While I do respect Rare, and still think to this day that Banjo-Kazooie is a contender for the best 3D platformer ever made, I am not that big of a fan of their other titles for the N64. Jet Force Gemini, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Goldeneye, Banjo-Tooie, all are titles I can respect how far they tried to push gaming, but they have aged worse than wine put in a sauna. Even titles I love, like Perfect Dark, is hard to go back to on the original N64 and not boot up the 360-version instead.
For me, I was always more of a fan of their 2D-titles, with my favourite being the Donkey Kong Country games for the SNES. I have always wanted to talk about that series, the Land-games, and even touch upon the different ports. However, this is where Yooka-Laylee and The Impossible Lair both surprised me and made me curious. With a sequel, it seemed almost like Playtonic took a step back to go for something smaller, instead of focusing on being big and expansive like the first title. Then I thought: maybe they actually realised that bigger does not mean better, but it is how you use a concept that matters! Maybe this one is the true Rare-vival.
Let’s kick some Bee-hind!
Capital B, the evil capitalistic bee, is back, and that is not good. This time, he has created a mine-controlling device called the hive-mind and is enslaving all the bees of the Royal Stingdom and Queen Phoebee is no match against him with her beetalion. Even Yooka and Laylee is struggling against taking on Capital B and his impossible lair. They decide the best course of action, is to save Phoebee’s army of beetalions in order to shield the duo against Capital B’s traps and hazards as much as possible, in order to take him down.
As you can probably tell, there are plenty of jokes and puns within this title. Humour is definitely a subjective matter, but it is quite impressive how much The Impossible Lair contains of diverse and clever puns, and funny characters within its world. In fact, all are memorable and personal, be it the snake Trowzer who sets up paywalls everywhere, the snarky and carefree Laylee, or the clumsy scientist Dr. Puzz the octopus. All have a clear trait, but are memorable and likeable characters with cute and simple design, making them fit a 7 AM morning cartoon that has enough clever jokes to sit with the stronger titles for the whole family, like Hilda or Ducktales.
There are also a lot of clever nods to gaming- or media culture in general, such as the mentioned paywall, or the unfortunate memories of the first game. Nothing comes of as poorly implemented and the game never mocks itself as an excuse for its design, making all feel legit funny, or at least good attempts at humour. There are some jokes that do not hit home personally, such as the plenty of bee’s with a unique pun for a name each, and the lore about them that is not really entertaining. Their dedication to this concept is impressive, just not funny when the jokes become too similar. Then again, some had me laughing out loud, such as Boris, Capital B’s favourite minion, getting smashed at the start of the game by you.
It is lovely to see that The Impossible Lair, while not a game focused on a story, still provides an impressive amount of jokes, clever humour, and a world-building where you have a huge cast of characters to get intrigued by. There are certainly some puns that feels pushed to its edge, but none comes of as poorly implemented or overstay their welcome. It is just a matter of taste, but with how much variety and entertaining conversations there are, and the heroes are a likeable duo, it really reminds me of Banjo-Kazooie without being a carbon copy.
Story Score: 7/10
After the first tutorial-stage, you are thrown into the Impossible Lair, which is the last stage of the game, and the one you need to beat in order to finish the game. It is a cruel and unforgiving stage, and if you can beat it from the start, you probably should look into a career in gaming. This is an accomplishment severely few can claim, and because of this, you are going to need some form of a shield for support. The beetalions! At the end of every 2D stage, and partly in the overworld, you can gather as many beetalions as possible to use as an extra hit, and tackle this impossible lair once you feel confident enough. Just be warned: you are going to need as much help as possible since this stage has no checkpoints, will test all of your abilities, requires quick thinking, contains plenty of diverse obstacles and clever enemy-placement, and is named the Impossible Lair for a very good reason: it is a daunting challenging.
This game is structured with an overworld where you can find scattered books to dive in and be taken to 2D side-scrolling stages, where one of the beetalions is at the end. I will come back to the overworld later on, but I wanted to start with the meat of the game: the 2D side-scrolling stages. Being a callback to Donkey Kong Country, The Impossible Lair is paying tribute to it within its movests. The duo can of course jump and have a standard attack, but the most important elements, are the rolling-attack and the roll-jump. For those unaware, it was a way to take a leaping jump, with slight air-born roll and speed added inn. A form of a semi-jump before the real hop, if you will.
While it was a helpful tool before, The Impossible Lair makes it an essential part of the game, such as for getting through cracks and to perform tricky jumps. Included with this are also the spin-jump and ground-pound. While neither are new, especially to any veteran of the later Mario-titles, these are important ones for getting through secret areas, quickly fending off enemies, dodging hazards, or speedrunning, making them moves you will be using constantly. The air-spin has a small airborne element, and the ground-pound is so fast, you can easily use it to cancel an ill-timed jump! However, these can only be performed if you have Laylee alongside on the journey. You will not be even able to constantly roll without her.
Similar to Donkey Kong Country, your characters die in one hit, so if you have Yooka and Laylee together, one hit from a hazard or an enemy, and Laylee will fly around scared until you either take her back or she flies off the screen. After this, it is only Yooka left with less abilities and if he bites the dust, you will lose some of the feathers you have collected around the stages, and restart at the last checkpoint. This is a good place to express that, while The Impossible Lair introduces plenty of clever platforming for speedrunning, it also encourages explorations for T.W.I.T Coins and golden feathers.
In each stage, there are five hidden coins that will have a usage in the overworld, and feathers that functions as currency, which we will discuss later as well. Feathers are found throughout the world, by defeating enemies, or by activating coloured feathers, that will have you do different tings, such as running after their trail of feathers, attack coloured feathers in a specific order, or get all in a stationary place. All will test your platforming-abilities, making them fun tasks to conquer. This varied element of platforming also goes for the level design, as some might test your exploration, another will have you climb upwards, and one might be focused on using canons to blast you throughout the stages. All will focus on the platforming, making these diversions just fun alterations to the platforming, which is fantastic.
I have been talking a lot about the abilities of Yooka and Laylee, simply because every stage takes full advantage of our heroes’ capabilities with plenty of clever obstacle-courses and enemy-placement. It is fantastic for speedrunning and for exploring, as both tests your skills with platforming. Enemies can be used for platforming by jumping on them, Yooka can carry things like bombs and use them as offensive items or to destroy pathways for goodies, and more adds to make every stage in The Impossible Lair fun to venture through. There are also plenty of subtle secrets that tests your keen eye or your abilities and timing, and they are always a blast. For example, one stage had me go through an upper path with plenty of rail-grinding, and enemies to use as platforming, before utilising cannons to shoot at the exact right time.
This form of diversity within the stages adds to the game’s tension, and with collectables being fun to gather, you really need little else. In fact, Yooka and Laylee has no form of powerups to speak off, besides the things Yooka can pick up and throw. The only thing I can think of that comes close is the bell to call Laylee back, which is understandable as that is all the powerups you are going to need.
Although, you can get equippable functions in the forms of tonics that are scattered in the overworld to find. Tonics do plenty of different things, such as alternate visual aspects, make things harder like reversing controls, or make them easier like having Yooka swim faster. A smart move, is how the customisable tonics do not do anything else, while those that gives the player benefits, lessens the amount of feathers they get in a stage, and vice versa. You can equip upwards to three tonics, and you can mix and match to find the combination you are comfortable with. If you can find the tonic that is. Once one is found, however, you must unlock it with the golden feathers you have picked up. It is a weird concept to have to unlock something you have already found, but both aspects encourages exploration and are just fun to go for.
Yes, this also goes for the overworld, which is simply fantastic. It is here where you discover and find the books that will take you to these marvellous 2D-stages, but these contain much more. First, there are secrets everywhere, and all are worth your time. Be it tonics, Beetalion, or others, there is so much to look out for, it really reminds me of the older Zelda-titles. There are puzzles where you must decipher what to do, subtle cues for checking an area or ground pound it, and character’s everywhere has some importance to the overworld. For example, the signs will give you hints on where to look for more tonics, or unique characters will have a problem that needs to be fixed.
Solving their problems can lead to altering the books you found in order to make the stages redesigned with different courses or concept, that only uses some of the original stage’s design. One book for example, is on a mechanical bridge and when you alter it to be raised up, the stage will instead become vertical. These minor, yet brilliant ideas, makes you look around and try to figure out if there is more to do, as all the puzzles are clever and rewarding! They are never too difficult, but challenging enough to make you pay attention and actually explore, such as figuring out how to slide your way through an iced lake you created, as you will not be able to stop unless you hit a wall. To uncover more of the overworld, you will mainly have two obstacles to overcome, if it is not a puzzle. Trowzer will have set up paywalls, and this is where the coins come in, as you will need a specific amount in order to pass through. As long as you try to find some, you should at least be close to pay this sly snake in order to pass through.
The other element, are the Pagies scattered around. Instead of them being collectables, they will instead take you to a one-screen platforming-challenge, where you have to figure out how to defeat the enemies. These are simply fantastic, as they test you once again with your abilities, and can even be forms of puzzles. One challenge, for example, had me make the enemies jump in specific places to make them be hit by a buzzsaw, in order to clear the challenge. It is always a joy to find these parts, and once you finished one, the Pagie will call upon other Pagies and alter the world.
I am severely impressed. The Impossible Lair takes the best from platformers of earlier days, mix in a fun overworld that is actually engaging to uncover, and reinventing their concepts slightly everywhere in order to create something unique. Think of it like this: while you can take on the last level and finish the game, you will easily forget it and instead just explore the world and do everything, just because of how engaging it is. You simply will not want this game to end, and will squeeze everything out of it for your own enjoyment alone.
Gameplay Score: 10/10
A real Rare revival of retro reliving!
The Impossible Lair takes the vibrant colour and the potentials for creating a gorgeous and inviting world from the first Yooka-Laylee, and nails it here. Every area is different in theming, with icy mountains, factories spewing fires, huge towns, small villages with windmills, treetops with vines to climb on and more, makes every world exciting to venture through. Adding to this, are the fantastic backgrounds painting a huge world with minor animations in backgrounds from flickering lights, to weather-effects. The overworld as well feels believably connected, going from areas like a sunny beach, spooky Halloween forest, and over to a dessert-lane with minor constructions. It really makes all feel seamlessly fit together, and with the amazing colour-pallets, it is easy to remember every location, even if assets are reused.
The character-models are also nice, and while it does borrow Banjo-Kazooie’s idea of just putting eyes on creatures to make them seem alive, it is done well here as they are rather minor and cute additions, with the main cast having a distinct design. All are well implemented to make the world seem more cohesive, with the cast visually interacting with it and having intriguing design, such as Trowzer wearing pants somehow, and Vendi being an old fashioned refrigerator with a kerchief on her head. Yooka and Laylee also have plenty of animations, and it is lovely how they have different ones depending on how many coins you found in a stage. The enemy-design is not varied or memorable, but they are serviceable as monster-design, with odd creatures, spiders, and jetpack goblins. All are colourful and playfully creative to make them, for the lack of a better word, cute. Their death-animations actually make me feel a tad sorry for these beasts.
The odd grunts from the N64 platformer-days to convey a form of dialogue, has been replaced with minor ones that only appears at the start of the conversations, similar to Zelda, though you have the bizarre ability to toggle on the original way with constant blabber. I am okay hearing how they sound once for every dialogue-sequence, which is spares me from the audio ever becoming dull or annoying.
Then we have the game’s soundtrack, which is magnificent! I thought at first it was only David Wise and Grant Kirkhope who were the main composer, and while they have supported this title with a couple of tracks, the honour overall goes to Dan Murdoch and Matt Griffin. These two newcomers have outdone themselves and definitely catches the vibe of David Wise’s vibrant notes and instrumental use, as well as Kirkhope’s more artistic and energetic sound. It is really a fantastic soundtrack that is upbeat, tense, and features so many highlighted instruments to make you engaged. Be it a rocking violin, a calming ukulele that builds itself up from small to big, or just the bee’s singing a happy marching-tune, it is really one of the best soundtracks I have heard in any platforming game, and I hope all four will continue on expanding their abilities.
Presentation Score: 9/10
Have you got the skillzzzzz?
There is plenty to do in this platforming-game, as you might have already guessed. Uncover the overworld, finding tonics, trying out different combinations, filters, and finding every single coin and beetalion, is a task in itself that will take a considerable amount of time. However, more importantly, all is fun to do because of how tightly everything is designed and that you are rewarded for every accomplishment. It really says something when they know the difference of filters between normal black and white, sepia, and even noir! Speedrunning this title for 100% is also engaging, and just going for the final stage with no beetalion, is a challenge I simply love for its insanity. Everything you do is simply more of the main-game, and with how much fun and varied it provides, do not be surprised if you find yourself completing the game just out of pure fun. Like I was.
Extra Score: 10/10
This is more than a Rare-revival. It is a revival of an era. Instead of just going back to Donkey Kong Country’s take on platforming, which would have been more than enough, Playtonic adds elements much more to make every event fun, with every aspect having a clear attention to details. The Impossible Lair basically takes two genres and combines them for the best of both worlds, making for something to praise as highly as Actraiser. The platforming is fantastic and focused, exploration is engaging, the small challenges and puzzles are exciting, and I was always having a blast just playing the game. If this is what we can expect from Playtonic, I am addicted to their products.