Review: Rare Replay for Xbox One – Part 2: The NES Years
Rise to glory.
So following Part 1 of this review, it seems safe to say that Rare (then known as “Ultimate Play the Game”) got off to a really rough start with the ZX Spectrum — by today’s standards, at least.
But 1986 brought with it several changes. That’s when the company adopted the name it’s so well known and loved for today, and when they made their very first game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It here that we’d first (as far as the games included in this collection go, anyway) begin to see glimpses of the greatness that Rare would soon become.
For those who didn’t read the first part, the idea is that I’m celebrating Rare’s 30 year compilation of 30 games priced at 30 dollars with 30 minutes on each — a move I admittedly came to regret last time. As for this batch? Read on…
Color-wise, I’m not quite sure how to describe the games from the ZX Spectrum days. “Monochrome” doesn’t seem to fit quite right, as there was certainly more than one color, but things were largely rendered in just one color.
Whatever the case, the jump to the NES marked a huge improvement for Rare’s graphical output. Slalom may not be the most sophisticated game on the system in that regard, but Rare nonetheless managed to present a game with a real sense of color to go along with its innovative “into the screen” 3D effect.
Released as one of the original “Black Box” NES titles, Slalom feels like a marked improvement over pretty much everything that came before it. While the whole “30 minute” stipulation was easier to endure this time around, things are a bit limited, as the game is still quite challenging to play. You get to choose from three slopes of varying difficulty — the delightfully named Snowy Hill, Steep Peak, and Mount Nasty — each with eight downhill runs. The further you go, the more difficult things get as you have to avoid other skiers, snowmen, sledders, and other such hazards to make it to the finish before time runs out.
In the process, you’re faced with the choice of maneuverability with the left and right directions, while pressing up will provide a buttox-bearing burst of speed. The two don’t play well together, though, making things tricky as you race the clock. It’s a bit of a pain to try to do both together; my skier kept “pizzaing ” when I wanted to “French fry,” and that’s when I had a bad time.
Slalom‘s soundtrack also marked the debut of one David Wise, and while it’s not really anything he would come to be known for, it’s not bad for the time.
RC Pro Am
This 1987 classic features Radio Controlled racing with a bit of a twist. With an isometric perspective, you view your R.C. car from afar, driving it more as one would such a machine in real life (i.e. left and right are always left and right from any angle you see the car from) and try to make it to the finish line in one of the top three positions. Along the way, you’ll pick up various power-ups on the track which improve your performance, from speed and grip to missiles for taking out other cars.
This one’s not bad, but another game with some patented Rare toughness. The controls can feel a little janky at times, and it’s tough to see very far ahead of your car. It seemed like I’d hit the red marks on the track that are supposed to lend a speed boost, but nothing of the sort would occur. Meanwhile, no matter what you do to the opponents, they seem to get right back into it with a level of rubber-banding that feels almost like the computer is cheating.
While David Wise provides a great title theme here, you unfortunately don’t get to hear much else from him beyond some jingles at the start, finish, and between races. The actual races are generally silent in this regard, save for the sound effects on display that may ring familiar to fans of Rare’s other NES output.
Overall, I enjoyed this one, even in spite of the steep difficulty. I just wish that Rare Replay had more options integrated, such as unlimited continues.
Now here is an interesting title I’ve never really played before (that I can recall), yet had a level of expectation placed upon it. 1989’s Cobra Triangle is a longtime favorite from my wife’s childhood, and it’s pretty easy to see why.
The premise is simple enough, as you’re test-piloting a state-of-the-art motorboat against the worst the rivers and waves can throw at you. A variety of courses are set before you, ranging from races to using moving ramps to jump waterfalls to securing water mines and dragging them away from guarding boats to protecting people in the water from being taken by more opposing boats to fighting off enormous monsters of the deep. There might even be a few other things I forgot to mention, but suffice to say that compared to everything else on the disc up to this point, the variety is mind-blowing.
Unfortunately, you can’t customize your controls (which would have been a little handy for preference, even if only two face buttons are used), but it still plays well and feels sort of like R.C. Pro-Am in some ways, even taking a familiar isometric view of the action. Even the power-up scheme is similar, as you acquire and stack pick-ups throughout the game to permanently increase your power as you go, though there’s an unfortunate stipulation that you have to hit Select (or rather, the View) button for any of them to count. It’s a bit of a stupid pain, that.
The graphics are simple but effective, and the David Wise soundtrack is upbeat and full of energy (though oddly missing from the races). As is the Rare standard of the time, it’s also quite challenging. Fortunately, you have the Rare Replay standard Rewind, which is a big help, and activating the Infinite Lives cheat is a must. Even with those in play, the time limit, restarting after you die, and your limited range of movement when fighting bosses still help preserve the challenge.
Snake Rattle n’ Roll
Man, was the first of Rare’s three 1990 releases a pain.
To be fair, as with many of their games, it’s a neat idea: you maneuver a snake (Rattle or Roll, depending on whether you’re Player 1 or 2) around a stage and acquire enough spheres to form a tail long/heavy enough to weigh in at the exit gate.
Unfortunately, Rare’s love of the isometric viewing angle really works against this title, as getting around is really hard with the way the controls are laid out. In previous such games on the ZX Spectrum, you could only move in four directions, and diagonals worked as you’d expect them to. Here, you can move in eight directions, but they’re mapped so that moving left requires an up-left diagonal press, right is down-diagonal, and so forth. There’s no option to change how they’re mapped, and when it comes to precise platforming, you’ll probably need a lot of practice to get it down without having to stop and think about what you’re doing (and even when I did that, I still had trouble).
On the bright side, the Cheat menu allows for unlimited lives and time options, so at least you have the opportunity to get used to it on your own terms.
Again, it’s a neat idea, but the controls are what really bring this one down (and analog seems to only make it worse).
The third and final entry in the Jetpac series (not counting the Xbox Live Arcade remake of the original) jumped to the Nintendo Entertainment System, and was even covered in Nintendo Power magazine (as many of Rare’s games were). That’s what led me to give it a try as a kid, and to be honest? I was not impressed.
However, after many years, I considered that maybe a more mature version of myself might appreciate what Rare did with this game, and upon playing it? Yeah, kind of.
As Jetman once again, you basically use a space pod to navigate the surface of planets, blasting aggressive enemies and trying to use your tractor beam to pull equipment and treasure back to your mothership. If the pod is destroyed, you’ll be left in your spacesuit and have to return to the ship for a new pod; it’s only in this state that you can lose a life.
Unfortunately, even though different planets feature different physics, you’re pretty much thrown into the deep end with a pod that is just way too hard to stop or reverse direction and takes damage from everything, including your own mothership. Jetman is easier to control on his own, but is more vulnerable and can’t retrieve anything, so having the pod is basically a must.
The graphics are good and David Wise is once again on point, but the game is slow and methodical, which isn’t so bad in itself. However, it does get a bit repetitive as you must frequently retrace your steps to get a new pod whenever yours seems to inevitably be destroyed. There are no cheats but Rewind here, and it could probably use a few.
I kind of like it, but I’d like it more if the pod controlled a bit better and it didn’t end up quite so tedious over the long term.
Digger T. Rock
This platformer presents an interesting premise which basically asks “what if Dig Dug were a platformer?” As the eponymous hero, your goal is to find items to clear a way to the exit of each stage, then race there before time runs out (though you can disable the timer in the Cheat menu).
It’s not quite as much fun as it sounds, though, as digging and climbing don’t feel like they’re used often enough and control is taken away from you at times, even ending in inevitable long falls that result in Digger’s death. Worse, Rare’s old penchant for giving enemies a frustrating rate of respawning (right on top of you, even) rears its ugly head, which wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t follow you relentlessly and do considerable damage.
Unlimited lives and time cheats help, but only in that you don’t get a game over. It feels like another “make sure they can’t beat this in a single rental” type of game, and overall feels like another good idea that lacks in execution.
This 1991 game intended to rival the enormous Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is without a doubt one of Rare’s most famous — and infamous — titles from the entire NES period.
As Rash and Zitz, two of the eponymous Toads (why they kept the third unplayable in their debut outing is something I may never know — it would be like releasing a Turtles game with Raphael locked away) must invade the base of the Dark Queen on Ragnarok’s World to free their friends Pimple and Princess Angelica while mentor Professor T. Bird gives advice from their home base aboard the Vulture.
A little bit platformer, a little bit brawler, and a whole lot of other stuff thrown in, Battletoads sports great controls, great music, great graphics — and an absolutely crushing difficulty that has made the game notorious among gamers of all ages.
Fortunately, Rare actually made the impossible possible by fixing a longtime glitch which prevented players from reaching the end in 2 player mode (they actually debated it, but good sense prevailed). What’s more, the Rewind and unlimited lives cheat make a ton of difference here. It’s still hard as Hell even with the cheats on, but for the first time in my life, I was able to beat the dreaded Turbo Tunnel in the third stage — albeit after Rewinding a ton of times. That might be a hollow victory for some, but I’ll take it.
Incidentally, since either player losing a life sends both players back a ways in what can only be called a frustrating design decision, Rewind saves a lot of this game.
R.C. Pro-Am II
Finally, the last game from the NES era (he said, sighing inwardly at the absence of Wizards & Warriors), 1992’s R.C. Pro-Am II came out after the launch of the Super NES, but still made a nice showing for itself by improving on the original in a number of ways.
The biggest change is that the game features a lot more variety, including different environments (such as city streets), new terrain (like snow and hills), and sometimes you’ll even find yourself facing in different directions based on how the starting line is set up. You’ll no longer power up your Radio Controlled vehicle by picking up items on the track, but by earning money depending on the place you rank when you finish a race. With those winnings, you can visit a shop between races to choose what you want to buy (though for what it’s worth, ammo doesn’t seem as effective in this one).
I have few gripes with this one, aside from the low-flying bomber plane that seems to bully me specifically. Still, the Endless Continues cheat allows you to force your way through without having to use your valuable funds to purchase them in the shop between rounds. Overall, I think R.C. Pro-Am II is the better of the two games to bear the title, and is definitely a worthy inclusion in this package.
And that does it for Part 2 of the Rare Replay review. While the NES titles featured here have been kind of hit or miss, many have promising ideas and I could honestly do with remakes featuring modern design sensibilities for several of them. Stay tuned for Part 3, which is where the package promises to really start justifying itself, and these half-hours are just going to fly right by.
A copy was purchased at retail by the reviewer.
David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you’re interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.