Yooka-Laylee captures all the good and bad of a Nintendo 64 platformer. It doesn't just take the gameplay. It also takes the urban legends as well.
The Ice Key was an item hidden in Banjo-Kazooie's Freezeezy Peak level. Tucked in cave and secure behind an ice wall, players could do little more than look at the mysterious trinket. In a game full of collectables, the Ice Key was close but so far away. It sparked a sense of wonder in players. What might it open? Were there hidden levels to be found?
It didn't help that if players completed the game with 100% completion, the witch doctor Mumbo Jumbo would tease them with a picture of the Ice Key and two other hidden eggs that were nowhere to be found.
"Pictures show things you missed," Mumbo informed the player. "Secrets that are for new game Banjo-Tooie."
It was all part of an incomplete feature called Stop 'N Swop. The original information on the feature was found by hackers and revealed four hidden eggs in addition to what Mumbo-Jumbo showed. Further digging by fans (including secret hunting group The Rare Witch Project) found a patent for a canceled piece of functionality between the two games.
The plan was to have players switch out their Banjo-Kazooie cart for Banjo-Tooie while the system was still on. The Nintendo 64 had a ten second window where it retained game information. Swapping the carts would allow players to recover their items in Banjo-Tooie.
While there were secret passwords discovered that allowed players to get the items, Stop 'N Swop never came to fruition on the Nintendo 64. The feature became unviable when newer versions of the console were release, lowering the time to switch carts down to little more than a second.
The Xbox Live Arcade versions of the games eventually implemented save transfers and an altered Stop 'N Swop. Collecting the Ice Key allowed players to unlock a dragon transformation for Kazooie in the Banjo-Tooie. Yooka-Laylee ups the ante by adding two ice keys.
Yooka-Laylee's second level is the snow-swept Glitterglaze Glacier. It's one of the game's best, full of brain teasers and tricky exploration. The game allows you to expand stages and make them larger by spending plot trinkets called 'Pagies.' It adds two giant ice keys that Yooka is eager to find, although Laylee finds it a bit underwhelming.
"What a rip-off," she declares. "I was expecting an extra continent."
Laylee's right to be a bit sceptical. The ice keys are a nice reference but their use is limited. Heading to their location unlocks a few new areas with more Pagies to collect. There's no big secrets. Probably.
Yooka-Laylee does have special abilities and modifiers that can be unlocked under special conditions. They include an expanded stamina gauge, turning off fall damage, and transforming the world into a blockier throwback N64 mode. Time will tell if the ice keys will somehow unlock more goodies. If anything else, it's a nice callback to one of the Nintendo 64's most famous secrets.
Yooka-Laylee is a bright and enthusiastic throwback to classic 3D platforming. It is adventurous and full of discoveries. It is silly and irreverent, never taking itself seriously. But it also wears out its welcome fast, spiraling players into a ceaseless collectathon full of frustrating puzzles, technical difficulties, and aimlessness. It has brought back the best of 3D platforming, but also the worst.