Yesterday, I posted my review of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. I found the game to be a vast improvement over the original, focusing more on a 2.5-D approach like Donkey Kong Country, rather than the 3D format the previous game followed. There’s a lot more to like about it as well – but the design stands out.
And it turns out that Playtonic, the developers behind the game, had this perspective change in mind for quite a while with Impossible Lair. I recently had a chance to chat with design director Harry Robinson about this new direction, as well as the inspiration behind it.
First off, I asked about the perspective change. Robinson explained, “We don’t want people to predict what we’ll do next, so we didn’t necessarily want to roll straight into another 3D platformer. The team had prototyped 2.5-D sections in the first game but didn’t have time to realize them as a full-featured experience, but it whetted our appetite.”
He continued, “Towards the end of Yooka-Laylee, we started discussing what the next game should be, and a 2.5D platformer just felt like the right next step. It was different enough from the original to be surprising, we were confident we could do a great job with it, and we were all excited about making it.”
That led me to ask about if the team was inspired by 2.5-D adventures that followed before it, like the Donkey Kong Country games and Klonoa. “We were inspired by a number of games, both old and new,” he explained. “The overworld was partly inspired by our love of the map screen in Super Mario World – that sense of a wider world to explore outside of 2D levels. And actually, the fact that every level has two different states evolved organically as we were building the overworld. We had a simple version of it up and running, with a few puzzles near some level entrances and we found ourselves thinking ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if solving this puzzle changed the nearby level in some way?’
“That became a thing and we decided to do it with every level in the game. As for DKC, many of our team were on the original DKC team, so there was clearly some inspiration there! But we really wanted this game to be able to stand alongside newer games in the genre, rather than feel like a throwback/homage. We never had the mindset of making a ‘spiritual successor’ with this title.”
As far as where the story for Impossible Lair fits with the original, Robinson explained it takes place after. “The grand tome that Capital B was trapped in at the end of the first game (spoilers!) is the Royal Stingdom – where the Impossible Lair takes place. So the reason he has enslaved the bees, taken over the place, and built himself an impossible lair is partly Yooka and Laylee’s fault.”
However, that didn’t mean everything was easy peasy with the shift to 2.5-D gameplay.
“It was definitely a challenge!” Robinson explained. “We actually think it’s much more difficult to get controls right for a 2D game than a 3D game as there’s nowhere to hide or mask imperfections. If they are a little rough around the edges, it really shows. The gameplay is much more focused on mechanical precision, and there has to be some depth in the moves for that sense of mastery.”
As far as whether a 2.5-D world was tougher to design than 3D, he added, “I don’t think one is tougher than the other, they just have different priorities. For side-scrolling levels, the most important aspect to get right is ensuring the level reads and flows as effectively as possible. This requires precise design, attention to detail, and a lot of iteration.
“For 3D worlds, other aspects are more important, like ensuring the world is compelling to explore (with interesting characters, activities, and secrets to come across) and effectively creating that sense of place (to keep players feeling immersed). This puts more emphasis on world-building and storytelling. It’s a little bit like the difference between designing an assault course vs. designing a theme park.”
And players have a bit to do outside of the main adventure as well. “There is a large overworld to explore – a mini-adventure game that accompanies the 2D levels,” said Robinson. “In the overworld, there are characters to meet, puzzles to solve, areas to visit and secrets to find – it’s a significant addition to the game that player should really enjoy exploring in-between levels. There are 62 tonics to find, which can be combined in all sorts of ways to modify the gameplay experience in 2D levels. The Tonics area is really fun to mess around with and add massively to the game’s replayability. There’s also the near-infinite room for improvement when it comes to honing your skills in the Impossible Lair itself. Can you beat it taking no hits (I certainly can’t!)? And there are a bunch of secrets (some of them extremely difficult to find) that we want to keep secret for now.”
Sadly, players should expect a New Game +. “It is something that has been discussed multiple times during development. We’re interested in supporting the game after launch, so it could be a great addition later down the line.”
Robinson was also thrilled to see the hype surrounding the game. “A lot of people seem hyped to try to beat the Impossible Lair, particularly the speedrunning community, and we’re really excited to watch streams and videos of people getting through it without taking a single hit,” he explained.
As for what the team has planned next, Robinson wouldn’t say. But…” whatever we do next, hopefully, it’ll be a surprise – a nice surprises, that is!”
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is available now for Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.