Review: Rare Replay for Xbox One – Part 1: The ZX Spectrum Years

30 years, 30 games, 30 dollars, 30 minutes each.

Rare is something of a legend as a developer in the video game business, and in 2015, they opted to celebrate their storied history by releasing Rare Replay, a collection of some of their best and brightest hits from the past thirty-plus years. As a fan of a number of their titles from over the years, this was one of the games which convinced me that I needed to own an Xbox One.

Given their legacy, I decided I wanted to do something special and unique for my look at this game. It celebrates 30 years of Rare with 30 games for 30 dollars. Inspired by GameTrailers’ “The First Fifteen,” in which Kyle Bosman and a guest would play an obscure game for just 15 minutes, I decided it would only be fitting if I played each game for 30 minutes each.

I imagine a lot of reviewers, who generally just give an overview of the entire package, didn’t spend quite so much time with any specific game, save for maybe a few favorites. Heck, I’m guilty of going through collections and playing a lot of unheard of games for only a few minutes before moving on to the next one. But for better or for worse, each game in this collection will be played for a full timed 30 minute period. No breaks, no coming back to it later, no quitting early. It’s 30 or bust.

Suffice to say, alongside other games and things I’m doing, it’s taking a bit of time to squeeze in. For some games, 30 minutes just isn’t enough, while for others? 30 minutes can feel like an eternity (and I hate to say it, but most of those are front-loaded).

Before I start getting into each game, I just wanted to point out that the installation time on this one is a killer — nine titles have to be installed from Xbox Live Arcade, plus Rare Replay itself, which unfortunately comes last. Rare Replay itself is the last thing to install, though you can at least get started on it when it’s closed to being finished. All told, it took about an hour to get everything ready to go as my 500GB hard drive usage jumped from 28.4 percent to 40.9 percent once it was done. On the bright side, I hear you can delete the Xbox Live Arcade installations after if you need to free up some room.

Now then, down to business. It all begins with the ZX Spectrum, when Rare was not known as Rare, but rather “Ultimate Play the Game.”

jetpac

Jetpac

I’ll be up front about this: when I began to play this game, I began to immediately regret my decision to do the 30 minute thing. Fortunately, Rare –er, Ultimate Play the Game’s inaugural 1983 release soon grew on me.

Basically, you take control of a space traveler named Jetman who uses his rocket pack to fly around the screen and collect gems, fuel, and pieces of a rocket ship, the latter of which he must bring to a certain part of the screen to drop and assemble into a completed spacecraft, allowing him to leave the stage. Tons of space aliens get in the way, however, but you have a trusty laser beam to keep them at bay.

It’s more colorful than I imagined, with some visuals changing color in a Defender sort of way. There’s no music here, but overall it reminds me of one of my favorite games from the early Nintendo Entertainment System library, Balloon Fight. But with a jetpack and lasers instead of balloons.

In what begins something of an unfortunate pattern, though, the enemies are extremely relentless in their constant spawning and pursuit. The save, rewind, and infinite lives cheats are all handy, if not essential to surviving for very long.

I can’t wait to try the remake (also included) later, but that’s not for another 24 years. We’ve got a way to go.

lunarjetman

Lunar Jetman

Wow, Ultimate Play the Game was busy in 1983! Jetpac wasn’t released until May that year, and it was followed by two more games, including this sequel.

Like many video game sequels from the 80s, Lunar Jetman plays little if anything like its predecessor. What’s more, it effectively represents what it would be like if a game and its designers actively hated the people playing it.

The basic controls are much like Jetpac, only now you have to mind a fuel gauge. What’s more, you’re charged with utilizing a lunar rover that is nigh useless, as it’s incapable of traversing even slightest bumpy terrain that you will inevitably encounter. Enemy spawning here is even faster and more malicious than Jetpac, and they do much of the damage to the ground. You can repair it to a degree, though the process is slow and difficult as you must fend off these high-speed foes.

It’s difficult to imagine there being anyone who can get anywhere in this game. While I’m sure they must exist somewhere, they must be few and far between. Even the cheats included were of little use, and while the rover provides a safe haven, you can barely step outside of it without dying.

The idea is cool in theory, but in execution? That’s 30 minutes I won’t be getting back.

aticatac

Atic Atac

The third of the 1983 releases included in this collection, the title makes it appear that the company got sick of the letter “K” well before Mortal Kombat was ever a thing.

This game is fairly interesting, as it reminds me a little bit of The Legend of Zelda with its one screen = one room layout. And like that game (perhaps even more so), it’s the kind you need to draw a map for, though I wonder how many people today would have the patience for that. Interestingly, I think I spotted some shades of what would eventually become Wizards & Warriors here, too.

You have three characters to choose from: a wizard, a knight, and a serf. Each one has their own secret passages throughout the castle, helping make sure each has a different experience. You’ll also find a variety of items, some useful and some not. You can only carry three at a time, however, so you have to be careful which you choose. Outside of the keys, though, I had a tough time figuring out what any of them were supposed to do.

Atic Atac isn’t too bad, but definitely requires a lot of patience and perseverance.

sabrewulf

Sabre Wulf

Okay, so it’s not just “K.” Rare’s odd penchant for misspelling common words continues with this 1984 title, whose name may ring some bells for fans of Killer Instinct.

Where Atic Atac felt similar to The Legend of Zelda‘s underworld, so too does Sabre Wulf feel similar to its overworld — right down to being another game in which a map would be quite useful.

While the visuals and theme are kind of neat here, loose, sloppy controls really hamper the overall experience. You can only attack to your left or right, and I ended up just holding the button down while moving around after turning on the infinite lives cheat. Doing that, I managed to track down one of the four amulet pieces needed to complete the game’s objective.

Though I imagine blunt force isn’t the way the developers originally intended people to play, it was how I was able to get the most out of it as I took in some nice jungle scenery. For something so heavily built on trial and error, I can imagine this would be the way for a lot of others to go, too.

underwurlde

Underwurlde

Just as Lunar Jetman flipped the script on Jetpac, so too does this 1984 sequel to Sabre Wulf flip the script as players once again take control of Sabreman and explore dark caverns.

My lord, where to begin with this one. Basically, it’s a platformer in which you’re bounced around by enemies and set pieces alike, all on top of very clumsy controls. The way Sabreman jumps is nothing short of bizarre, sometimes doing so automatically and other times requiring a button press. Either way, his arc is fixed, and you’re either going to wind up in one of two place: exactly where you want to be, or far more often, falling to your doom.

As per the norm so far, there are tons of respawning enemies to knock you off-track, too. On the bright side, you don’t take damage through conventional means, but will lose a life when you inevitably go plummeting too far.

Like Lunar Jetman, this was another game which led me to regret the whole “30 minute” idea (it does get better, at least). Underwurlde is aptly named, for it is truly Hell. Hard to believe this came from Rare (in a manner of speaking).

knightlore

Knight Lore

Another Sabreman game?! And yet Wizards & Warriors gets nothing in this collection.

This time around, we get an isometric view to go with our utterly shite controls, and inconsistent movement speed doesn’t help matters. I’m guessing/assuming that the way the game will often stutter and chug along is for authenticity, but it’s not really a welcome inclusion.

I get challenge, but this is another instance where it feels like the developers hate the player, as traps will kill you that are literally hidden outside of your view, and they’re everywhere. On top of that, you’ve only got 14 very brief in-game days to find the cure for Sabreman’s lycanthropy, which seems to do nothing more than just get in your way as you meander about aimlessly.

I was wrong; Underwurlde isn’t Hell, it’s just one level of it. The only value in Knight Lore‘s inclusion is historical, maybe nostalgic for some. In a package that amounts to basically one game for one dollar each, its mere presence effectively inflates the cost of all the other games by a slim margin.

Knight Lore just leaves me wanting to beat the crap out of Sabrewulf in Killer Instinct.

gunfright

Gunfright

The sole game from 1985 in this package, one would think that as a western, Gunfright would be right up my alley. And admittedly, I was quite looking forward to this one.

Unfortunately, we just have more badly-moving isometric stuff. You’re hunting down outlaws, but you’re penalized as much for hitting townsfolk as you are for hitting outlaws, which is a problem as many of them run around like crazy. One time, I got a Game Over from them well before ever finding an outlaw. I also question the helpfulness of the ones who point you in the direction of the outlaw you’re tasked with finding, as few (if any) ever seem to be quite on track with that.

When you do find an outlaw and initiate a duel by shooting him, you’ve got to track them with your cursor and shoot them before they can shoot you. Using a Dpad or analog stick, that works precisely as well as you would expect it to.

The game has some neat ideas, like the costs of items and bounties changing a lot, and the overall theme is great despite the sloppy execution. One aspect I liked is that with the push of a button, you can basically flip the camera and view everything from the opposite angle of what you start with.

Still, Red Dead this ain’t. Gunfright is terrible to play and not worth celebrating on a collection like this; the only part I’ll be celebrating is never having to play it again.

Really, it’s almost emblematic of a lot of these early Ultimate Play the Game titles from the ZX Spectrum days: great ideas that would likely benefit from being remade with more modern sensibilities. They sound great in a description, but in most cases, actually playing them paints a very different picture.

Fortunately, things are looking up in the next part of the Rare Replay review as the newly-rechristened company discover the Nintendo Entertainment System and starts giving us a peek at the true brilliance they would come to be known for.

rarereplayboxRare Replay was released for the Xbox One on August 4th, 2015 at a price of $29.99.

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.

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David Oxford

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.