Game Reviews - Reviews

Rare Replay (Microsoft, Xbox One)


Back in the day, gamers had to wait five or six minutes for a game to load, the anticipation only slightly dampened by the horrific beeeeee tcchhh noise and the hypnotic parallax bars juddering up the sides of the screen. I am speaking specifically about the joys and woes of playing on a ZX Spectrum, for that was my platform of choice, a computer so hi-tech that it came with a whopping 48k of memory, later almost trebled to 128k. This little wonder was also linked up to a cassette player, which meant that anyone with a tape deck and some Sellotape could copy lots of games onto a C90 (home taping is killing computer games!). Speak to any self-respecting gamer or retro-styling hipster about Jet Set Willy, Dizzy or Head Over Heels, and watch them collapse in a puddle of salty geek tears.

Quite rightly, because beyond their shonky graphics and soundtracks that even chiptune fanatics would admit to being a bit naff, many of these games were examples of how the imposition of certain limitations often boosts creativity. One of the major forces in software development during this period was Rare, formerly incarnated as Ultimate, who was responsible for essential releases such as Jetpac, Sabre Wulf and Knight Lore. Each of these miniature epics pushed the meagre processing power of home computing about as far as it could go, and each was imbued with a whimsical, very British sense of humour. During the past thirty years, Rare has also developed numerous games for Nintendo, most notably the stone cold classicGoldeneye 64, still universally viewed as one of the best FPS of all time, and collaborated closely with Microsoft. Their longevity is impressive, particularly in such a cutthroat business where other design houses implode and shut down regularly.

As a way of celebrating their thirtieth anniversary, and to pay tribute to not only their talented programmers but also their devoted fanbase, Rare has released a compendium of thirty titles spanning the entire length of its career to date. This means that many early products like Atic Atac, Underwurlde and R.C. Pro-Am are included alongside later gems like Banjo-Kazooie and its sequel, platformers that rival Super Mario 64 in the level design stakes. The quality of these titles still shines but what is most interesting is that Rare have also included some of their less than great hits. Conker’s Bad Fur Day, for example, which was originally envisioned as a cutesy animal adventure before it was filled with countless swear words, innuendoes and a level in which a giant poop king sings opera. No, seriously. The more outrageous sequences in Conkermay have been mildly amusing at the time but the parodies of The Matrix and Saving Private Ryan have aged poorly, the controls are generally awful and the gameplay does not amount to much more than linking one profanity-laden cut-scene to the next.

Fair dos, however, to Rare for including the likes of Conker here for the sake of posterity, but that is the ethos at the heart of this collection. And what a big heart it has. From the opening musical number to the commentaries and fact dumps on each game, there is a lot of love in the room. Rare has not just cobbled together a bunch of ports within a shoddy hub. Animated menus, loading screens and other elements burst with character, and there are unlockable videos and so on for those who want to find out the back history to some of the games. Another neat touch is the inclusion of “Snapshots”, which are essentially minigames that take short segments from their parent titles and turn them into bite-sized challenges. Also very welcome is the ability to rewind certain games if you cock up, which is highly likely in nightmarishly difficult ones like Battletoads. It is a feature that has long been present in more legally questionable emulators that are freely available on the Internet.

There is one unavoidable quibble, and that is the glaring absence, due to Nintendo’s stranglehold on licensing, of Rare highlights such as anything connected to Donkey Kong, and the aforementioned Goldeneye. The latter problem is remedied by the presence of the arguably superior Perfect Dark, which combines action, gadgets, hidden wedges of cheese and sly Bond gags to great effect. To be frank, Perfect Dark is worth the cost of admission alone, which in itself is half the price of other triple A titles. The knockdown price of this assortment box offers great value for money, and is another indication that Rare want to say a hearty thanks to their supporters.

Overall, Rare Replay is an affectionate and fun nostalgia trip. Yes, there are certain games that you will not play more than once, if at all, but surprisingly there are others that you will be glad to explore all over again. Bravo, Rare, and a very happy birthday too.  Ross Thompson