Games review: Rare's greatest hits compilation won't break the bank

This collection is great value for money, and offers that rare feeling of having plenty to play when you have a spare hour

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 August, 2015, 1:56pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 August, 2015, 5:13pm

Does everyone remember Rare? Didn't think so. Despite being a prolific game developer in the 1990s and 2000s, Rare never became as big as Sega, Atari or Capcom. But its resilience is to be admired, churning out releases from the early console days, and its influence shouldn't be doubted: just look at GoldenEye 007 or Donkey Kong Country, two prime examples of genre-changing games.

Three decades on from its founding, that's all being celebrated with Rare Replay, an Xbox One exclusive that brings together 30 of Rare's best. But we've already pulled a bait and switch: the two "big guns", James Bond and the Donkey Kong rip-off, aren't onboard, something to do with publisher Nintendo's ironclad legal grip on them. It doesn't matter much, however, as there's a sizeable chunk of impressive throwbacks here and you'll find plenty to like.

Rare's history stretches back to the very early days of popular gaming and it was innovating from the get-go. If there's a drawback to all this, it's that half the games on the disc are from the pre-3D revolution, making the release's claim of "30 hit games" feel a little flaccid in context. Early '80s efforts such as Jetpac, Sabre Wulf and Snake Rattle'n'Roll were ground-breaking in their time, but that was more than a generation ago, and similar eight-bit thrills can now be had on any smartphone.

The real gems are the more popular millennial-era releases. Rare had an impressive run from 1997 to 2006, and most of the best are included. Innovative 3D platformer Banjo-Kazooie and its sequels, lightning-quick arcade fighter Killer Instinct, surreally cheeky Conker's Bad Fur Day and influential first-person shooter Perfect Dark are the true highlights.

But it's the lesser-known and often hard-to-find games that'll keep you playing. There's Jet Force Gemini, a sleek third-person shooter that isn't far off from contemporary releases. There's Blast Corps, a truly original game where suspense combines with wanton building destruction. There's even the cultish Viva Piñata, a strangely calming life simulator where you build a garden and attract colourful critters.

It's a fascinating hodgepodge of games, an even blend that satisfies both casual and compulsive players. Many still hold up and some might find that surprising, but there's a simple reason behind it: they're fun, a characteristic many modern releases forget about in our oversized era of bloated worlds and endless cutscenes.

All that, and a couple of cherries on top, too. Because make no mistake: this isn't some bargain basement Rom-type collection where you scroll down a list of emulated games. Rare is incredibly proud of its history and it's all showcased front-and-centre in the presentation, from the impressive dramatic opening through to smooth game segues and its own little soundtrack.

Such simplicities as saving and loading might seem standard, but they're godsends when you recall the overnight frustration of desperately trying to finish boss levels in Cobra Triangle. Being able to backtrack 10 seconds is surprisingly helpful too, saving precious hair from being pulled as you near the end of Battletoads.

Unlockable documentaries, concept art and details of never-released games won't interest most, but for fans of gaming history, it keeps geek levels strong.

Rare Replay has already become a bestseller. It's not surprising - the HK$200 price tag is appealing, sure, but people want that balance. We'll fork out for expensive, current generation releases with stunning graphics and fascinating worlds, but only if you shake it up with plenty of bang for our buck.

This collection offers that rare feeling of having plenty to play when you have a spare hour. And it's a much-appreciated walk down memory lane that won't empty your wallet.