Impossible – adj: not able to occur, exist, or be done.
Many optimistic people will tell you that ‘nothing is impossible’. In the case of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, impossible doesn’t necessarily mean the definition above, but it is rather tricky at times. And thankfully it’s all the better game for being so.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is the follow-up to the 2017 nostalgia-filled platformer, Yooka-Laylee, a spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie games that many of the team at Playtonic worked on back when they were working for Rare. Since then, the bat and lizard duo have popped up in games such as Brawlout and Brief Battles, but the Impossible Lair will be their first full game since.
The titular Impossible Lair itself is the final battle of the game where Yooka and Laylee once again face off against Capital B, but this final battle can actually be undertaken at any point in the game.
An initial training mission will introduce Queen Phoebee, the leader of the Royal Stingdom, who has called in Yooka and Laylee to stop Capital B from overtaking her kingdom and stealing the Bee Mind Control Device, conveniently known as the Hive Mind. During this introduction, Queen Phoebee gifts the duo the power of the Beettalion, an invincibility shield that stops any and all obstacles that Capital B throws at them. Unfortunately, in trying to steal the Beettalion, Capital B spreads them across the entire Stingdom. But there is no time to waste; Queen Phoebee needs rid of Capital B right away, so you have to enter The Impossible Lair straight away, without any protection. It is highly likely you will fail, but it can also be completed without any Beettalion to back you up.
Fail though, and it’s into the main game. The Impossible Lair is then always open for you to try again, keeping track of your number of attempts and percentage best run through the level. Complete any level in the Overworld and you will save a member of the Beettalion, which will then give you a ‘hit point’ for the Impossible Lair. This feature allows players to play their own way, and through their own difficulty setting, and is utterly brilliant.
Choice of difficulty extends beyond the Impossible Lair, and in to the welcome return of Tonics. Tonics are hidden in the Overworld and come in various forms. You can equip up to three at a time – though there is a way to equip a fourth if you find enough of another collectible – and some can be used to make the levels easier by adding more checkpoints, or help you retain collectibles even if you die, but at a reduction penalty to your Quills, the currency used in the game. Some Tonics can also further increase the difficulty of what is already a tricky 2D platformer title, but do offer extra Quills if they are equipped.
There are also plenty of Tonics that affect the way the levels look: Cel-shading, 4:3 ratio, Sepia and many more can all be unlocked by finding the relevant Tonic and paying the Quill price.
There are 20 levels in total and are all entered through books found in the Overworld, but there is far more to Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair than just a few books. Hidden passages, returning characters and many secrets are literally found around every corner. The levels are all incredibly well designed in themselves, but it is in finding every secret in the Overworld where you will spend most of your time… and have the most fun too.
Those 20 levels are actually doubled to 40 levels when you include the remixed stages. By interacting with the Overworld you can completely change the initial level: The Wild Web Woods becomes Wilder with the addition of more enemies, Conveyer Chaos gets some dodgy wiring and reverses the direction of every single conveyer in the level, and Frantic Fountains becomes completely frozen over. Finding how to amend the original levels comes as part of exploring the Overworld, and there are additional Beettalion members for completing the remixed levels. Altogether there are 48 members in total, which also means there are some to be found in the Overworld if you really go exploring off the beaten track.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair switches from the 3D worlds of the first game, to a 2D perspective here – except for the Overworld which has a top-down view. In doing so, a lot of the power-ups the duo unlocked on their first adventure have disappeared. Players can still roll along the ground to attack enemies and body slam to break objects, but altogether, the gameplay does feel more restricted by losing these grand open areas and additional abilities.
One new and welcome feature though is seeing Laylee flying off when you are first hit. Much like the co-op element in Rayman Legends when you have to quickly grab your partner before they disappear, Laylee will fly around when hit, but only for a brief period of time. Leave her too long and she flies off completely, leaving Yooka alone to navigate the next section of the level alone. Laylee can be summoned again if you find a bell to ring, but these sections where Yooka is alone can be treacherous; you’ll have to be cautious, edging through the levels to avoid dying and losing any progress.
Once again, the soundtrack for The Impossible Lair is wonderful: the work of Grant Kirkhope, David Wise, Matt Griffin and Dan Murdoch may go unappreciated from some of the younger players but their accompanying pieces for each level just seem to fit perfectly, whether that be the slow and calming music for Buzzsaw Falls or the necessary increase in tension for Factory Fright, it all fits perfectly. And when you look through their back catalogues – the likes of Viva Piñata, Banjo-Kazooie and the LEGO games to name just a few – you know the soundtrack is in excellent hands.
There may be collectibles galore to hunt down, but with the Xbox One version of the game there are also achievements. This time, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair has 47 in total, and over half of those are for collecting Beettalion members; every two you collect earns an achievement. Then there are several for collecting T.W.I.T. coins, of which there are five in each level. These are used to pay off Trowzer the Snake and his – humourously named – Paywalls, which block off sections of the Overworld. Finally, there are achievements for finding all the Tonics and purchasing them all with the Quills you have found.
To summarise then, you’ll want to collect everything you can. This is a traditional platformer in every sense.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair really feels like a game designed for all ages. Veteran players will appreciate the standard difficulty of the game, whilst younger ones may benefit from a few Tonics to help them on their way. This system is brilliantly designed though so it doesn’t take away from the core design of the levels themselves, nor does it dumb down any other aspect of the overall experience. Having the boss battle attemptable at any point gives the player a real marker to how they’re progressing.
But the Overworld is where I had the most fun with the Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. It’s rammed full of so many secrets and hidden passages that you do really feel like you’re the first person/chameleon/bat to explore some of these areas, and the sense of finding something new behind every corner almost becomes the primary objective over defeating Capital B. That Impossible Lair isn’t going anywhere though and Capital B can wait a bit longer whilst I check what’s hidden in this cave. Right? Right?