Friday, October 11, 2019

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair (PS4, NSW, XB1, PC) Review

Near the beginning of the month SuperPhillip Central reviewed a 3D platformer. Now, we turn to a series that started as a 3D platformer and has now jumped perspectives to 2D (or 2.5D) with Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. Here are my in-depth thoughts on the game with the SuperPhillip Central review!

Giving other platformers this year the bzzz-ness.

Playtonic Games is made up in part of former Rare staffers from the developer's golden years with Nintendo, before the buyout from Microsoft. It's nothing that the company has been coy of hinting at--what, with its logo, its first game being a take on Banjo-Kazooie and now its second game being a take on Donkey Kong Country. While the original Yooka-Laylee did not impress all who played it (and that's putting it lightly), the old saying is true: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." 

And, that's what the precocious folks at Playtonic Games have done with its second foray with Yooka and Laylee, a chameleon and bat duo, with its clearly Donkey Kong Country-inspired Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. It's complete with familiar gameplay, being able to roll and jump off the edges of platforms to impressive effect, and it even has alliterated level names to hit a particular nostalgia spot for me. While Playtonic's take on Banjo-Kazooie didn't overly delight, the DKC-drenched Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is an amazing platforming escapade that also adds enough newness to the formula to not feel like a blatant copy.

Capital B is back to his mis-bee-havin'.
Right from the get-go in Yooka and Laylee's adventure, they arrive at Capital B's Impossible Lair, an extended gauntlet of challenging platforming peril that is certainly not for the timid. While it's indeed very possible to run through the lair on your first play-through, you're meant to fail the challenge and get transported to the overworld, where the queen bee of the kingdom asks Yooka and Laylee to venture the world for various books containing levels, which in turn contain Guard Bees to rescue. For each of the 48 Guard Bees Yooka and Laylee rescue, they receive a bonus hit to shield them from damage within the Impossible Lair. 

I really love the Impossible Lair mechanic on display here in this game and think it's just genius design. It's similar somewhat--if you'll forgive the forced reference--to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, where you could venture into the last area of the game and challenge all of the bosses there, but it'd be an insanely challenging task. Insanely challenging, but possible, mind you. It's the same principle with Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. You can enter and try to complete the 15+ minute Impossible Lair as many times as you'd like--even from the start of the game--but it's best to wait until you've assembled a sizable collection of Guard Bees. 

The lair itself is the ultimate test within Yooka and Laylee's latest adventure, and it's a mighty formidable place. Even with a full collection of 48 Guard Bees, I struggled to even reach halfway in the lair my first time through. However, the challenge is one where with practice, learning the level, and discovering how to overcome each obstacle and hazard thrown at you, that you'll find you'll slowly but surely make progress in the lair. You might not make it further to the end than your last run, but you'll eventually make it to the very end, beat the final boss, and successfully complete the game. This level of challenge isn't for everyone, especially having to redo quite a lengthy level. Thus, I can see this aspect of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair--assembling all 48 Guard Bees yet still being unable to overcome the game's final task--one that might put off and disappoint a good portion of players.

Don't stop and admire the scenery too much, as there are Guard Bees to rescue!
The titular Impossible Lair in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is but one of the ways that Playtonic's spiritual successor differentiates itself from its clear Donkey Kong Country inspiration, but another way is shown after you are booted out to the overworld after your (more than likely) failure at beating the Impossible Lair your first attempt at the very beginning of the game. This is the overworld, and imagine the map of Super Mario 3D World, where it's a 3D space that you can move around in to various levels, but instead of just being a level hub, it's also where you are tasked with solving puzzles and discovering levels. 

The overworld is an open and expansive place absolutely teeming with secrets and discoveries. Finding levels requires the solving of relatively simple puzzles. Some of these require pushing objects into place, hitting switches in the correct order, among other tasks. While the puzzles are relatively simple, they're still fun to complete. I never felt I was simply going through the motions, as how solving these puzzles altered and manipulated the state of the overworld was always a surprise to me. Some merely open up the path to a new level, while others lead to more astounding discoveries. More on that later.

The overworld is one of many fresh and fun additions brought forth
by Playtonic to its take on Donkey Kong Country.
Levels in Yooka-Laylee's latest adventure are sprinkled about in books along the world map, and there are 20 total to find. Each level also comes with an alternate state. For instance, an early level in the game has you opening up a floodgate to reroute the flow of water over a level's book. Thus, what was once a completely dry level is now one that Yooka and Laylee will need to swim through as it's totally flooded. Changing the state of a level back to how it usually was is a generally easy and pain-free process. The actual process of altering a level's state to begin with is usually the much more involved (but plenty of fun) process.

This factory becomes flooded when Yooka and Laylee alter the state of this stage.
While the puzzles to access each of the game's levels and their alternate states are overall ones that won't have you banging your head against a wall to figure out--thus halting your progress--ones that have you venturing the overworld for the game's 60+ Tonics are more puzzling and perplexing. Some of these are hanging out in visible view, just requiring you to figure out how to reach them, but others require the aid of helpful signs that give you clues on where you perform a buddy slam (aka ground pound) on the world map to reveal them out of hiding. 

Tonics are completely optional finds, but they can be a huge help within the game's levels. Depending on which ones you equip during a run (you can initially equip up to three at a time), you can make a level much easier and much harder. There's a catch, though, and here's another clever trick this game employs. Tonics that make levels easier, such as giving Yooka and Laylee faster mobility, faster run time, faster rolls, faster speed in water, and so forth--these make the Quill multiplier lower. Quills are the primary currency of the game, allowing you to purchase and use Tonics that you find out in the overworld. Therefore, if you use a multitude of Tonics that make the game easier, your Quill count at the end of the level with greatly diminish. Likewise, equipping Tonics that make the game more difficult, like swapping what buttons do, giving enemies double the amount of hits to defeat, or making it so there is only one checkpoint in the level, makes it so your Quill multiplier will grow to great lengths, allowing a great collection of Quills at the end of a level. It's a clever system that makes it so more proficient players can have a more challenging game if they want, and beginning players can still enjoy the adventure--just not with all of the Quill benefits. 

Levels themselves are just fantastically crafted. You can tell that Donkey Kong Country and most notably the latest in that series, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, were great inspirations for the developers of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. While you won't get the same amazing amount of action/platforming set pieces as you would in the Nintendo and Retro Studios collaboration, you will still get a tight and splendidly designed platforming romp with the game's levels. Some are straight hop and bop affairs, while others remind me more of Yoshi's Island with all of the keys and locked doors within them. One in particular is a quest of sorts where you must rescue an imprisoned Guard Bee by searching a village area for six gems to open the Guard Bee's lock. 

Hazards in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair come in all shapes and sizes (and altitudes). 
I adore the constant risk and reward moments that are on display in this game. Whether it's chasing after a string of Quills before they disappear, all the while avoiding hazards as you race to collect them all; or bouncing off a special series of red Quills that appear one after the other as you bounce on them, and when the last one is defeated, it explodes into a bounty of Quills, my thirst to collect Quills was seldom satiated. Other moments in levels that require this risk vs. reward mindset occurs when exploring levels for the game's T.W.I.T. Coins, used to open up literal Paywalls that block Yooka and Laylee's progress in the overworld. These T.W.I.T. Coins are hidden well in each level, with each level containing five to collect. But, just like with Quills, T.W.I.T. Coins only stay collected if you reach a checkpoint and then finish the level. A final challenge in four particular levels of Yooka and Laylee's latest is that of secret exits. These lead to otherwise inaccessible Guard Bees on the overworld map. Like most of the collectibles in the game, these are smartly hidden. Well, except for one, which is just diabolical--maybe too much so--in its placement. 

Gathering a bounty of Quills while avoiding these rolling snowballs--my kind of risk!
Of course, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair could have the greatest level design and set pieces in video game history, mimicking Donkey Kong Country otherwise to a "T", but otherwise fall flat on its face if it didn't ape the quality of its inspiration's controls. Thankfully, Yooka and Laylee control well, minus the same feel of weight in the controls--which makes sense considering Yooka and Laylee's aren't exactly multiple ton gorillas. DKC vets will find a lot to like and find familiarity with Yooka and Laylee's move set. Yooka has a roll to barrel through enemies--even the same option of rolling off the edge of a platform to jump over chasms, the ability to bounce off the heads of foes to reach higher platforms and areas, and unique to Yooka and Laylee, the ability to twirl in midair to slow their descent. 

When Yooka takes damage, Laylee flies erratically around (seriously--come back here, you annoying bat bastard!), requiring Yooka to nab her before she flees. Not only does Yooka have less abilities when without Laylee, but taking a second hit will result in death. Thankfully, you can perish as much as you want in the game's 40 levels, as there is no live system in place. Finding a Bat Bell (serving as this game's version of a DK Barrel) will bring Laylee back to Yooka's... ahem... back. Laylee automatically returns to Yooka after a death, so sometimes I just found it easier to die after reaching a checkpoint if I didn't already have Laylee with Yooka, so I'd just get her back after dying. 

Hang tight, Yooka--just don't get too comfortable up there.
No matter the platform you get Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair on, you're going to get a wonderfully running version of the game. The only main difference would be load times between levels, but outside of the initial loading of my save file each time I started the game, I didn't suffer anything noticeably lengthy--unless we're suddenly considering 10-15 second load times for levels to be a blemish. If so, then I'm about to bust out a grouchy "back in my day" speech on the horrors of gaming during the original PlayStation era. Regardless, the colors of the game pop and shine beautifully, and the game is just filled to the brim with gorgeous environments and effects. Sound-wise, the collection of four composers to Yooka-Laylee and Impossible Lair, including vets like David Wise and Grant Kirkhope, make a superb musical offering with catchy songs and that I will definitely be searching an online store for a soundtrack to purchase. 

I'd say a checkpoint is a sight for sore eyes, but whose eyes could be sore looking at this beauty of a game?
Despite my enjoyment of their original romp, Yooka and Laylee's return trip to gaming with a shift in perspective with Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is a terrific title that delivers delightful humor and charm, a whimsical platforming world full of engaging challenges and tight controls, and one of the most accomplished games I've played so far this year. The excessive challenge of the eponymous Impossible Lair may put off some players from fully engaging with this game, but for everyone else, do not sleep on this game. Between the sophisticated 2D platforming levels and enjoyable 3D overworld to explore, Yooka-Laylee and Impossible Lair serves up a generous helping of jump and run goodness like nobody's "bzzz-ness."

[SPC Says: A]