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Rare Replay

Score: 100%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Microsoft Games
Developer: Rare
Media: Download/1
Players: 1; 2 - 32 (Online, Game Specific)
Genre: Compilation


Graphics & Sound:

Itís an icon that people have come to associate with quality: a simple blue and gold square relief medallion with a giant letter "R" emblazoned on the front. I couldnít really say whether Rareís best days are ahead of them or behind them. But the fact remains: the long-lived English development house has been a prominent fixture in gaming history since the industryís resurgence in the 1980s. And rightly so: theyíve been relevant from the glory days of the Nintendo Entertainment System to the Xbox 360. Rare Replay is the new gold standard to which all future compilation releases should be held. From its near-perfect emulation of the classics contained within, to its incredible presentation, Rare Replay is a must-own for every Xbox One owner.

Over the years, Rare has fostered a uniquely charming identity in the game development space. Itís difficult to put a finger on where exactly this comes from, as itís the result of countless presentation factors. From aesthetics to music to humor, thereís a certain something that makes a game a Rare game. With this in mind, Rare has pulled out all the stops and constructed an astonishing audio/visual framework around which they have laid some of the finest moments of their history as a game developer. It feels like a museum, a place for enthusiasts to celebrate what they love. And the thirty games included are proudly shown off, red curtains and all.

Of the games released prior to the Xbox 360 generation, none are optimized for wide-screen. Rather than stretch everything out into a blurry mess, Rare has opted to take the approach most common to modern re-releases: border art. Each and every game included in Rare Replay has been given the full treatment: everything is cohesive and nails the aesthetics of the games they represent. If you want, you can turn on scanlines.

But how do the games themselves look and sound? Well, they look and sound exactly as they did the day they were released on their native platforms. No better, no worse. Donít come here expecting super high-definition remasters or shiny, new soundtracks for most of this stuff, because thatís not really whatís being advertised. However, the games that were re-released on Xbox 360 (Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie, Perfect Dark) feature distinct visual improvements and generally look cleaner than their Nintendo 64 counterparts.

If youíre nostalgic about gaming, youíre going to absolutely love exploring the Rare Replay collection. Each game has its own little showcase, complete with a preview pane and a bit of information about the game. But what will grab your attention is the music. Every game in the collection has had its theme (or other identifying piece of music) incorporated into a pre-game overture of sorts. It's really neat.


Gameplay:

Do you remember Action 52? It was an unlicensed NES game that ran for $199.99, but contained 52 games. Few of us have actually played it, but itís now famous for its legendary awfulness. From the incredibly poor quality of the games, to the horrific production values, to the cartridge itself, a clear plastic abomination that began to reek of burning ozone after a few minutes of play time: itís a staple of every list of worst games ever made. Well, Rare Replay is the anti-Action 52: a collection made up of games that largely trend between decent and awesome Ė offered at a mind-blowingly low price.

The first seven games in Rare Replay highlight Rare's humble beginnings as Ultimate Play the Game. Back then, their bailiwick was simple home computers such as the ZX Spectrum. These offerings are quite primitive in all aspects of design, and most of them haven't aged well at all. They're neat little diversions, but in the end, they're not really worth mentioning -- you'll spend only the smallest fraction of your time on the likes of Jetpac, Lunar Jetman, Atic Atac, Sabre Wulf, Underwurlde, Knight Lore, and Gunfright. The same cannot be said for Jetpac's sequel, Solar Jetman, and its reboot, Jetpac Refuelled.

Slalom was my first Rare game. Itís an extremely simple behind-the-back racing game that puts you on skis instead of behind the wheel of a car. The goal: make it down each slope before the allotted time runs out. As the name indicates, you must weave your way through pairs of flags; if you miss one, you slow down significantly. And as you plummet down each mountain, more and more obstacles present themselves: trees, other skiers, and careless sledders, to name a few. But if youíre particularly skilled, you can launch yourself off jumps and pull off a freestyle stunt.

R.C. Pro-Am and its sequel, R.C. Pro-Am II, are isometric racing games with an emphasis on speed, drifting, and combat. As you maneuver your remote-controlled vehicle along a series of increasingly hazard-filled tracks, you must also contend with other drivers as you vie for the gold trophy. Pickups on the road can give you upgrades, and missiles and bombs can be deployed in an attempt to defuse the otherwise insane advantage the computer racers are given.

Cobra Triangle is easily one of the best Rare games from the Nintendo era. Itís an isometric racer with a twist: youíre in a special weaponized boat thatís capable of sprouting propellers and flying around. Okay, so thatís a bit of false advertising: you wonít get to do any flying. But you will get to do some shooting! One of the features that makes Cobra Triangle so unique is the fact that mission types are considerably more diverse than "reach the end." Youíll have to dispose of mines, protect innocent people from abduction, and face off against a series of fearsome beasts.

Snake, Rattle 'n' Roll is where Rare really started to come into its own in terms of its individuality and uniqueness as a developer. Itís a charming isometric platformer starring a pair of snakes (the titular Rattle and Roll). The objective is to explore each level in search of Nibbley Pibbleys, a food source that allows snakes to grow longer; eat enough, and your body becomes heavy enough to weigh down the mechanic that opens the door to the next level. From the soundtrack to the character designs and animations, this is a winner.

Digger T. Rock has you controlling the titular spelunker as he descends a series of caverns in search of the Lost City, which is said to be the resting place of a legendary treasure. It's a claustrophobic platform game that has you avoiding hazards, sorting out how each cavern works, and ultimately making your way to the end of each one with the help of one of Digger's many tools.

Battletoads is kind of famous on the Internet, but mostly for the wrong reasons. The question "Do you have Battletoads?" has regrettably become immortal as legions of trolls have forced its ascendance in the world of memes. Despite all that, Battletoads is a beat-em-up game thatís loaded with watercooler moments, such as a deadly descent into an underground cavern and a suicidally-fast bike chase. This is one of the most insanely difficult games ever made. From todayís standard, itís an unbalanced wreck of a game, but Rare Replay finds a way to make it more accessible than itís ever been. Its sequel, here referred to as Battletoads Arcade, is a much more straightforward beat-em-up experience.

Killer Instinct Gold is the sequel to the Super Nintendo fighting game that spawned the catchphrase "C-C-C-C-Combo Breaker!" Unfortunately, this release really only feels like it was included to show just how much better the rebooted Killer Instinct is than previous games in the series. At least it still looks pretty cool.

Blast Corps is a first-generation Nintendo 64 game that is as fun as it is unique. As a nuclear missile carrier follows a set path, you must do everything in your power to ensure that it reaches its destination safely. This is easier said than done; tons of obstacles lie in the carrierís way. But the vehicles provided to you are more than capable of clearing the way. So youíll zoom around each level, destroying nearly everything in sight and solving puzzles while on the clock. Nearly twenty years later, Blast Corps remains an intense, explosively fun game.

Banjo-Kazooie is classic Nintendo 64 through and through. Fusing the platforming of Super Mario 64 and the puzzle solving of The Legend of Zelda, this action adventure remains an excellent, lengthy experience that still has the power to make completionists giddy. When a hideous witch with a predilection for awful rhymes kidnaps a young bear in the hopes of stealing her presumed beauty for herself, itís up to the bearís big brother and his red-feathered friend to save her. If youíre into collecting stuff in games, this is the alpha and omega.

Jet Force Gemini is a third-person shooter, and a criminally-underrated one at that. The titular team is comprised of three individuals: twins Juno and Vela, and their dog Lupus. Youíll get to play as all three of them as they attempt to depose the tyrannical insect overlord Mizar while saving as many of the bear-like Tribals as they can. As of this writing, Jet Force Geminiís awful control scheme (an unwelcome remnant of the Nintendo 64 era) has not been patched to include twin-stick support. Once it is, consider this cult classic one of the stand-out offerings in Rare Replay.

Perfect Dark. The spiritual successor to Goldeneye 007, and by most accounts, the finest shooter for the Nintendo 64. Carrington Institute agent Joanna Dark races to uncover and thwart a conspiracy by the dataDyne Corporation. Of course, things are much more complicated than they initially seem Ė and the deeper she digs, the weirder things get. The Xbox 360 re-release of Perfect Dark was a triumph in and of itself, since, as a rule of thumb, Nintendo 64 shooters age extremely poorly.

Banjo-Tooie sees Grunty out for revenge after her humiliating and painful defeat at the hands of Banjo and his friends. The adventure is structured similarly to that of Banjo-Kazooie, unlike its older brother, this game has not aged very well. For starters, the game is simply too big and complicated for its own good. It is incredibly easy to lose track of what youíre doing, particularly when puzzles are stretched across overworlds. In the end, a disproportionate percentage of Banjo-Tooie belongs on the cutting room floor.

Conkerís Bad Fur Day is a filthy, filthy game. And a great one. Its development history shows that what could have been a harmless family-friendly adventure in the same vein as Banjo-Kazooie ultimately transformed into one of the most violent, profane, and hilarious games on the Nintendo 64. Itís an action platformer that takes a boozing, smart-mouthed red squirrel and subjects him to all sorts of horrible sh*t, figuratively and literally. Itís loaded with pop culture references and irreverent humor, and remains, to this day, a surreal masterpiece. The version released as part of Rare Replay is, in fact, the Nintendo 64 version, rather than a port of the Xboxís Conker: Live & Reloaded. A good thing, too, since the Xbox version was subjected to some unnecessary censorship.

Grabbed by the Ghoulies follows a kid named Cooper as he and his girlfriend Amber are forced to seek shelter in a gloomy, old mansion. Unbeknownst to them, the place is teeming with not-so-happy haunts. And when Amber goes missing, it's up to Cooper to battle the legions of goofy ghouls. This is one of Rare's lesser releases, unfortunately; its clunky controls belie the simple gameplay, and poor camera control fouls much of the rest of it up. At least it's not terribly long.

Perfect Dark Zero is a polarizing game. I remember trying to fool myself into liking it and eventually giving up. Itís a bizarre prequel that takes the cool, precise Englishwoman Joanna Dark and devolves her into a charmless "girl power" clichť. The story is weak, the voice acting is bad, and the shooting is bog standard.

Kameo: Elements of Power is the better of the two Xbox 360 launch titles included in Rare Replay, and by a fairly long shot. It follows an elf princess named Kameo, whose sister Kalus, in a fit of jealous rage, frees the captive troll king Thorn and kidnaps her entire family. Bad move, as he amasses his army and subjugates the Elemental Warriors, a group of spirits with incredible powers. Itís up to Kameo to free the Elemental Sprites, use their power, and right the wrongs that Kalus and Thorn have inflicted upon the world.

Viva PiŮata and its sequel Viva PiŮata: Trouble in Paradise are a fairly bold departure from what gamers have come to expect from Rare. The premise is that of both a hybrid garden-simulator and a god game. And the resulting blend works. It really, really works. Thinking about all the mechanics and possibilities in these games can be overwhelming, but they spoon-feed all of it to you in such a way that it never gets to be too much. As you customize and diversify your garden, you attract the attention of piŮatas (candy-inspired analogs of real animals); as you cater your garden to their liking, they move in, reproduce, and thrive. Micromanagement is usually not my thing, but itís handled very well here, which leads to an extremely addictive gameplay experience. In the spirit of full disclosure, however, I rage quit Trouble in Paradise after a single hemlock plant led to the utter destruction of my garden and every living creature that resided therein. Bad form, Rare. Thatís just wrong.

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts was another significant departure for Rare. This third installment in the flagship franchise retains some of the Banjo-Kazooie DNA, but most of the game has a strong creative bent to it. Yes, as Banjo, youíll run around collecting jiggies in the hopes of thwarting Gruntilda yet again, but it takes a considerably different approach to how you obtain them. As you explore the world, completing challenges, youíll be rewarded with vehicle parts. Youíll use these parts to create fully customizable vehicles of your own making. Special consideration must be paid to the design of each vehicle; factors such as shape, weight, and speed heavily influence each other, and in turn, the functionality of the vehicle as a whole.


Difficulty:

Games these days are meant to be not only beaten, but conquered. Simply reaching the end credits isnít even enough; now, itís practically unheard of for a developer not to add special metagoals for accomplishing specific feats. Regardless of how much theyíre actually worth, achievements and trophies have changed gaming. This is something that Rare Replay both knows and capitalizes on.

Several of the games offered in Rare Replay (particularly those of the pre-Nintendo 64 era) feel like they were built not to be completed, but to provide a series of incredibly stiff challenges. And itís crystal clear in most cases: lots of these games are hellishly difficult, and only the hardest of the hardcore can finish them in one straight shot with no assistance.

But hereís the brilliant part: Rare Replay offers that kind of assistance. First, you can save literally at any point. If you have painful memories of being forced to quit out of games that have no save feature, this is a godsend. Second, Rare Replay takes heed of the innovations in emulation software and makes it its own. You canít save and load states, but you have a much better option: a rewind button. With these allowances built into the package, games youíd only see the first few levels of suddenly feel beatable.


Game Mechanics:

When you start Rare Replay for the first time, you are given a special card. This card is to be filled with stamps, which are earned by completing specific milestones in each game. Incredibly, if you played the Xbox 360 games in the past, the milestones you would have achieved in earlier playthroughs are automatically earned. As much as I love Banjo-Kazooie (and to a lesser extent, Banjo-Tooie), the prospect of hundred-percenting those games again isnít that appealing to me at the moment. So imagine my delight when, upon loading Banjo-Tooie, I immediately received all the stamps for that game.

Stamps can also be earned by completing Snapshots, special challenges built within the framework of each game, much like those in NES Remix. However, only the pre-Nintendo 64 games feature these challenges.

By filling up your stamp card, you unlock special content, much of which casts some light on the development and progression of Rare as a developer. What's here is great, but what's not here is a hell of a missed opportunity. Rare founders Tim and Chris Stamper are nowhere to be seen here. Political reasons or no, that's dumb.

If the development and release of Rare Replay is Rareís way of brainstorming for the future, I wonít be able to contain my excitement for what could be. As you play these games, youíll find yourself dreaming up a wish list. In fact, allow me to plant the seeds for you: with the improved technology and controller design we have at our disposal today, can you imagine a new Blast Corps? A new Jet Force Gemini? A new Battletoads? With Sea of Thieves on the horizon, we're left wondering about what the future holds for this legendary developer. If Rare Replay is any indication, I hope that the future might have some of the past in it...

Here's the full list of the games contained within Rare Replay:

  • Jetpac
  • Lunar Jetman
  • Atic Atac
  • Sabre Wulf
  • Underwurlde
  • Knight Lore
  • Gunfright
  • Slalom
  • R.C. Pro-Am
  • Cobra Triangle
  • Snake Rattle 'n' Roll
  • Solar Jetman
  • Digger T. Rock
  • Battletoads
  • R.C. Pro-Am II
  • Battletoads Arcade
  • Killer Instinct Gold
  • Blast Corps
  • Banjo-Kazooie
  • Jet Force Gemini
  • Perfect Dark
  • Banjo-Tooie
  • Conker's Bad Fur Day
  • Grabbed by the Ghoulies
  • Kameo: Elements of Power
  • Perfect Dark Zero
  • Viva PiŮata
  • Jetpac Refuelled
  • Viva PiŮata: Trouble in Paradise
  • Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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