Day was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. Ever since Playtonic Games surfaced I have absolutely loved knowing that Rare was essentially back. Their first title, 3D platformer Yooka-Laylee was a Banjo-Kazooie sequel in all but name and was fun but flawed. This follow up is a completely new direction, a 2D side scroller.
It isn’t all 2D though, the top-down overworld makes for a nice change of pace between levels. There’s plenty of exploration to do and secrets to be found as you navigate through the game’s different areas. There are twenty levels for you to beat and you’ll find and unlock them by completing small but fun objectives in the hub world. There are two versions of almost every level, you unlock the alternatives by completing the aforementioned objectives. By freezing a lake you’ll unlock a frozen version of that level, by fixing a machine you’ll unleash a ton of enemies into another level etc, it’s a fun twist on gameplay that adds replay value to each level.
In terms of gameplay, there isn’t anything here that hasn’t been done before, if not by Rare in Donkey Kong Country or Retro in Tropical Freeze then by various other developers. This isn’t a bad thing at all, in fact, it’s fantastic. The platforming and controls are great, they’re tight and feel very precise. Yooka and Laylee’s moveset allows for some very fluid movement that feels very satisfying as you navigate through tough sections of the game. There are collectibles (not too many thankfully) and hidden passages that lead to the overworld to add longevity to the game’s fifteen-hour campaign.
The overworld is actually reminiscent of top-down Zelda games, like the recently released Link’s Awakening. The puzzles you’ll need to solve to unlock each level are simple enough but the layers of depth in the small areas are astounding. The best puzzles are the ones that see you traveling between multiple areas and building to an eventual reveal. Some of the hidden platforming sections used to unlock shortcuts or gameplay modifying tonics are really fun but equally difficult. The tonics are definitely worth the hassle in the long run. The overworld has bags of charm, all your favourite characters from the original make a return in some form. Trowzer remains a highlight, his role in this game is pretty hilarious and very in line with the world Playtonic have created.
Tonics making a return is a really nice addition to the game. These allow you to change up gameplay in creative ways, such as stopping you from sliding on ice or giving you extra checkpoints. They come at a cost, you’ll earn fewer feathers in levels as a result of activating the modifiers. However, they’re an excellent help when you’re returning to levels later on in your playthrough to clear up collectibles and are just an example of how player-friendly the Impossible Lair is. The main example of player-friendly? Technically you can fight the final boss any time you like. With a big condition, it’s tough. By completing levels you expand your ‘beetalion’. Every extra bee you collect is an extra hit you can take in the final level. This scaffolding really allows you to offset the difficulty of the final area.
This is a hard game. Thankfully the ability to make these tweaks and allow the game to pull some punches really enhances your experience. If you die too many times at a certain checkpoint you even get the option to skip to the next one. I couldn’t ever bring myself to do it but it’s a fantastic accessibility option. Some sections are particularly difficult and require very precise platforming but only on a handful of occasions did it ever feel frustrating. Luckily you don’t immediately die after taking a hit. After one hit Yooka and Laylee will become separated. Simply jumping into Laylee will allow you to reconnect and you can take another hit. Scattered throughout levels are Laylee bells meaning that if you do lose Laylee you can get her back.
The game’s final challenge, the titular and aforementioned Impossible Lair is absolutely brutal. It’s a total juxtaposition to the player-friendly experience you’ll get en route. You’ll need to set aside hours of trial and error in order to complete the challenge. You will get there in the end with the right amount of preparation but the good news is that this is still a great game even if you don’t manage to finish it. The platforming is fun, the environments are charming and the graphics are excellent. The soundtrack is provided yet again by Grant Kirkhope so you can be sure you’re onto a winner.