Review: Rare Replay for Xbox One – Part 3: Nintendo 64 & More
THIS is Battletoads.
For those who didn’t read the first two parts, the idea behind this series of sub-reviews (which has taken me entirely too long to get out between everything else, but I hope to remedy that soon) is that I’m celebrating Rare’s 30 year compilation of 30 games priced at 30 dollars by playing them for 30 minutes each. It was a bit rough in the earliest goings in Part 1 with the ZX Spectrum, but improved quite a bit with part of their library of games for the Nintendo Entertainment System in Part 2.
At this point, I know what you must be thinking (unless you’re already familiar with the collection): “Next up is the Super NES! This is going to be awesome!”
Well, funny you should mention that.
Conspicuous by their absence in this collection is Rare’s work from the 16-bit era of gaming. By and large, this is because the vast majority of their work during this time was either using Nintendo’s characters (Donkey Kong Country), other licenses (Ken Griffey, Jr.’s Winning Run and Battletoads & Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team), or were simply ports or games found elsewhere on this list. As such, in a bit of irony, the era where one might argue that Rare became a household name around the world is largely absent from this collection.
The one title which might count is Battletoads Arcade, and since it’s the only one of 16-bit vintage, I’m lumping it in here with the generation that followed.
Alternatively, they could have chosen to include Battletoads in Battlemaniacs from the Super NES in this collection instead, but I’m quite glad they did not. Generally speaking, Battletoads in Battlemaniacs is basically a bigger, beefier, and more colorful version of Battletoads for the NES, warts (ha) and all. Battletoads Arcade, on the other hand, is basically everything I ever wanted from a Battletoads video game.
By and large, Battletoads Arcade is a straight-up side-scrolling beat ’em up that provides a satisfying alternative to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade games which ruled the day. Unlike those, which adhered rather closely to the formula of the children’s cartoon series by Fred Wolf Films, this version of the Toads have a bit more of an edge to them: Some defeated enemies will crumble into a stack of bones (if they’re not punted right into the screen by the player), there’s a bit of blood (nowhere near Mortal Kombat levels), some brutal finishing moves, and for good measure, even a little bit of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it titillation from the villainous Dark Queen herself.
The graphics and animation are terrific (and occasionally over-the-top), the sound and music are fantastic, and for the first time in the series, up to three players can join together as their Toad of choice, bringing the entire team together instead of roshamboing to find out which one is the Toad in distress (or Toads, in the Game Boy titles). It’s a beautiful package when it all comes together, though those craving the next big challenge from the series might have to set their own rules, as the coin-op nature more or less allows you to spam credits as needed until you win. Even so, it’s still a fun time.
In short, it’s probably the Battletoads you want to remember rather than the one you actually do remember, provided you’re like me and at least 50 percent of your memories of the game involve hitting walls in the Turbo Tunnel. It’s strange, really, as so many games try to be varied to offer a fresh experience at every turn, but this more streamlined game basically offers us what we thought we were getting from the first stage of the original, and it’s just so much better for it.
That isn’t to say there isn’t any variety, however. While most of the fighting is done on a field of play you can move around on like most side-scrolling brawlers, others are more strictly 2D in presentation, lacking the foreground-background movement. Still others call back to some of the more favorable level variations from earlier games, such as descending into a large crater with a jetpack. There’s even a Street Fighter II-esque bonus stage in which you try to destroy a spaceship within the allotted time.
A popular meme from a few years back would see people asking “Is this Battletoads?” Well, my friends, I’m happy to tell you that this is Battletoads, and for me, finally getting to play the arcade game from the comfort of my own sofa was worth the asking price for the whole set. Everything else is just a really big bonus.
I just hope whatever comes next for Battletoads draws on this, rather than the earlier entries in the series.
Killer Instinct Gold
Whereas Battletoads Arcade is one of the true jewels of Rare Replay, all that glitters is not gold — even if that game is Killer Instinct Gold.
I still own both the Super NES version of Killer Instinct and Killer Instinct Gold for the Nintendo 64, and to be honest, if I was going to pick one for this collection? It would have been the Super NES game. Unfortunately, according to some of the game’s developers at the X15 Media Event, that’s what they thought they had on here, so I don’t even know what to think there.
The biggest problem with its inclusion, in my opinion, is that the Super NES Killer Instinct improved on the gameplay of the arcade version (as a trade-off for the graphics, of course), while the Nintendo 64 game here was closer to the arcade, but not close enough. When you’ve already got the game it was based on, Killer Instinct 2, on Xbox One (as a bonus for getting Season 2 of the new Killer Instinct, its shortcomings become all the more apparent, especially when you play them side-by-side.
I found that Killer Instinct Gold just feels overall slower and clunkier when compared to the Super NES game and the recent Xbox One reboot, which are more comparable to each other. Increasing the speed in the options helped a little bit, but the game just proved to be rougher than the rest, including the arcade game, even on Easy. Glacius was particularly relentless as he dogged me and spammed his attacks. It was really cheap, especially when he’d hit me with a move right out of the gate, before the announce even said “go,” and he simply blocked and countered everything, and not even in a “Combo Breaker” kind of way.
And he was only the third or fourth guy! I did manage to get past him, but even if you make it to the end on the Easy difficulty, you won’t get an ending or even be able to face final boss Gargos.
For what it’s worth, I found the music to be good and the backgrounds enjoyable, with some 3D rotation and destructible environments going on. The fighters look pretty good, too, if a bit pixelated, though their victory pics aren’t animated as in the arcade. You can adjust the blood as well, if you’re particular about that sort of thing.
This is also the first game on the compilation not to offer a Rewind ability; that gravy train’s over, folks.
Beyond that, I feel like even if it’s a bit tougher, the arcade game is generally superior across the board, save for some different multiplayer modes that were added for this version. That and the new Killer Instinct are the superior picks over this release.
Good lord, I’m only two games into this batch and nearly at 2,000 words. I’ll try to keep it a little more brief from here on in.
Blast Corps is a game about destroying everything in the path of an out-of-control nuclear missile carrier that is apparently far too delicate for the job it’s given. In order to wreck and rule, you’ll take control of a wide variety of destructive vehicles, ranging from the traditional in bulldozers and dump trucks to the imaginative in somersaulting and stomping robots.
It’s a fun game with its basic theme of “destroy everything,” and the music accompanies this mood nicely. You also have multiple objectives with each mission you can choose to pursue; once the way for the truck is cleared, you can either go on to the next level, or stick around and see what else you can find and do.
While wrecking everything in sight sounds easy, it’s actually a bit tricky at times with how some of the vehicles control — I’m looking at you, dump truck, missile cycle, and buggy. Even walking outside of them can be a bit confusing at times with how the controls are set up, and can leave one feeling frustrated and like the controls are rather poor, though again, it varies.
As a result, the game feels like it’s a step beyond “easy to play, difficult to master.”
It’s hard to dispute that Rare took a lot of cues from Nintendo at this point in their career, whether willingly or not. Donkey Kong Country felt like a variation on Super Mario World, Diddy Kong Racing clearly owes at least a smidge to Mario Kart 64, and Banjo-Kazooie is sort of like Super Mario 64, only not. That’s where some of Rare’s talent lay during this period, as they managed to take a game concept and put their own spin on it, making something which felt familiar, yet had its own personality and identity.
In Banjo-Kazooie, you’re out to free the titular bear Banjo’s sister from the witch Gruntilda, and in order to do so, you have to visit a variety of sandbox-styled worlds in which you grab as many collectibles as you can. And there are a lot to collect — enough that I didn’t even manage to get past the intro and finish the first level before my 30-minute time was up.
There’s just so much to find and do, and unlike Super Mario 64, you’re largely able to do as much as you want, rather than being kicked back to the hub area whenever you find a star. At the same time, near as I can tell, this tends to lend less variance within the levels themselves. Whereas your second trip to Bob-omb Battlefield in Super Mario 64 sees a slightly different setup as you race Koopa the Quick for a star, everything is as it will be in Banjo-Kazooie.
As for Banjo himself, he and sidekick Kazooie have a variety of moves they can learn along the way, which are key to finding the many Jiggies and musical notes scattered around each world and progressing through Gruntilda’s lair. That said, he does seem to control a little more loosely than Mario does in his game. It’s not particularly detrimental, but throw in some iffy hit detection (particularly when trying to scale the roach nest) and unhelpful camera angles, and there’s a little bit of frustration common to the era to be found here. It takes some getting used to.
For those wondering, this is actually the Xbox 360 high definition version of the game, rather than the Nintendo 64 original, and is a much better per-game bargain as a part of this package than a la carte. If you don’t already own the game off of Xbox Live Arcade, then the online price of this and its sequel practically pays for the entire collection.
Jet Force Gemini
I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect with this one when I went in, and after playing it, my feelings remain mixed.
There were initially complaints about the control scheme, designed for the Nintendo 64’s rather unique controller, that didn’t seem to play very nicely with modern controllers and sensibilities. Rare would go on to patch this post-release with an option for something a little more contemporary, but in either case, I felt like they were a bit iffy to get used to, assuming one can get used to them at all.
Part of this includes the odd way that targeting points in the direction the character is facing, rather than the camera, so if your character is facing the camera, the whole thing flips around on you when you try to target an enemy who is right in front of the camera. Throw in enemies who ambush you in cheap ways that are hard to counter if you’re not adept with the controls, a weird feature where the right stick makes you strafe instead of moving the camera (which you really can’t except while aiming or moving), and toss some difficult jumps on top of all that, and you’ve got a game that feels as much like it’s tough to play as it might simply be tough. Heck, even the Rare Replay menu button doesn’t seem to want to play nicely with the game.
That isn’t to say that it doesn’t have its charms. Though there isn’t much voice acting to be heard, the characters still have a unique charm to them which harks back to pre-80’s style sci-fi without being cheesy about it. You wind up in Mogwai central, trying to help the little guys while finding the crew mates who escaped the attack on your ship before you, and there is some neat search-and-rescue/destroy stuff. You’re out to rescue the little Mogwai-like creatures from their alien aggressors, but if you’re not careful, you can off them just as easily as you can your foes. Add in some areas accessible only by acquiring new weapons, and there’s some fun to be had by going off the beaten path.
There’s certainly something here, and while this original release hasn’t quite won me over, the concept is enough that I’d love to see a remake on modern consoles and an interface that doesn’t seem like as much of a threat to the player as the guys actually trying to kill you.
Oh man, here we go. It’s no secret that First-Person Shooters (FPS) and I do not get along very well at all, and this game is a firm reminder of why. Not because it’s bad, but simply because I’m so bad at them. Even so, I felt like I was moving along okay, despite fumbling around the opening mission like an ox trying to drive a Ford. The auto-aim did help, however.
Basically, protagonist Joanna Dark feels sort of like “if Lara Croft were a secret agent.” Which, given this was basically built to follow on from GoldenEye 007, makes a fair amount of sense. I do love the music and visual style of what I’ve seen, which is very “future James Bond-ish,” in my opinion.
My opinion on FPS games is probably not worth a whole lot to anyone, but I will say that if I did go in for them, I could easily see this being one I’d start with (or maybe move on to after Doom?).
Like Banjo-Kazooie, this is the remastered Xbox 360 version at a steep discount. Strangely enough, the game seemed to really be pushing things as I tried to play, as it almost seemed to struggle to load — at least at first.
With only 30 minutes to try, I am really not sure how different Banjo-Tooie is from its predecessor. After a rather lengthy opening cut scene, though, you do find yourself back in the same opening area as the first game, complete with all of Banjo’s moves from the first game intact (and maybe some new ones as well? I’m not even quite sure). It isn’t long after this point, however, before you’re thrust into a whole new world.
I’m not quite sure what else to say about this one, as this is where the half-hour time limit has probably worked against me the most throughout the entire disc thus far. I think the graphics might have seen a slight improvement over the original, but beyond that, it appears to be more of what you love if you enjoyed the original game.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day
And finally, we come to what might be the most controversial game on the entire disc. This is the original Conker’s Bad Fur Day from the Nintendo 64, rather than the watered-down (but graphically enhanced) remake from the original Xbox, and it has the content warning on the front to prove it. That’s right — this, along with the two Perfect Dark titles, is why this compilation sports an M for Mature rating on the front of the box.
At its core, Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a 3D platformer not unlike what we’ve seen here already with the two Banjo Kazooie games. Unlike those games, this one seems to follow on from the sensibilities of classic cartoons like Bugs Bunny or Screwy Squirrel, albeit with a more contemporary adult nature (not that a lot of vintage toons didn’t have jokes for adults as well, but “adult” content now is much more risque than it was then).
There’s even some fourth wall-breaking fun, but styled more to fit a video game — I suppose Deadpool would be a fair comparison there. It even utilizes context-sensitive buttons in such a way that adds to the cartoony feel, with Conker able to pull out just what he needs for the given situation.
Unfortunately, my 30 minutes were not the most kind to me. You can’t skip cut scenes at first (which, for the first time on this collection, are fully voice acted), but that didn’t prove as much a problem as some controls which felt more slippery than either Mario or Banjo. This led to me falling down to the bottom of the opening area… a lot. Enough so that it practically felt like a cartoon running gag unto itself, though it got less funny and more frustrating over time (sort of like some Family Guy bits). Conker does do a helicopter spin with his tail ala Sonic’s sidekick Tails, though it’s not quite as good. Must be the lack of a second appendage there.
Incidentally, things don’t always stay done here like in other games of this type. There’s a gargoyle you have to get past near the beginning, and after dealing with him, I ended up falling back down at some point. He was there when I returned, and I thought something new might be going on, but no — just a repeat of the whole sequence I’d done before.
I would like to spend more time with the game at some point, though having been exposed to its sense of humor, I can also say that I’d love a sequel (if not a remake) someday which employs a cel-shaded visual style which better mimics the look of the classic cartoons which so clearly influenced the original. In fact, I have little question it would go over better with fans of this game and its remake than their concept for HoloLens.
And that’s Part 3 of Rare Replay in the bag! I hope to have the final batch done and written up sometime before 2018, but in the meantime, I still have a few other long-overdue Xbox One delights to review, as well as a few other more recent offerings as well. This may very well be the best lot of the bunch, as the Banjo games, Perfect Dark, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and Battletoads Arcade are all pretty strong offerings and, up to this point, provide the bulk of the support for getting this compilation.
Next time, in the fourth and final part, we come full circle (in a way) as we get to the games designed for the family of platforms Rare now calls home in Xbox and Xbox 360. Will their offerings continue to hold up? Check back to find out!
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.