Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair isn’t what fans wanted but that’s for the best

To call Yooka-Laylee‘s crowdfunding campaign a success would be an understatement. The 3D platformer smashed through its initial goal of 175,000 pounds in just 38 minutes and wound up raising a total of over 2 million pounds. Despite all of the anticipation, the actual reception upon release was a totally different story as the gameplay was dated and technical issues marred the overall experience. Now developer Playtonic Games has a second shot with the series with Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, a 2D platformer that is quite the departure gameplay-wise, but not in spirit, from the original. And this difference, despite its appearance, is for the better.

Nostalgia was the main reason why Yooka-Laylee was so successful during its crowdfunding stint. The development team was a who’s who of former Rare development members ranging from director Chris Sutherland to artist Steve Mayles and its famous composers Grant Kirkhope, Steven Burke, and David Wise.

Everything was meant to remind fans of Rare’s Banjo-Kazooie and the collect-a-thon 3D platformers that had a home on Nintendo 64 and the original PlayStation. It was a love letter to a genre that was long-neglected by practically every major publisher aside from Nintendo. That nostalgia resulted in them breaking Kickstarter records and creating a natural excitement around the game that would make any marketer envious.

However, nostalgia isn’t always a great thing to have. After all, the word comes from the Greek terms for homecoming and pain. There’s an inherent tinge of sadness with all forms of nostalgia, be it a reminder that things will never be quite as simple as they once were, or that the thing you once loved actually wasn’t that great to begin with.

In the case of Yooka-Laylee, it was the revelation that the collect-a-thon subgenre of platformers went away for a good reason. Collecting a ton of objects is a great diversion and helped kids spend dozens of hours inside the same world scouring for items, but it’s also a rather empty feeling. The original Yooka-Laylee was faithful to a fault and didn’t move the genre forward. In a cruel twist of fate, fans were disappointed by getting exactly what they wanted and were promised. Critics also were not too kind either as the game sits at around a 70 on Metacritic.

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair isn’t straddled to a dated subgenre

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair

Thankfully for both Playtonic and its fans, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is a fresh start for them. While it may still be nostalgic in nature, as the debut trailer certainly evokes Donkey Kong Country, it isn’t dependent on a genre that died for good reason. Fantastic 2D platformers have been steadily coming out since the ’80s, and it’s a much easier structure to nail than creating a 3D world filled with collectibles. There is still a chance for this to go wrong, and the change isn’t a magical fix, but by simply not being what fans were expecting, it is divorced by overly high expectations.

It looks fantastic, which also works in the game’s favor. The short gameplay video featured plenty of gorgeous locales, and it shows that its charm is still fully intact. The last true DKC-like platformer was Nintendo’s own Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, which released five years ago. There is an opportunity to fill a commercial niche, and it’s in a genre that the development team has a lot of experience in. And, thanks to gluttony of 2D indie platformers, it’s a genre that is a lot more hip nowadays.

But the game’s connected overworld, the part where it is breaking away from other 2D platformers, is slight cause of concern. It’s being marketed as a 3D area for players to explore and is practically throwing the first game’s fans a bone by giving them some 3D sections. However, it looks far less impressive than the 3D landscapes of the original title.

Just from an optics standpoint, it would have been better to keep this spin-off strictly 2D as it won’t get nearly as many comparisons to Playtonic’s first effort and it won’t remind players of the sequel they’re not getting just yet. Maybe it will wind up working out in the full game, but it’s a tough sell initially.

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair can refresh the series

yooka laylee and the impossible lair

It appears that Playtonic knew that the reception of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair would be divisive as they are marketing the game as a spin-off rather than a sequel. This allows for the team to assure fans that want another 3D platformer that finally delivers on the potential of the original is on the way. It also gives Playtonic a nice development gap, as this new game will ideally help fund the much more ambitious sequel and allow for the developers to come up with new gameplay ideas. Sometimes a step back is necessary in order to be truly innovative and take a series to the next level.

Plus, a lot of what made the first game so interesting, and the reasons why fans backed it on Kickstarter in the first place, can also translate to two dimensions. Both Yooka and Laylee are still adorable platforming mascots, the grand world filled with British humour humor and a lovely score by Grant Kirkhope and company is still there.

All that changes is how one interacts with it, as they’re going in a more linear path rather than having free will. It’s definitely less expansive than its predecessor, but this is a chance for Playtonic to prove that it can create a great, more contemporary platformer. The team needs to do that before it can possibly think about doing another crowdfunding effort.

Moving away from what made the original appealing might be disappointing for fans at first, but this gives Playtonic an opportunity to spread its wings and try something new. Ideally, fans will get a great 2D platformer that allows the team to test out some ideas. Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair‘s potential success is all a positive for those hoping for Yooka-Laylee 2, as it will keep the developers from getting burnt out and will allow them to have time to create a 3D platformer that innovates within that sphere rather than just reminding fans of the ’90s.