Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair Review – Chameleon Kong Country

Yooka-Laylee was interesting. It was a harsh and brutal mirror that forces us to confront the fact that the games we used to play aren’t as good as we remember. But there was a devout little following for the original game, and something endearing about the Chameleon and Bat and the world Playtonic built. Not quite yet ready to abandon it all, Playtonic has returned to the world of their debut game with Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. It’s much more successful than its predecessor, but not without its faults.

The game opens with Yooka and Laylee following Queen Phoebee and her Royal Beettalion into conflict with Capital B, the villain from the original game. Amid it all, Capital B steals both the Beettallion and the Hive Mind from the Queen to seize the Royal Stingdom for himself. Cringeworthy bee references aside, the story is simple with few surprises, although there’s a nice little reveal that I hope is explored in a sequel. 

Developer Playtonic has an esteemed pedigree behind them, is made up of team members who worked on some of Rare’s greatest games including Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country. It seems more fitting then that Impossible Lair pays earnest tribute to other platformer games like Donkey Kong Country and the modern Rayman games. Not content with resting on its laurels, Impossible Lair also does a few things of its own that sets it apart from the rest.

But it’s not ashamed of where it’s come from either. You can expect to climb ropes, swing between trees, blast your way through barrels and swim through tumultuous waters. I won’t mince words here – this is a Donkey Kong Country game at its core, just with a different cast of characters. You can expect many design gimmicks from the Donkey Kong games to show up here including some that have long since been forgotten by Retro Studios.

Games like this live or die on the way they control and thankfully Impossible Lair nails it. The speed, momentum, and gravity of Yooka and Laylee feel on point. Due to the nature of the duo, they don’t animate or move as ploddingly as the Kongs did, but they still manage to be quick and nimble without feeling unresponsive and floaty. It’s a massive relief as it’s something many developers tend to get wrong with these kinds of platformers.

When you’re not in the chapters themselves though you’ll be in the game’s overworld, a free roam map that connects the chapters. The overworld is filled with secrets and collectibles to find that’ll help you on your adventure. Impossible Lair could’ve just offered an everyday level select, but the overworld itself lends something unique to the game. It’s here where you’ll interact with characters, as helping them out usually has some unexpected, often humourous benefit for you too.

Finally, you can also attempt to take on the titular Impossible Lair, and boy is it a doozy.

The Impossible Lair sounds like what it is – it’s a difficult gauntlet of tight platforming set at a brutal difficulty peppered with some boss battles. It’s meant to be insurmountable, but you can attempt it at any time. The twist here is that completing the other levels in the game will give you members of the Royal Beettallion Guard. Each guard you save grants you an extra hit point when attempting the Impossible Lair, and you’ll honestly need as many as you can get. But those who fancy a challenge can set their difficulty by trying the Lair earlier rather than later.

Tonics can also be found and used to tailor the experience to suit your skill level. Located in the overworld, they grant Yooka and Laylee new abilities that make platforming easier or can hinder them or buff their enemies. Such effects will improve or reduce the bonuses you earn at the end of the level. As an example, I cut the number of checkpoints in chapters to double my collectibles earnt, but another tonic will add more checkpoints for those less confident. There even some nice visual tonics, giving the game a different visual style (ie. Game Boy Advance style pixelation and original Game Boy colours), though these are cosmetic changes meant just for fun.

If you’re struggling, the game’s twenty chapters can be manipulated to offer more guards to unlock. When in the overworld, you can manipulate the environment to change the chapter to provide a new challenge. Think of it as a remix of the stage, with new visuals and new music to boot. As an example, one chapter is an industrial themed factory. Flood the area that you enter that chapter from, and it becomes a flooded factory – a brand new underwater version of that level to play through. It’s true, this effectively doubles the number of chapters playable in Impossible Lair, and it’s a great idea.

I can’t help but feel Playtonic are selling themselves short here, however, as the remixed chapters often feel like completely new chapters. Some of them are slightly similar admittedly – spilling honey on a chapter before entering it makes it sticky and thus harder to navigate, as an example – but so many of them are so different that it’s hard to see the link between them. In short, don’t let the idea of the game being only twenty levels put you off, even the “remixed” levels feel new enough that anyone who has played Impossible Lair can confidently declare the game has forty.

And while that level count is significantly lower than the latest Mario Bros. or Donkey Kong Country games, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair still lasts just as long. For the typical player, you can expect to get ten to twelve hours of the game as you not only finish the chapters but explore the overworld. For those wanting to unlock everything, including finding every T.W.I.T. coin in every chapter, this can quickly expand to twenty. If you keep dying, the game does give you the option to skip chapters too, though this will reduce the time it takes to finish.

Being offered at a significantly lower price point, there are still some things off about Impossible Lair. For one, the game has no boss battles beyond the one you encounter in the Impossible Lair itself. I sometimes acknowledge boss battles can be the bane of many platformers, but with the pedigree behind Impossible Lair I’d have loved to see them try something here. Similarly, there’s not a whole lot of variety in the enemies meaning that some of them feel out of place in some of the environments you’ll play through.

It does feel as if Playtonic was limited in the general themes of the chapters you’ll play through. Some cleverly use lighting, but underneath it all, there’s quite a bit of obvious asset reuse. It’s a good thing that the platforming and gameplay are so strong, but to not use some of the glitzier worlds like the Capital Cashino from the original game feels like a missed opportunity. Putting that aside, the game’s performance is incredibly smooth at a rock-solid sixty frames per second.

Of course, the music does a great job at channelling the energy of the greatest platformers of the fifth generation of games. Rareware veterans Davide Wise and Grant Kirkhope return to compose Impossible Lair and offer a wide variety of eclectic tracks that provide great ambience to the game. Some of the tracks feature some tremendous and billowing guitar tracks ala Killer Instinct. Others have an industrial clang to them, tapping into the very best sounds of Donkey Kong Country 2. Of course, expect Xylophones too.

It’s an incredibly well-rounded soundtrack, though at times it did feel like the music and the chapters were separately designed. While the music works regardless, they sometimes don’t feel like they suit the chapters they play in – there is an obvious disconnect between some of the stages and the vibe the music is going for.

Still, it’s hard to deny that these issues with the game are noticeable but entirely secondary to the experience of Impossible Lair. It’s a strong game with some even stronger foundations let down only by its budget.


Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair ironically does justice to the impossible task of living up to the name of great platforming games like Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong Country, and Rayman Legends. It’s a joy to play, feeling simultaneously modern and yet nostalgic. The odd omission of boss battles and some issues with variety aside, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is a game any self-respecting platformer fan should play.
Novel Overworld
Rock Solid Platforming
Fluid Performance
Great Unlockables
Lacking Bosses
Generic Art