Many thought we wouldn't see another Yooka-Laylee title. The original was hotly anticipated, being one of the many games to be crowdfunded during the Kickstarter boom. However, once it was released in 2017, it received a lukewarm reception. Problems with the camera, the lack of levels, and the overall empty feeling level design kept the game from achieving universal acclaim and many saw Yooka-Laylee as yet another failed attempt to cash in on nostalgia and an example as to why some game designs from the past that faded away should stay gone.
Flash forward to June 2019 and Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair was announced out of nowhere. A sequel to the game that was in no way like the original game. Rather than taking inspiration from Banjo-Kazooie, this game instead homages Donkey Kong Country. The entire game is in 2D, despite being rendered in 3D. So with this game going in a completely different direction, it stands to wonder if they would be able to replicate this style of game better than the previous style. Also, the Donkey Kong Country series of platformers now have a reputation for being notably difficult. With such a challenge being heavily pushed with the subtitle Impossible Lair, it may seem intimidating to take up the challenge.
Before we get into the Impossible Lair, let's get a base understanding of the game itself. The game itself really nails the platforming style of Donkey Kong Country, specifically the recent titles made by Retro Games. There's a lot of speed, and rolling off of ledges to gain extra distance in jumps. There are little nooks and crannies to find with collectible tokens to collect and each level focus on enjoyable and challenging platforming over decent to mediocre platforming that prioritizes what you find rather than how you got there.
As a result, a proposition such as the Impossible Lair is a valid one. If you have a game where your primary source of enjoyment and fun is from the actual gameplay rather than what you earn from participating and winning the challenge, then a highly difficult level or levels that test your abilities in the game would be downright delightful. After playing the game, of which has taught you its various challenges and has prepared you to be able to utilize all that you've learned in one final gauntlet test of your mettle, you would surely welcome and be able to tackle such a challenge.
Now, let me set the stage for this Impossible Lair. The Impossible Lair is actually a gauntlet of four levels and four boss fights, one after the other alternating between the two. There are no checkpoints, so if you die at any point, you have to start all over again. Each level typically has several themes within, in which the obstacles are designed around whether it be moving platforms, underwater, buzzsaws, treadmills, and so on. The boss fights get more and more difficult as you complete each level, with new attack types and new patterns of offense.
As you play the game, you rescue bees that are part of your Beethalion for a grand total of 48. This means you can have up to 48 hit points to help you finish the Impossible Lair before losing Laylee and then dying in the next hit. I also say upwards as the Impossible Lair is actually the first level in the game and you can attempt to go through the Impossible Lair without any bees, and you can try to beat the Impossible Lair at any time. Finally, the final level of the gauntlet is timed so it has the additional challenge (read: stress) of a countdown.
So how is the Impossible Lair? Well, it sure does live up to its name.
Now it should be said that some people have been able to finish the game. There's even a challenge to finish the Impossible Lair on the first try without any bees and at the very least, a few have been able to do it. However, for the general population of gamers and even for those who consider themselves well versed at platformers, this Impossible Lair is way too hard.
The only moment of mercy is the first boss fight, which is the first thing you do. It's a simple boss fight that you can end before it ever really gets started. After that, there are so many things trying to kill you. Lasers, radiators, minions, moving platforms, buzzsaws, spiders, homing missiles, sentry guns -- the list is endless. Also, the entire level aside from the very beginning is over a bottomless pit. There is very little time to think or even get your bearings. What makes this worse is you are in no way prepared for this kind of difficulty because not one of the 20 levels in this game or its alternates is this difficult. Nothing in this game prepares you for this type of difficulty.
The controls in this platformer also require some getting used to. When Yooka lands after a jump, he slides, which is surprising considering he's a chameleon. Furthermore, typically when you hold forward on a jump, it makes you move in that way full force until you let go mid-jump. This game doesn't do that, and while you can change your trajectory in mid-air, it's more difficult to do so, causing a lack of control over jumping. This means precision jumping is much more difficult. This could be okay if the game didn't rely on precision platforming -- and for most of the game, it doesn't. That goes out the window once the Impossible Lair is up and it's frustrating to complete.
It's unfortunate that the game wants to focus on this Impossible Lair as a selling point because this would probably be fine if it were optional. Alternatively, when you fight the last boss, he has his own set of bees protecting him. If you had to face all four phases of the boss fight one after the other with the bees, that would be challenging and epic enough and it would still fall in line with the bee scenario the game has.
Unfortunately, as it is, this turns the end of the game into a brick wall and as a result, many players should avoid trying to beat the game unless they are willing to bash their head over and over into a challenge with no discernible ramp up, and no means to learn or practice. The game itself isn't perfect but it's ultimately a fun time. It's a shame Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair ends on such an unbalanced and sour note.