In the realm of video games, there are few developers that garner the kind of love that Rare does and the Rare Replay is a celebration of their 30 year (technically 33 years if you count their previous endeavors as Ultimate Play the Game) history of making video games.
Kicking off with a musical opening of all of Rare’s mascots singing a catchy tune, Rare Replay oozes with the companies signature charm and offers plenty more features than just 30 games for $30. There are some omissions (GOLDENEYE, DANKY KANG, etc.) from the line up to due licensing issues but what’s included here shows off Rare’s ability to take on any game genre, put its signature stamp on it, and charm millions of players across the world. Having sampled all thirty games, here are my thoughts on each game in the order they were originally released:
Jetpac (1983): Before there was Rare, there was Ultimate Play The Game and before there was Banjo, there was Jetman. The first of many Jetman games in the collection, you fly around horizontal wrap around space environment as you must rebuild and refuel his rocketship in order to explore different planets all while blasting aliens. It’s a very quint arcade-esque shooter and the first of many successes for the team who would form Rare.
Lunar Jetman (1983): You once again play as Jetman who must ride in his indestructible lunar rover to destroy alien bases while stepping out on foot to build bridges, plant bombs in craters, and set up teleporters. At least, that’s what you’re supposed to do. I never got around to getting past the first section because the game (nor the sub-menu within Rare Replay) doesn’t do a good job explaining what I’m supposed to be doing. On top of that, the game is choppy and the screen is filled with too many enemies. I didn’t like this one.
Atic Atac (1983): Now this is a really cool Gauntlet style adventure game. You play as either a Serf, a Wizard, or a Knight and descend a dark castle in order to seek out the pieces of a Golden Key through unlocking doors, avoiding randomly spawning enemies, and keeping your health up to prevent starving to death. There’s a lot of vague instructions but this game is surprisingly deep if you keep digging around.
Sabre Wulf (1984): This is the worst game in the collection. You play as the Sabreman as he explores a jungle maze collecting treasure and fending off wildlife. You move way too fast which makes it really tough to traverse the maze and figure out what to do. Compounding this is that animals will spawn into you as you move really fast and your only defense is swinging your sword at them which is has an ineffective range. Rare Replay is chock full of disappointing games but least they’re playable which is more than I can say for Sabre Wulf.
Underwurlde (1984): This one’s another Sabreman game but this time, he’s trapped in the “Underwurlde” and must make his way past all kinds of evil creatures and descend further down down to face the ultimate evil and escape. This neat little platforming maze adventure side-scroller is plagued with weird game mechanics that don’t gel together. Jumping in this game is a pain as you can’t control the trajectory of your leap. On top of that, bumping into enemies doesn’t damage you but causes you bounce around with the attention of plummeting you to your doom. It’s fun to see Sabreman bounce around but this game is just so frustrating to play, that I couldn’t play more than a single session.
Knight Lore (1984): Yup, it’s another Sabreman adventure game but once again, there’s a twist. The whole game takes place on an isometric plane as player must explore a strange strange to brew a cure for Sabreman’s curse. When dawn becomes dusk (as depicted on an in game display), monsters appear and Sabreman changes to a werewolf. Sabreman turns back into a human in the day but he must find a cure within 40 in game days or else it’s game over. This and Atic Atac are my favorite 8-bit adventure games in Rare Replay.
Gunfright (1985): You play as Sheriff Quickdraw, a cowboy who must protect the old west town of Big Rock and shoot down outlaws then collect the bounty for them. The game starts out promising with the sub game of shooting vertically scrolling bags of money and all of that money is used to purchase things in the shop. Then the game opens up in an isometric view and it’s just not fun to walk around with no sense of direction and get killed from touching innocent ladies walking across the map. Another disappointing 8-bit adventure game to add to the pile.
Slalom (1986): Transitioning from Ultimate Play The Game to Rare, we come to Slalom. It’s a simple Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) game where players ski down snowy slopes while avoiding all kinds of obstacles and making sick jumps. The game is simple to understand and it delivers that sense of speed of sliding down 100 MPH. There’s multiple courses with three levels of difficulties so there’s challenge for those seeking it. Overall this is a nice game AND an ice game. :B
R.C. Pro-Am (1987): This is a fun isometric racing game. You race an R.C. car on a multitude of colorful tracks, fire bombs and missiles at your computer controlled opponents, upgrade your car (a feature way ahead of its time) and listen to some of the best sounds to grace the NES. My one gripe with this game is that you have to memorize the tracks in order to avoid the road hazards that cause your car to stall. Other than that, racing games on the NES don’t get any better than this.
Cobra Triangle (1989): This NES game is simple in its design. All you do is ride around in a boat shooting things in several missions. The diversity of the missions is dizzying (racing, recusing, shooting giant sea dragons) but the handling of the boat is hard with the stiff controls and isometric view. Very fun in short bursts.
Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll (1990): A weird platform game where you play as two snakes (affectionately named Rattle and Roll) trying to gobble up enough stuff to make a weighing machine ring a bell in order to progress to the next level. There’s eleven levels but I had trouble getting past the first one due to the odd controls and isometric plane. But once you get a hang of it, it’s a quirky game that exudes that Rare humor and charm.
Solar Jetman (1990): This game bares the Jetman name and features the same style of hovering around planets shooting aliens but this game is a drag to play. The controls for both the ship and Jetman are stiff and confusing while the game isn’t clear about what you’re supposed to do. It’s so weird to me how Rare keeps messing up Jetman. The more complex the game, the more problems seem to arise.
Digger T. Rock (1990): Rare couldn’t get Goldeneye but they got Milton Bradley’s golden holy permission to acquire Digger T. Rock? Obviously, that was sarcasm. In all seriousness, this game sucks. This was Rare’s attempt to ape the then burgeoning dungeon crawler genre but it’s a mess to experience. The designs are uninspired, the puzzles are poor, and you’re constantly falling to your death because the controls are stiff. If you like digging through dirt, you may find some enjoyment in this game because I sure didn’t.
Battletoads (1990): This legendary beat-em-up is one of the hardest games ever made for the NES. You play as Rash (and Zitz if you’re Player 2) on a quest to save their fellow Battletoad Pimple along with Princess Angelica from the evil Dark Queen. You fight through hordes of minions, slide down caverns, and ride a hover bike down the infamous turbo tunnel. It’s loads of fun to play but it’s better if you play by yourself. I tried playing with a buddy and it didn’t end well.
R.C. Pro-Am II (1992): This followup to the isometric NES racing classic doesn’t outpace the original but it’s still fun to play. Gone is the in-game soundtrack and mini map to determine where to turn but it has four person multiplayer and better handling of your R.C. car. The gameplay is mostly unchanged but the difficulty is unfair at times with rubber-banding AI and no reaction time to deal with incoming hazards. If you get the chance, play this game with friends.
Battletoads Arcade (1994): This Battletoads game shares many qualities with its NES brethren but this is not the same game. This side scrolling beat-em-up was designed with coin operated arcade machines in mind with plenty of cheap deaths fighting through the Dark Queen’s horde but fortunately, the game’s in freeplay mode so death can be easily conquered with a press of the A button. All three Battletoads are playable and the game allows for up to three players to join in on the rat bashing. This may have been a flop in the arcades but it’s worthy of being alongside arcade beat-em-up greats like Turtles in Time and The Simpsons arcade game.
Killer Instinct Gold (1996): I love the Killer Instinct fighting game series. The Street Fighter II styled combos and button layout with the Mortal Kombat-esque tone and finishers all wrapped around performing/breaking ridiculous combos and listening to an over the top announcer screaming stuff like “C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER!”. LOVE. IT. This port of the Nintendo 64 (N64) port of the arcade version of Killer Instinct 2 has everything in tact and running at a higher resolution. The sprites and backgrounds haven’t aged well but the core gameplay is still fun as Hell.
Blast Corps (1997): One of two N64 games made by Rare I’ve never played until now, Blast Corps is a fun puzzle game where you destroy more buildings than the climax of Man of Steel. It doesn’t make sense why you would level entire towns and cities to pave way for a runaway nuclear missile carrier but that’s part of the Rare charm. It’s satisfying to jump in a mech and stomp around like you’re Godzilla.
Banjo-Kazooie (1998): My first and personal favorite Rare game, Banjo-Kazooie perfected the open world 3-D platforming genre Super Mario 64 started on the N64. You play as Banjo, an anthropomorphic bear with an anthropomorphic bird named Kazooie who must travel across nine levels to rescue his sister Tootie from the evil witch hag Gruntilda before she uses an machine to steal her beauty. The game is self aware and exudes that Rare charm and humor with loads of cute characters you meet along the way as you solve puzzles to earn enough Jiggies, Notes, eggs, feathers, Mumbo Tokens, Jingos, and intimate knowledge of Gruntilda’s personal life to face Gruntilda in a trivia game show and a proper boss fight. This is the Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) port of the N64 classic and it works well on the Xbox One. The emulation of the Xbox 360 system is subpar and I ran into an issue where Stop ’N Swop didn’t work because the game didn’t recognize my game saves from Banjo-Twooie or Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts. That being said, it’s amazing that this game has held up so well after all these years. It’s a testament to great game design.
Jet Force Gemini (1999): I’ve had fond memories of playing Jet Force Gemini when I was nine. The run and gun sci-fi gameplay, the crazy amounts of weapons, and the fun multiplayer made me want to play this game at my cousins house every time I’d visit. But once I booted up the game, all of that seems like a distant memory. While the games opening states the game is in widescreen, only the pre-rendered footage is in widescreen while the rest of the game is played in its default 4:3 aspect ratio. So already, my red-tinted glasses have been tarnished by constantly shifting screen resolutions. But what really bummed my nostalgia is the controls. The game is a third person run and gun styled game but both the default and newly patched in modern controls make this game really uncomfortable to play with. Suffice it to say, this game has not aged well.
Perfect Dark (2000): Another XBLA port of another N64 classic, Perfect Dark still holds up as not only the best first person shooter in this collection but arguably the best shooter on the N64. The year is 2023 and you play as Carrington Institute agent Joanna Dark and you’re on a mission to take down dataDyne and uncover a conspiracy across a series of missions. This game is so much fun with each optional objective adding challenge as you try to drive for a perfect (dark) run. The spilt-screen multiplayer still holds up with so many iconic weapons including the laptop gun and a sniper that can shoot through walls. Did Goldeneye have a gun that can shoot through walls? I DON’T THINK SO!
Banjo-Tooie (2000): This followup to Banjo-Kazooie is everything a sequel should be. It builds upon the foundation set by its predecessor with more moves to master, more things to collect, more (now interconnected) worlds to explore and even more meta humor. It even has a unique four player multiplayer mode that features all kinds of minigames. This is a port of the XBLA version and just like Banjo-Kazooie, the game benefits from an upscaled resolution and solid frame rate. It even has a hint system system for keeping track of all the hard to find Jiggies you haven’t earned yet. To truly understand why people loathed Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, you have to play both Banjo games.
Conkers Bad Fur Day (2001): WARNING- FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY!
The second of two Rare games I didn’t buy for the N64 which is a shame. I’ve heard so many great things about this game as a kid but couldn’t buy it due to the Mature game rating. Playing it now, I can see why people enjoyed this game. The games mechanics are solid (the game is upscaled to 1080p and runs at a smooth 30 FPS frame rate), some of the crude humor hasn’t aged well and the movie parodies are dated but this game still has Rare’s signature style of charm to it all. I haven’t touched the multiplayer but if it’s anything like Rare’s previous efforts in four player mutliplayer, it’ll hold up. I definitely need to sink more time into this game.
Grabbed by the Ghoulies (2003): The first game Rare made under the ownership of Microsoft, Grabbed by the Ghoulies is a massive disappointment on so many levels. While the games cel shaded look and spooky aesthetic is neat, the character designs and their motivations feel flat. The beat-em-up gameplay is hindered by the confusing decision to map fighting with the right analog stick and the camera with the left-and-right triggers. There’s jump scare which triggers quick time button prompts (doing 20 of them unlocks an Achievement called “The Future of Gaming”. Classy.) and an annoying comic book panel style cutscenes that you can’t skip. But the worst thing about this that game lacks any challenge. It’s not the worst game in the Rare Replay collection but when Rare themselves pokes fun at the massively poor reception Ghoulies received in their newer games, you know you’re in for a world of hurt. At least they upscaled the graphics to 1080p and the frame rate to 60 frames per second. hooray…
Kameo (2005): One of two Xbox 360 launch titles made by Rare, Kameo: Elements of Power is an overlooked action adventure game. The game is about the titular female elf protagonist who must harness the power to shape shift into ten different elemental warriors in order to restore her kingdom from the thrall of her sister Kalus and the troll king Thorn. The controls are wonky but the gameplay is fun in small bursts. The overall presentation looks great for what they could do at the time on the Xbox 360 and the music does a great job at making this fantasy world feel epic. It’s a shame a sequel was never made as this game had a lot of potential. If you’ve never played it, it’s worth checking out here on the collection. Just know that it’s really hard to earn all the achievements considering this game’s online multiplayer is deader than Elvis.
Perfect Dark Zero (2005): Why this other Rare Xbox 360 launch game got rave reviews back in the day is beyond me. The story’s jovial at best and forgettable at worst. The shooting is boring and it’s made worse with a frame rate that’s choppy as Hell. The characters look like they have skin made out of potato chips and stealth sections feel irrelevant. It’s an embarrassment to the Perfect Dark franchise but by the grace of Sabre Wulf, it’s not the worst game in the collection.
Viva Piñata (2006): Now this is the kind of game Rare should have been making. Viva Piñata is a garden growing, piñata breeding life simulator that showcases the tenants of Rare’s trademark approach to gaming by approaching a genre they’ve never done and make it charming. Once you get past the really long tutorial section, the game opens up with all kinds of piñatas to collect. The art style is gorgeous and filled with vibrant colors with each piñata design being inventive. There’s a dark element to this game as piñata’s can eat other piñata’s down the food chain and there’s an adorable romance system with piñata sex depicted as dancing. There’s so much to do but I simply don’t have to time to burn on a life sim game.
Jetpac Refueled (2007): The last Jetman game in the collection, Jetpac Refueled is pretty much a revamped version of the orignal Jetpac game from 1983 but it lacks the quint charm of the original game. This XBLA game looks dated with graphics that remind me of Math Blaster and its new twists on the Jetpac gameplay (upgradable blaster, 124 levels to explore) doesn’t make the game feel any less bland in comparison to XBLA games like Geometry Wars. It’s a solid game but one that becomes very forgettable, very fast.
Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise (2007): A worthy sequel to the original piñata life sim. There’s more piñatas to collect and more time to burn doing challenges while building up and exploring new desert/tundra sections that compliments your regular garden. The game is a lot more streamlined in teaching people than its predecessor but it still feels like the same game as first one without any option to export your previous garden. I can appreciate this game series for its inventive take on the life sim genre but I don’t have the time to tend two different gardens on a last gen game series let alone one garden.
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (2008): The last and most polarizing game in the Rare Replay collection, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts forgoes the series tried and true platforming in favor of completing missions with vehicle customization. On one hand the vehicle customization is robust and several missions are creative like using your car to get a strong internet connection by reaching a higher point inside a game console. And on the other hand, you have a game full of design failures (Why do I need to access a Jiggy bank to place a Jiggy in another bank?) from transition from platforming to using only vehicles. The music and art style evokes that Banjo-Kazooie aesthetic but removing your abilities like double jumping and the constant trolling by the so-called Lord of Games feels like a slap in the face to long time Rare fans. I admire the effort to experiment with gameplay ideas but shouldn’t have been made as a Banjo-Kazooie game. It’s definitely worth checking out as its a very solid game. Just prepare for disappointment.
The presentation of the Rare Replay is outstanding with a theatre motif that’s apparent from the moment you start the game. Each game in the gallery has their own individual menu complete with unique animations and music fitting of each respective game. Each of the games in the collection (sans the Xbox 360 ports) have gained noticeable resolution and frame rate upscaling. They’re presented in their original aspect ratios with unique screen borders you can turn on and off. The Xbox 360 ports have noticeable technical issues like stuttering frame rates and install issues. The older games up the N64 era stuff have built save states and several cheats in the sub menu, including the default ability to rewind gameplay. This feature is valuable when playing these older games but I wished this feature was available across other games. There are also Snapshot challenges where you can play remixed levels of the retro games to earn stamps to unlock videos in the Rare Revealed gallery. It feels punishing to grind through each and every game to earn stamps as these behind the scenes featurettes are the most fascinating thing about the collection. It’s interesting to watch several Rare employees of past and present (with the exception of Rare founders Tim and Chris Stamper who left the company in 2007) talk about the games they worked on and the stuff that never saw the light of day.
Overall, Rare Replay is one of the best video game compilations ever made as it showcases the linage of 30 years of gaming history. They could’ve only released their hit games and released a “best of” collection but I appreciate the diversity of each game and the charming sense of play wrapped around the collection. There’s so many fun games to play here by yourself or with friends from that you won’t be totally bummed out from the crop of bad games. At $30 for thirty games, this game was already a steal for Xbox One owners but when you add up the Snapshot challenges, the behind the scenes videos, and the overall production values, this collection is a must own. I don’t know what will happen to Rare in the future but this compendium of games is a near perfect encapsulation of their past glories and stories.