Rare Replay review
If you had told me a few months ago that, to celebrate their 30th anniversary, Rare were planning on releasing a special compilation comprising of thirty of their best games that charts their amazing history, I’d have told you to get out of it. Nonsense. No way. The stuff of dreams. Yet, here we are. The rumours were true, and Rare Replay – as it is so known – is now safely downloaded onto my Xbox One. Just incredible. The very idea that thirty games would even fit onto a disc makes the mind boggle, and so it proves that Rare had to do a bit of sleight of hand to achieve it. The Xbox 360 titles within Rare Replay are actually downloaded via the new Xbox One Backwards Compatibility feature so that you can play them separately, with the older titles all crammed onto the disc. It’s ever-so-slightly clumsy in that the Xbox 360 titles all show up within My Games & Apps as individual titles as well as within Rare Replay, so if they were all you wanted to play you would never see the delights within Rare Replay itself, and that would be real shame as what delights there are! Turn the game on and we’re treated to a simply wonderful intro movie that neatly sums up what Rare Relay is all about, presented in the style of a charming song and dance number with all the various Rare characters we know and love taking part in the show. It’s incredibly catchy and it’s a tune that you’ll be humming for hours afterwards.
From there, the games are displayed in a horizontal line in chronological order. There’s some gorgeous animation as each title springs into view, with individual touches to suit each game. Move to Banjo-Kazooie and there’s a burst of red feathers that then slowly float to the ground. Just lovely. It’s a beautiful way to showcase the games within Rare Replay, with Rare’s well-known sense of humour infused throughout. I have to mention the gorgeous music as well. Robin Beanland has worked wonders. The older games have all had their soundtracks redone from scratch and they all sound amazing.
For completeness, let’s run through the games that are available within Rare Replay;
Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll
Digger T. Rock
R.C. Pro-Am 2
Killer Instinct Gold
Jet Force Gemini
Conker’s Bad Fur Day
Grabbed By The Ghoulies
Kameo: Elements Of Power
Perfect Dark Zero
Viva Piñata: Trouble In Paradise
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts
All those games, and it’s only $29.99 / £19.99! That’s borderline criminal if you ask me. I’d have happily paid that just for the Nintendo 64 games in the collection on their own. To offer us thirty of their best games for that price is both incredibly kind and crazy at the same time! Of course, there are some notable omissions from the list. The Donkey Kong Country games were never going to be anywhere near this release, and I can tolerate the absence of GoldenEye, seeing as it’s probably stuck in legal / licensing treacle as we speak (and to be honest Perfect Dark is the better game out of those two anyway). Still, it’s a shame to not have them here as part of the collection, seeing as they are so synonymous with Rare and an integral part of their history. That’s not to say that their absence lessens the package in anyway; what we do have is the cream of the Rare crop. It must have been hard to whittle down Rare’s one hundred or so releases down, but what we are presented with is a very generous selection with something here for everyone. There’s never a feeling that a particular title is there as filler; each has earned their place.
Technically speaking, the first seven games in the list above are not ‘Rare’ games; they were made by the Stamper brothers back when the company was called ‘Ultimate Play The Game’, before Rare as we know it was formed, but it’s great to have them as part of the selection. If nothing else, it does an excellent job of showing the early beginnings of where Rare came from and to preserve the titles for the ages against the constant advance of technology. For this latest generation of gamers, these early gems will admittedly see younger players struggling but persevere and you’ll see that most current gaming trends can be traced back to these classics. What makes their difficulty far easier to stomach is Rare’s integration of a brilliant rewind mechanic so that if you make a mistake you can go back in time for up to a minute so that you can try again. It’s a brilliant idea, especially as most of these games were designed at a time when things were far harder than us mollycoddled gamers are used to today. The rewind feature is available on all the games pre-Nintendo 64 era. What is also an very endearing touch is the inclusion of a CRT filter that you can turn on or off at any time, and which adds the fuzzy scan lines the older gamers amongst you will instantly recognise. I must confess to not using this much but it’s obviously a great feature to have for those of you who clamour for an authentic experience.
We move onto Rare’s early years developing titles for the Nintendo Entertainment System, and they are all great fun. These games highlight the old mantra that good game play will always trump graphics, no matter the sheen. All are a delight to play, made better by Rare’s insistence that games remain the same as they were; there’s no tinkering or meddling with the titles here, unless it is to remove bugs or glitches that slipped through the net the first time round. Battletoads and R.C. Pro-Am in particular are a joy to play again.
Bridging the old and the new games within the collection is Battletoads Arcade. It’s the first time it’s been made available on a console and it is great fun to play. Get two friends to join you on the sofa and there’s a lot of laughs to be had.
The second half of Rare Replay is where we enter arguably Rare’s finest period and in my opinion this is where most of the fun is going to be had for the majority of players. What we’ve seen so far is already an amazing collection, both in terms of content and value, but now things go proper bat shit crazy and it’s a real embarrassment of riches as we sample the pleasures of Blast Corps and Jet Force Gemini again. Blast Corps has lost none of its vibrancy and ‘edge of your seat’ thrills as you clear the path for the nuclear transporter, and it baffles me that another game in the series was never made. I can only hope that enough interest is shown in it this time around to green light a follow-up of some kind. Jet Force Gemini remains an excellent third person adventure game and it is a brilliant demonstration of just how forward-thinking Rare can be. The idea of controlling three separate characters who all travel down different paths until they converge in the middle was unique then, and remains so today. It famously had an incomprehensible control scheme and still suffers from this today but a patch for that is swiftly incoming. Once that arrives, a great game will be made even better. Killer Instinct Gold makes the cut ahead of earlier games in that series presumably because the arcade versions of KI 1 and 2 are already available as part of the newly re-launched Killer Instinct on Xbox One. KI Gold is also the only version of the Rare KI games to boast a training dojo, which will prove invaluable to newcomers to the series. Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie and Perfect Dark should need no introduction. They are listed according to their original N64 release date, but the actual games themselves are the updated 360 XBLA editions; a good decision in my opinion. We finish off the N64 era with Conker’s Bad Fur Day. It was always known for being a bit close to the mark in terms of content, and playing it again I was struck by just how much Rare got away with back in the day. Lots of innuendo and double entendres pepper the game and it definitely isn’t one for younger games. Having said that, it still holds up today and is a lot of fun, serving as a darkly comic mirror image to the chirpy and cuddly delights offered up by Banjo.
Rounding off the collection we come to Rare’s games on Microsoft consoles, starting with Grabbed By The Ghoulies. Ghoulies is the only game within the collection to have had any upgrading work done to it and it looks gorgeous. The graphical style hasn’t aged a day and it could easily sit amongst the current crop of releases. It helps that it is still a lot of fun to play. It suffered a stinging reaction back when it was originally released, the victim of the fallout from Microsoft’s purchase of Rare, but it absolutely deserves your time. The Viva Piñata games are both utterly wonderful and I would recommend them to anyone. Do not let the cute looks and game play style fool you. There’s a tough heart beating under that sugary exterior. Personally I prefer the first game to Trouble In Paradise but both will suck away at your time like you wouldn’t believe. Kameo follows the trend of Rare’s output on Xbox 360 and was a game that was really entertaining with some great ideas, but just didn’t spark enough interest with the masses. It still wows today – just look at the troll hordes swarming over the landscape - and I for one love it. To be honest, Perfect Dark Zero is the only game in the whole collection that suffers, but only because it cannot compare amongst such greats. It’s a good game for sure, but it lacks that unique Rare flavour that is liberally spread across the other twenty nine games. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts rounds off the collection and is one of those games that suffers due to it never being able to meet the expectations of the Rare faithful. No matter what was done to bring in new game play elements into Banjo’s world it would have been wrong. For my money, it boasts the best virtual LEGO set simulator money can buy. You literally can build anything and it remains light years ahead of anything else on the market. Maybe that was N&B’s problem? It was an idea that was simply brought to market too early. Now that Minecraft is such a prominent part of many gamers’ lives, maybe this second chance in the sun will show off N&B’s charms more effectively?
You’d think that offering up all these games would be enough, but there’s more! Snapshots mode offers up small snippets from the first half of the collection and these come in the form of bite-size challenges for the player, for example; you might have to achieve a certain score within a set time. It works in a very similar way to Nintendo’s NES remix games. It’s a brilliant idea that allows players to sample these early games in a way that will encourage them to play the full title for longer, and in more depth than they might have originally.
There’s a total of 10,000 gamerscore up for grabs across the games, and if you’ve unlocked those achievements on the 360 versions of titles you already have, they’ll be carried across. Rare have also included a stamp system that runs independently of the achievements but acts in a similar way. There’s over three hundred stamps spread out across the thirty games and the more stamps you earn, the more special features you can unlock within ‘Rare Revealed’. Rare Revealed is where the most tasty goodies lie in wait for Rare fans. Concept art, unused soundtrack mp3s, unreleased games and video interviews with Rare staff, both past and present, all wait to be unlocked and there’s some real gems in here. There’s over an hour of videos and there’s some really interesting interviews within. I thought that I’d come away from most of them already knowing the titbits of information they’d reveal but I’m pleased to report that it really is an in-depth set of special features. The only niggle I have is the way these treats are unlocked. You’ll have to play through a lot of the games to earn them and my worry is a lot of modern gamers simply won’t have the patience or desire to put in the effort needed to unlock them all, and miss out on a real treasure trove of goodies as a result.
It’s a shame that the first two Kinect Sports games do not get a mention. They couldn’t have been included within Rare Replay as the 360 Kinect device is incompatible with Xbox One, but they were still really good games that I got a lot of enjoyment from, particularly the tennis, bowling and golf, and the lack of coverage for what were potentially Rare’s best-selling games is a pity. There must be lots of stories and anecdotes concerning their creation, as well as the tales from being on the bleeding edge of Kinect development, that I’d like to learn more about.
What’s also disappointing is the lack of the Stamper brothers within the Rare Revealed videos. They’ve always been notoriously private people so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to not see them, but for a collection celebrating their history and their stellar work, their absence is notable and having them appear in a quick interview video or two would have been nice.
But, to complain of such things really does feel like nitpicking. Part of me is still refusing to believe such an amazing collection of games within one package actually exists. There isn’t another games developer I can think of that could come anywhere close to offering such a comprehensive and high quality collection. At a time when re-masters and re-releases are all the rage, Rare does it old school; the original games, as they were, untarnished. To do so reveals the underlying truth about Rare and their games; they don’t need re-mastering. They don’t need a fresh lick of paint. They were brilliant then. They remain so now, and being given the opportunity to play them again on the latest generation of hardware is something every games player, and not just us dyed-in-the-wool Rare fans, is something that is too good to pass up. As a celebration of Rare, their history and why we love them so much, I cannot think of a more appropriate way to mark the occasion. As a game, have no doubt in your mind ... it is an essential purchase.
5 out of 5
Categories: Rare Replay, Reviews