I love the Donkey Kong Country games. They’re colorful, well-designed platformers with amazing soundtracks and lots of secrets to discover. So when I saw that the new Yooka-Laylee game was essentially a DKC game, I was curious. I never played the first one, because despite being in the target audience I just don’t have a lot of nostalgia for N64-era collect-a-thon games. And, of course, the game by all accounts was not very good.
But after reading our generally positive review by James O’Connor, I thought I might give The Impossible Lair a shot. We’re also in that time of year where I’m just desperately trying to catch up on everything I missed while I was playing and covering Destiny 2, so I figured it was worth adding to my list. If it wasn’t fantastic, I could move on.
As James says, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair isn’t doing anything revolutionary. Unlike the 3D collect-a-thon, the 2D platformer never really went away, so it’s not like The Impossible Lair is bringing back a defunct genre. But the game contextualizes its main action within an explorable map that adds some neat twists, and also allows you to take on the final level whenever you like. As with The Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule Castle, it’s completely possible to clear The Impossible Lair the very first time the game drops you into it. But the game assumes you’ll want to beat at least a few of its levels to build up your bee army, increasing your survivability for the final battle.
Aside from all of that, though, the game plays out pretty much as a Donkey Kong Country game would. You run, jump, and roll your way through themed levels, collecting special coins and defeating enemies. I’ve got one problem with DKC games that Yooka-Laylee handily fixes, though: they are typically way too difficult for me. The last one I played was Donkey Kong Country Returns on the 3DS, and you’d better believe I made liberal use of the feature where Donkey Kong could go Super Saiyan and just play the level for you if you got stuck.
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In Yooka-Laylee, you’re allowed to skip ahead a checkpoint if you die too many times in one part. But I haven’t actually found myself using that feature, because there’s another that helps make things more manageable on its own. When you take a hit, Laylee (the bat) will fly off Yooka’s (the lizard) shoulders. She’ll flap around for a bit before bouncing offscreen, at which point you lose access to some abilities and the next hit you take will kill you. But if you’re able to catch her, you can go on like nothing happened.
It reminds me of Yoshi’s Island, in which taking a hit typically sent Baby Mario flying in a bubble. If you could catch him before a timer ran out, you could keep on going. Just like that game, Yooka-Laylee doesn’t demand platforming perfection. You can still get instant losses by falling into lava or a bottomless pit, but for the most part you can recover from any missteps.
The Impossible Lair is clearly influenced by the DKC games, but in borrowing this design element from Yoshi’s Island it’s much more approachable than many of those titles. For me, it’s the best of two classic platformers brought together, and I’m having a surprisingly great time with it so far.