Saturday 10 December 2016

Rare Replay review: Generous compilation of a revered studio

Rare Replay (XOne); rating: 9/10; age 16+

Published 11/08/2015 | 11:46

Rare has a storied history and dozens of memorable characters
Rare has a storied history and dozens of memorable characters

TO the latest generation of gamers, the name Rare probably means nothing. Yet it was one of the most innovative, entertaining and consistent studios throughout the 80s and 90s across several platforms – at least until it was bought by Microsoft in 2002.

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This compilation may tap the prevailing trend for nostalgia but it shows an uncommon, unbelievable generosity not seen since Valve’s Orange Box. Your €30 buys you 30 titles encompassing Rare’s purple period – and a choice few from the recent Microsoft era.

Lovingly presented with a theatrical flourish, every game is unlocked from the start. But it was a poor decision to hide the fascinating making-of interview clips behind an achievement system. Many of the original staff over Rare's 30-year history contribute, with the exception of reclusive founders Chris and Tim Stamper.

Younger players may be aghast at the visual and gameplay simplicity of Rare’s early (and un-retouched) efforts, when the company was known as Ultimate Play the Game. Indeed, those of us who played them first time around soon notice the rose-tinted glasses wearing off.

Rare Replay: Contains 30 titles include Banjo-Kazooie - Nuts and Bolts
Rare Replay: Contains 30 titles include Banjo-Kazooie - Nuts and Bolts

ZX Spectrum twitch-reaction titles such as Jetpac and Atic Atac feel punishing rather than playable. The odds get evened somewhat with the addition of a thoroughly modern rewind button, which enables you to undo mistakes (usually resulting in death) as often as you like. Additionally, many games enable you to save at any point.

Understandably, these giant cheats does not feature in the later games.

Attractively presented in a theatrical style, the menus introduce the games as well as behind-the-scenes interviews
Attractively presented in a theatrical style, the menus introduce the games as well as behind-the-scenes interviews

Early glimpses of Rare’s oddball genius are evident in eerie explorathon Knight Lore – one of the first ever isometric 3D games – and N64 explode-em-up Blast Corps.

Indeed, it’s the Nintendo period that produced Rare’s most enduring work, from the likes of Banjo-Kazooie to the fantastically sweary Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Enthusiasts will point to the glaring absence of Donkey Kong Country and GoldenEye 007, the Bond shooter on N64 that pretty much set the standard for the genre in 1997. No doubt the licensing lawyers cop the blame but the presence of the still-brilliant Perfect Dark running at 60fps in 1080p eases the pain.

It feels somewhat ironic that some of the best games to appear on N64 have been brought to Xbox One while remaining unavailable on any new Nintendo platform.

By ignoring the dodgy Kinect games, Rare’s output for Microsoft since 2002 bears up well, and titles such as Viva Pinata remain immensely playable.

At such a bargain price, Rare Replay conceals a feast of entertainment and rewards curious newcomers as much as old-timers on their second go around.

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