Despite recent efforts, Rare were once the definition of quality in games design. For a time during the N64 lifespan, they even surpassed Nintendo themselves for quality and creativity. The newly released Rare Replay gathers together 30 of their most famous games on one disc, despite a few glaring omissions, the collection is a reminder of how far the industry has come.
To begin with the installation of the game is not as straightforward as we would expect. All pre-xbox 360 games are included on the disc itself at an install of around 11 gb. The other games are not so easy, any game from Perfect Dark Zero on, is installed as it used to be. For some reason the first two Banjo games are the same. Coming in at less than a GB this isn’t a big deal. It just means the early experience isn’t as seamless as it could have been. Anyone buying this for their children, may have to oversee the installation.
With the technical issues out of the way everyone is free to jump in at whatever game from the past, made them buy this collection. For me the first game was RC Pro-Am. This rock hard racing simulation from 1987 thrilled me as a child on my beloved NES. The port here is flawless, as soon as the sound effects kicked in, I was back to sitting in front of my old tube TV on the kitchen table. The game plays as well as ever. Starting as one of four radio controlled cars, you race around the rack collecting power-ups and making sure you don’t finish in last position. If you do – game over. The handling is quirky and unforgiving and the computer as difficult as ever. Despite my love of Rare in the late 1990’s I didn’t associate this game from my past with them. The collection is full of moments like this, you play a game and hen the memories come flooding back.
Digger T Rock is another gem. This forerunner to Spelunky, keeps the difficulty but throws maze-like puzzle elements. Unfortunately it is so frustrating, that you might end up dipping in and out of it. The story is true of most of these pre-16bit games. Slalom and the early Jetpac games are fun distractions, others like Gunfright are just too dated to enjoy in their original form. Here is where Rare throws a curveball at you. Clearly recognising the appeal of these older games are going to be limited, they have created the snapshot option. This lets you do five specific challenges for each game in this bracket. The challenges set you a short task like killing so many enemies in 30 seconds, which rewards you with an achievement and a small stamp on your Rare Replay Card. This means games you otherwise would have ignored unless there was a personal attachment, now become a small Warioware style challenge. A smart move, showing Rare still are the thinkers they once were.
The previously mentioned Rare Replay Card, is like a loyalty stamp for completing various achievements in the game. Every few stamps you rank up and unlock a high-res documentary video on the making of a game or a behind the scenes video log. All very worthwhile and interesting, especially for the knock down retail price of the game. Enthusiasts will slog their way through some of the less interesting or functional games just to get the points to unlock the videos. In all this game is a completionists dream/nightmare. With a gamerscore of 10000 waiting there are ample opportunities for grinding out more and more points. I particularly enjoyed playing though Battletoads Arcade, the original NES game is also included, but as legend tell it is too hard to play casually. The arcade game is different. The sprites are a bit more detailed and it takes you back to the days of Final Fight or Streets Of Rage. Although inferior to both these offerings, it keeps enough of the Rare humour to make it worth playing. Being an Arcade game, the infinite credits are essential. There is no way anyone would be completing this on a few lives. Button mashing away you finally reach the end boss and it is a bullet hell level. Imaginative, now you have the ability to reach it.
Moving into the N64 and original Xbox era is where the meat of this collection lies. Unfortunately it is very much a mixed bag of emotions and gameplay. Some games stand the test of time brilliantly. Conker’s Bad Fur Day is as fresh and original as it ever was. The platforming has a few too many leaps of faith, but it always did. The film parodies haven’t aged and the anarchic undercurrent runs from the opening parody of A Clockwork Orange right through. Also included is Conker’s full suite of multiplayer options. Many a happy hour was spent playing the beach assault or war against the bots. Perfect Dark is also shiny and relevant, if a little twitchy. The controller, that once was an N64 with single-stick, does not translate well to the enhanced sensitivity of dual sticks. With a little perseverance it is fine. Just don’t expect to bounce in and start cracking off headshots like you used to.
The problems come when your memories of a game outstrip its reality. Jet Force Gemini is the most glaring example for me. Although the controls have been patched to make it manageable, the visuals are poor. This in my mind was a chrome and shiny landscape where you battled viscous insect like creatures before slaughtering them in a wave of gore. Now it is a blurry mess, that looks poor even next to its contemporaries. Blast Corps remains an excellent concept and game, however the explosions lack the lustre I remember. Others like Banjo and even the much maligned Grabbed by the Ghoulies stand up well and are worthy in the collection. The elephant in the room is the missing games. Goldeneye and Donkey Kong Country to name two. Licensing issues mean they will never appear on a Microsoft console and as such the collection does feel a little hollow. It is still well worth a purchase during the summer games drought, just don’t expect all your favourite games to stand the test of time.
Is this more my fault that the games though? My rose-tinted memories of the N64 era, are sadly being grounded as I play this. Perhaps it is good to get a grounding in reality, realise the N64 was hamstrung by its reliance on cartridges and lack of third-party support other than Rare. I think selective playing of this game is best, let your good memories stay memories.