With so many games to choose from, which one will you play first?
Few developers' body of work evokes a more pleasant nostalgia than Rare, a studio that most will recognize from their string of excellent titles on the Nintendo 64. During this time, Rare were responsible for some of the greatest games of the generation many of which are still lauded as being pinnacles of their genre. Titles such as Perfect Dark, Banjo Kazooie, and Blast Corps made Rare one of the most respected developers in the world.
Rare Replay is a near complete collection of the studios titles stretching back to their work on the ZX Spectrum, Nintendo's earliest home consoles, and onto their releases for the Xbox and Xbox 360; following the studios acquisition by Microsoft in 2002. The only notable omissions from the 30 games on offer are Goldeneye and the Donkey Kong Country series. The absence of these titles is certainly down to licensing, but the pedigree of the games included more than makes up for it.
A lot of care has been given to how these games are presented and the resulting menus have the same sense of fun as the games themselves. A basic list of the titles in a menu screen would've been enough given their quality, but what we have instead is an exhibition of Rare's history that would not feel out of place in a museum or art gallery complete with charming animations for each game, blurbs, and (in some cases) making of documentaries.
Chronologically, Rare's history begins with the ZX Spectrum, the Nintendo Entertainment System, and the Super Nintendo. Fifteen of the games they released on those consoles are in the collection. These early releases are demanding and difficult, as games tended to be in that era. The isometric titles, such as Gunfright and Snake Rattle 'n' Roll are particularly difficult to get used to; I couldn't help but wonder how I ever managed to finish these games back in the '80s. The controls are completely alien by today's standards. The 2D games, in contrast, are easier to get to grips with. Games like Jetpac are more intuitive, simpler to control and more enjoyable as a result.
One smart way that Rare has made these games more accessible is the added rewind feature. Pressing the left trigger at any time rewinds the game up to ten seconds, avoiding fatal mistakes and keeping frustration to a minimum. These earlier titles have added mini-games called "snapshots." These short cross sections present you with different objectives and require a fresh approach. Many of the games are best enjoyed this way, particularly those which have not stood the test of time as well as others.
Undoubtedly, the Nintendo 64 era is where the gems of this collection lie. How well these games still play, sound and look are testament to the almost unparalleled skill of Rare in their prime. With the exception of Jet Force Gemini, which is hampered badly by its control scheme, the games are remarkable. Banjo Kazooie has some of the best designed levels seen in a 3D platformer and some of the best music heard in any game.
Perfect Dark, the spiritual successor to Goldeneye, is as good as ever. The inventiveness of the design, the characters and gadgets in particular, show all the hallmarks of a Rare game; a developer who could turn their hand to just about any genre. I was also pleased to see that it was the XBLA versions of these games that were included, giving everything that extra little HD sheen.
After the dizzying highs of the Nintendo 64, Rare started the Microsoft era with the disappointing Grabbed By the Ghoulies. The 3D button masher has all the charm the developer is known for, but lacked the creativity. Viva Piñata and its sequel were a return to form for the company and they are two of the stand out games in this collection. They play like a cross between Dungeon Keeper and Harvest Moon, building enclosures and gardens to attract different piñatas remains a calming, visually beautiful experience.
Playing all these games earns you stamps. Completing snapshots, beating high scores, just playing the game for the first time earns you stamps that are used to unlock the fascinating documentaries that go behind the scenes at Rare, revealing their creative processes and the stories behind some of their most influential creations. They are so interesting that part of me wishes they were all available to watch straight away. Another part of me is glad of the reward I get for progression, but mostly I am just pleased they are included the game at all, as they are further proof of the staggering care and attention that has gone into Rare Replay to help push above and beyond a simple anthology.
Experiencing Rare's triumphs and disappointments in this collection is a captivating experience. Not only does it show Rare's evolution as a studio and a creative, influential force in the games industry, but also the evolution of games as a whole. Protecting the history of our medium is one of the great challenges we face as collectors, players and appreciates. Many of the games in Rare Replay are near impossible or very expensive to be able to play at home and that is a problem, but legacy collections like this can at least save a small slice of video games heritage and I can think of few developers more deserving of that than Rare.
This game was reviewed on Xbox One with a digital copy provided by Microsoft.
Images courtesy of Microsoft Studios.