August 4, 2015.
If you’re making a list of all-time, bona-fide game legends, there’s a good chance Rare is going to be somewhere near the top. Since 1983, years before a lot of you reading this were even born, Rare has coughed up some stone-cold classics over the last three decades. The Rare Replay collection is a celebration of that, a bundle of thirty – THIRTY – games, from old school pixelated arcade numbers right up to Xbox 360 releases from just a few years back. To say there’s something for everyone would be a little untrue – Rare has always had a certain style – but there’s certainly a massively varied selection, including a fair few that will have you meandering down memory lane before you know you’ve left the house.
Before we get into the games, though, it’s worth noting that Rare’s taken time and care with this collection. It hasn’t just built a box and thrown a bunch of games in; it feels like a gestalt entity. For a start, everything has achievements now, with a whopping 10,000 to earn. Within the games themselves you can also collect “stamps”, which are milestones used to track your personal progress and help you unlock a bunch of content from concept art to making-of videos.
Older, tougher games like Battletoads now have a save option – which you can choose to ignore if you want to experience the fully authentic, blind psychotic rage that we all remember. Cheaters can prosper here, too, as many of the older classics also have cheats you can toggle on and off from the options menu. Believe me, you say you won’t use them, but give Battletoads and Jetpack an hour and your resolve will be tested. Interestingly, you can even adjust the graphics options to emulate the battered old CRT TV you used to play them on. You may not ever use it, but Rare knows you’re coming to this for a nostalgiac pulling of the heart-strings, so it’s strumming ours like a mariachi guitar.
Rounding out the options are the Snapshots. These are small sections lifted from each game with challenging conditions thrown in to keep you on your toes. You can play any one of the 80 on offer, or you can shuffle them into a playlist and tackle them with the added challenge of limited attempts. Completing them earns stamps and puts you on a leaderboard against the world at large.
But what about the games? I thought you’d never ask…
Probably Rare’s finest and most famous creations, good-natured bear Banjo and his friend Kazooie, a foul-tempered bird, arrived on the console scene in 1998 in a quest to rescue Banjo’s sister from the evil witch Gruntilda, who has kidnapped her because of her beauty. A fully 3D action-platformer, Banjo-Kazooie is still considered one of the all-time greats, and for good reason. It may be understandably dated now, but its effortless charm is something lost on modern games, and the simple mix of straightforward combat and level exploration is still appealing. The formula altered in subsequent games, but this first foray is deservedly counted among gaming’s leading legends.
SNAKE, RATTLE ‘N’ ROLL (1990)
An isometric puzzle game in which you guide a hungry snake around a level filled with traps and puzzles, eating everything in sight. I remember losing countless hours to this one when I was much younger, which is strange because playing it again now in Rare Replay, I simply can’t get my head around it. It takes a gamer of certain skill to survive a game this old, and I am not he. Like many arcade classics, Snake, Rattle ‘n’ Roll has a difficulty level that borders on bullying, but for pure nostalgiac value, this is well worth a go.
BATTLETOADS (1991) & BATTLETOADS ARCADE (1994)
Often regarded as one of the meanest games ever made, Battletoads is famous as much for its masochistic nature as for its violence, which, at the time, was fairly extreme. Slicing heads off giant rats as space-adventuring toads Rash and Zitz gets old eventually, but the difficulty will get you before boredom has a chance to set in. Their quest to defeat the Dark Queen is an arduous one. You only have to say the words “Turbo Tunnel” to gamers of a certain age to see them go sheet white and start twitching uncontrollably. If you think you’ve got “skillz”, Battletoads is one that will put you to the test. It’s not particularly flashy, and it was never quite as much fun as the games it was created to rival (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), but it – and the Arcade version also included in Rare Replay – is worth a look if you want to push your patience and abilities to the limit. Battletoads Arcade, never released on a console before this collection, presents more of the same, but with extras splashes of blood and gore and some fairly white-knuckle humour.
KILLER INSTINCT GOLD (1996)
Always a fairly ugly game, this brutal fighter was designed to go up against the likes of Mortal Kombat. Featuring a similar motion capture art style for its characters, Killer Instinct mixes fast-paced combo-based brawling with a legendary soundtrack and some of the best fighters ever invented. Once upon a time, characters like Glacius and B. Orchid were as well-known as Liu Kang and Raiden, but Killer instinct dropped off the radar until the recent Xbox One reboot. Far too button-mashy and imprecise for some gamers, Killer Instinct requires a special kind of talent to master its line-up of outlandish characters. Kind of fun in a sentimental way, there’s little chance any but long-standing fans will get on with such an archaic fighting system.
JETPACK (1983), LUNAR JETMAN (1983) & SOLAR JETMAN (1990)
Jetpack was Rare’s first game, released onto home computers in 1983 when they were still called Ultimate. It’s a simple but punishing arcade shooter, that tasks you with repairing and refuelling your spaceship in order to escape an alien world. It’s frantic and a tad unfair at times – precision was hardly the order of the day in video game programming in the early 80s, but it’s still decent fun. Lunar Jetman, released a little while later, is a sequel to Jetpack and swaps the spaceship for a lunar buggy. Third title Solar Jetman adds things like gravity and inertia, as well as teleporters to speed up your traveling. Two buttons – one to jump, and one to shoot – are all you need. Oh, and cast-iron patience. Graphically, these games are fairly simple and younger gamers will likely skip right by them to get to titles like Perfect Dark Zero and Viva Pinata, but they’d be missing out on a trio of real blasts from the past.
ATIC ATAK (1983)
This is a curious little arcade game that’s still surprisingly enjoyable now. In fact, if any game in this collection is ripe for a makeover, it’s this one. You run around a sequence of rooms as one of three classes (all of which do essentially the same thing), killing enemies as they appear. Time forces your life to deplete (represented by a picture of food), and you must eat to stay alive. As you destroy enemies and collect random objects, doors open allowing you to progress. It’s very simple, but weirdly enjoyable given that you’re not only avoiding enemies, but constantly battling the clock. The soundtrack is also pretty cool.
SABREWULF, UNDERWURLDE & KNIGHTLORE (1984)
These three titles feature Sabreman, a fearless explorer with a nasty curse. Sabrewulf and Underwurlde are adventures, with the former taking the guise of a Pac-Man-style maze runner and the latter presenting itself as a 2D platformer. The play-style changes dramatically in all three Sabreman games, and third title Knightlore is an isometric adventure visually reminiscent of NES classic Solstice. Again, these three are unlikely to entice younger players to give them a go, but anyone who was lucky enough to enjoy them back when they were new will get a nostalgiac kick like no other. Underwurlde in particular is incredibly hard, featuring enemies that won’t kill you but will instead bounce you from platform to platform and force a nasty fall. Fun in a certain way, these ancient arcade titles may offer a little enjoyment, but are unlikely to thrill.
You have to wonder if games like SSX tricky would have existed without Slalom. A downhill skiing game, Slalom presents the same kind of fast-paced, reflexive gameplay as titles like Outrun. It’s not particularly hard or complex, and it gets old pretty quick, but it’s a decent enough blast for five minutes.
It took me a while to get my head around this one. There’s little enjoyment to be gleaned from it, and it – along with a few others – are probably here just to make up the numbers. Gunfright casts you as a bounty hunter out to capture famous outlaws like Billy the Kid. This is done by navigating a little monochrome Wild West town, avoiding civilians who inexplicably kill you, while hoping to run into your target. The quick-fire mini-game proceeding levels where you’re tasked to shoot falling moneybags is actually more enjoyable, although the quick-draw duels are ace, even if they are a bit tricky.
PERFECT DARK (2000)
Ah, Joanna Dark. Part Lara Croft, part James Bond, all action hero. Perfect Dark’s release was met with quiet fanfare. Another first person shooter from the people who had practically defined the genre with Goldeneye was cause for excitement, and its release was met with huge critical acclaim. Nowadays it feels less impressive, understandably, and its inclusion in Rare Replay – while welcome – merely serves as a reminder that Goldeneye isn’t there. The story of Joanna Dark and her efforts to survive intrigue, espionage and a full-blown war between two alien races is still worth a punt, even if it does feel uncomfortably dated now.
PERFECT DARK ZERO (2005)
The underwhelming prequel to Perfect Dark was a launch title for Xbox 360. Looking back now it’s hard to believe it was even released on the last generation, but points are returned for it being one of the first. The fact that it was originally in development for the GameCube doesn’t help matters there either. Ironically, Zero is now the more playable of the two games purely by dint of it being more modern. It’s actually surprisingly enjoyable for its relative simplicity. Joanna herself suffers from the same oversexualisation as the majority of female protagonists, a trend that you would expect might have changed in the last ten years.
RC PRO AM (1987) & COBRA TRIANGLE (1989)
RC PRO AM plays like a tabletop racer, and was praised upon release for it’s “tight handling”, although it’s hard to see how. Almost a precursor to Micro Machines in its execution, it might offer five minutes of fun but it’s unlikely to draw players in for any length of time, even with power-ups and weapons to spice up the action. Simple graphics and clunky animation prevent it from being really enjoyable, and it’s not as varied as the similar Cobra Triangle. This boat-based racer features a number of varying events like mine-clearing and stunt courses, but it’s not the easiest game to get to grips with. Both this and Pro AM are here for the retro racing crew and no one else, and if that’s your bag, well, go nuts.
DIGGER T. ROCK (1990)
It’s hard to play Digger T. Rock and not immediately think of Spelunky. It was almost certainly an influence on Derek Yu’s notoriously mean-spirited roguelike adventure, and features similar, albeit simpler, gameplay, as you guide Digger through layers of sediment looking for diamonds and the doors into deeper caves. This time though, you have lives, which lead to a creepy, melt-in-your-clothes death animation when you lose one. For some reason, digging directly downwards in games is oddly enjoyable, and fans of Spelunky and games like it will find plenty to smile about here.
If you’re looking for some straight-up, uncomplicated video game therapy, you can’t go far wrong with Blast Corps’ cathartic destruction. You drive a bulldozer around a map, knocking down trees, buildings and fences to clear the path of a tanker hauling some volatile substance or another – and that’s it. But the joy comes from the level of destruction. You can drive through everything, loudly and wantonly, and even when the level is over, you’re allowed to stay until everything is gone. Good, solid, messy fun.
JETPAC REFUELLED (2007)
This revamped version of Jetpac launched on Xbox 360 a few years ago. It doesn’t do anything that the original doesn’t, really, but it looks so much better and plays a great deal smoother. It also includes a version of the original, which is still playable because it’s technically just the backwards compatible 360 version. It’s decent fun, and addictive enough, but it’s not what you bought the package for.
The sequel to Banjo-Kazooie introduces a hubworld to connect all the game areas, with levels unlocked by collecting jigsaw pieces and new abilities earned by finding musical notes scattered about the worlds. It’s deeper than its predecessor, and feels like a real evolution. Not quite as much fun as Nuts ‘n’ Bolts, Banjo-Tooie is still a great example of kid-friendly, highly-addictive action-platforming.
JETFORCE GEMINI (1999)
Arguably one of the most fondly-remembered adventure games of the late 90s, Jetforce Gemini is a 3rd person shooter-cum-platformer in the vein of Ratchet & Clank. Despite the slow animation speed, a drawback of its era, it’s still remarkably playable. You control twins Juno and Vela, and their intelligent wardog, Lupus, in a quest to rescue the downtrodden victims of the evil Mizar. Gameplay is a mix of shooting, questing and jumping around, which doesn’t do anything terribly original by today’s standards, but which is still worth a few hours of your time.
GRABBED BY THE GHOULIES (2003)
If your girlfriend is kidnapped by the evil denizens of a haunted mansion, what’s the first thing you do? Scream for help? Call the Ghostbusters? Not if you’re Cooper Chance, hero of Grabbed by the Ghoulies. He runs straight in, ready to take on the undead with anything he can get his hands on. Being able to grab weapons on the fly was a relatively rare concept back in the day, and it added a wonderful element of urgency to Ghoulies. The quick time events that punctuate the 3rd-person action were also included at a time before QTE became eye-rollingly irritating. This is among half a dozen titles that really make Rare Replay worth owning.
CONKER’S BAD FUR DAY (2001)
It might be incredibly dated now, but this tale of a foul-mouthed, hard-drinking squirrel and his unexpected, unlikely rise to power was genuinely enjoyable as well as utterly crude and, for its time, fairly outrageous. The controls are irritating (the axis are locked to an archaic setting), and it’s frightfully slow-paced at the beginning, but Conker’s Bad Fur Day is one of those legendary games that needs to be played at least once.
VIVA PINATA (2006) & VIVA PINATA: TROUBLE IN PARADISE (2008)
Worth the price of admission alone, the inclusion of these highly weird, highly compelling gardenin/breeding sims have to be played to be understood. Trouble in Paradise is really just a more in-depth and involving version of the first game, with an added storyline and more building and breeding options, but they’re both excellent. Seeing your pinatas grow, fall in love and propagate under your watchful eye instils a real sense of caring, and saying “goodbye” to them is never easy. Without a doubt, these two curios are the best titles available in the collection.
KAMEO: ELEMENTS OF POWER (2005)
Able to transform into various creatures with extraordinary abilities, plucky fairy Kameo is on a quest to save her homeland. An action-RPG set in a world of fairies and monsters, Kameo was a beautiful game at the time of its launch. Not the easiest thing to control, this well-written adventure is exactly the type of game we’re hoping to see remade.
BANJO KAZOOIE: NUTS & BOLTS (2008)
Another backwards compatible 360 title, Nuts & Bolts is hard to find on its own for under £20, let alone as part of a 30-game bundle. Its inclusion alone makes Rare Replay incredible value, and it’s bloody marvellous too. Taking the lovable gameplay for which Banjo Kazooie is famous and entwining it seamlessly with a deep parts-collection and vehicle-building element transforms a franchise that could so easily have become stale into one that parents will enjoy as much as the kids. Fantastic open world gameplay and a crazily addictive core mechanic make Nuts ‘n’ Bolts an endlessly playable modern classic.
Which brings us to the end of Rare Replay’s eclectic list. The bottom line here is that there has simply never been a bundle of such extraordinary value and variety. It would have been nice to see a few of these games souped up, sure, but that’s not what it’s all about. There are some stone-cold classics included, and being able to play the likes of Viva Pinata and Grabbed by the Ghoulies on your Xbox One makes it all worthwhile.
Bravo, Rare, now let’s cross our fingers for a few other long-standing developers to step up to the challenge of matching this exceptional presentation.
Snapshots and stamps make it feel like a cohesive bundle.
Some of the older games will be ignored.
A collection of pure gold. Even the few less-famous titles are worth a look, and the inclusion of a handful of last-gen diamonds makes it unbelievable value.