I picked up a copy of Rare Replay yesterday. Rare Replay is a compilation of 30 games developed by Rare, famed Nintendo second party developer in the 90s (though not so much as a Microsoft first party dev in the 00s). You may have heard of or played some their games: Battletoads, RC Pro-Am, Killer Instinct, Donkey Kong Country, Goldeneye 007, Banjo-Kazooie, Viva Pinata, etc. Those are some heavy weight classics and you could do a lot worse for $30. As for me, I highly doubt that I’ll go through the 10,000 gamer score point grind but I did feel the need to play a few of my old n64 favorites again, specifically Jet Force Gemini and Perfect Dark.
And before I forget to mention it: no, Goldeneye isn’t in the collection; with the byzantine licensing agreements in place for the game, it’s doubtful that the 1997 game will ever appear on a non-Nintendo console. And of course other Nintendo IPs don’t appear here either such as Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong.
Jet Force Gemini
One of the last n64 games that I would get before moving onto the sixth gen consoles. Had I not made the arbitrary “nothing before 2000” cut off in my Back Catalog project, I would have had to include it there since I never technically finished it. As best as I can tell, Jet Force Gemini was a smorgasbord of the various interests of the Rare development team:
Jet Force Gemini’s inspirations were manifold. “It’s fair to say that many games from the team’s collective past influenced Jet Force Gemini, from ‘80s arcade classics right up to the most recent titles of the day,” recalls [Rare Lead Programmer Paul] Mountain.
The entire article is an interesting read over at Nintendolife if you want to know more about the background of the game.
It’s been about 15 years since I last played the game, and sometimes it’s good to get a reminder of where design was and how far it’s come. There’s not much to complain about in terms of the scope of the world; it’s intended to be massive and somewhat non-linear like any good adventure game. My biggest problem: the awful controls. Jet Force Gemini has a dual control scheme that’s innovative (for it’s time) but for anybody who’s played a modern third person shooter can be frustratingly complex.
You move about the game world as you might expect, with an analog stick. But once you engage “combat mode” but trying to aim, the controls in essence flip – the move stick becomes your aiming stick, while the other is what you use to move your avatar around. It’s slightly mind-bending just trying to describe it. As a review noted, it takes about an hour to get used to the scheme. That must be somewhat true, as I certainly don’t remember having that much difficulty with the controls. But then again in late 1999 I might not have known better. The Xbox One, of course, has an advantage over the n64 in that it has two analog sticks vs. the sole center one on the n64’s “claw” controller. I didn’t try to modify the settings to take advantage of the two sticks, so I’ll have to take a look at that in the future.
I’m glad I didn’t stream my first run against Mizar’s evil ant drones in the caves. You probably would have wondered how much I had been drinking before playing the game. I ultimately abandoned precision aiming of the “combat mode” to aim with my body, in a kind of weirdly primitive blind fire exercise. That’s how awkward and non-intuitive the dual control system can be.
Update August 6, 2015: Rare has indeed released a post launch patch to JFG, allowing you to choose a “modern” control scheme. Much, much better.
I’ve done much better here.
It’s hard to recreate the sense of the hype for Perfect Dark as the n64’s life cycle was winding down. In the post Goldeneye craze, Rare had definitely acquired “golden” status amongst the Nintendo faithful. They could do no wrong – though there would be no Goldeneye sequel, it certainly wasn’t their fault that the Bond license was lost to EA. The spiritual successor, Perfect Dark, wasn’t going to be as good as Goldeneye – it was going to surpass it in every way. For me, this was also post Metal Gear Solid, so I was hoping that Nintendo would get some sort of answer to that for its swan song.
Rare had ported Perfect Dark to the Xbox Live Arcade a number of years ago and it appears that this is an emulated copy of that version. The controls are much more familiar as an FPS – especially using the “Duty Calls” variant scheme (you can probably figure out what game it’s based on).
As you can imagine some of the luster has faded off Rare’s masterpiece in the intervening 15 years. The thing that sticks out the most for me though is the laughably corny in-game dialog of your enemies. As you take out the bad guys they’ll shout out some last words. I had forgotten about that. Here are some of the lines I find amusing:
As for the rest: the FPS world has definitely moved on from this kind of game since Rare ruled the world and it’s not hard to see why. It’s closer to Doom or Quake in terms of pacing than Call of Duty or Halo. The level designs reflect this reality, so the firefights end up feeling more like shooting galleries than tactical battles. I won’t discuss the plot in detail, but, if you even have a passing familiarity with the X-Files you know the story here. And if you don’t get the reference: alien conspiracy.
I may try the multiplayer out at some point, but I remember playing more with bots via local multiplayer than others. Goldeneye remained the heavy favorite with my buddies and in the dorms, at least until Halo hit the scene in 2001.
Rare Replay Review
I don’t have it in me to go through every game, though I will be giving Battletoads and Killer Instinct Gold whirls after I’m done with JFG and PD. But in terms of monetary value $30 is a steal for 30 games, especially the classics, if you’re at all interested in the history of video games. Rare puts on a clinic of good design (for the most part) and impressive technical achievements. Not to mention you’ll be getting both XBox 360 launch titles from them. Yes, such was the prestige of this dev house that Microsoft entrusted two very big spots in its 2005 console. And that’s not to mention how much of the 90s Nintendo line up was dominated by the company’s efforts.