- The Washington Times - Friday, August 14, 2015

The history of a famed British video game developer comes to interactive life to celebrate its 30th anniversary in Rare Replay (Microsoft Studios, rated Everyone to Mature depending on game, reviewed for Xbox One, $29.99).

Players get a whopping 30 games to enjoy in a compilation spanning three decades of creative might from the company based in Twycross, Leicestershire, England.

If a player can deal with the download package that will consume precious storage space on their Xbox One (50 gigabytes to be exact), they will find a fantastic chronicle of the evolution of the gaming industry.

First, a bit of perspective; Rare Ltd. was well known for its work on such legendary titles as “Donkey Kong Country” and “GoldenEye 007” for Nintendo before being bought by Microsoft in 2002. The company continued its excellent track record with the games “Perfect Dark Zero” and “Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts,” to name a few.

The collection does not offer the Nintendo giant releases but near all else including, deep breath, “Jetpac,” “Atic Atac,” “Lunar Jetman,” “Sabre Wulf,” “Underwurlde,” “Knight Lore,” “Gunfright,” “Slalom,” “R.C. Pro-Am,” “Cobra Triangle,” “Snake Rattle N Roll,” “Digger T. Rock,” “Solar Jetman,” “Battletoads,” “R.C. Pro-Am II,” “Battletoads Arcade,” “Killer Instinct Gold,” “Blast Corps,” “Banjo-Kazooie,” “Jet Force Gemini,” “Perfect Dark,” “Banjo-Tooie,” “Conker’s Bad Fur Day,” “Grabbed by the Ghoulies,” “Perfect Dark Zero,” “Kameo: Elements of Power,” “Viva Piñata,” “Jetpac Refuelled,” “Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts” and “Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise.”

About a third of the games will take humans back to the days when 8-bit, incredibly pixelated graphics ruled the home-entertainment consoles. Some of these titles were near-impossible to conquer and belong in a virtual museum, but the masterpieces that stand out will cause a gamer to get lost for hours upon hours on his Xbox One.

What’s equally fascinating about “Rare Replay” is the package does not just give us the action-packed fun but delivers an historical video series about the company and its artisans, if you are willing to seriously spend lots of time playing the games.

Through the area called “Rare Revealed,” you can unlock all the goodies (about an hour’s worth of video to start) by collecting stamps (330 possible) for accomplishing milestones or achievements in the games

Another way to collect stamps is by taking on the “Snapshot” minigames that remix some of the game’s action in bite-sized challenges.

It’s a double-edged sword for gaming historians as they have to prove their skills to dig deep into the “Rare” archives that even include quick looks at games that never made it into production, such as “Black Widow” and “Kameo 2.”

Frankly, I love the concept, but it will be too time-consuming for the average player.

For more icing on the cake, titles are easily accessed from a colorful menu and curtain-raising presentation that also showcases a new company theme song (too funny).

Still, it is about the games, so here is a quick look at a few of my favorites from the collection.

* Battletoads Arcade (released in 1994) — Available for the first time for home consoles, the game offers a trio of muscle-bound amphibians to choose from as they attempt to stop the galaxy-dominating plans of the Dark Queen. This Tex Avery-violent, side-scrolling brawler comes loaded with adult humor spread out over six large levels.

* Kameo: Elements of Power (released in 2005, 1 to 2 players locally or online) — This launch title for the Xbox 360 is a wonderful fantasy, combat adventure assembling a cast of heroes and villains that one might find in the “Dark Crystal.” A player controls a shape-shifting elf princess as she battles Thorn the Troll King and his minions while in search of her family. Her transformations were epic and included a man-eating plant (that could box); a yeti; a thick-skinned, rolling armadillo; and fire-breathing dragon.

* Grabbed by the Ghoulies (released in 2003, 1 player) — Rare’s first title for Microsoft was a smash literally as a player controlled Cooper Chance in search of his girlfriend in Baron von Ghoul’s haunted castle while causing destructive mayhem in every room he visits. The 3-D action felt slightly like a Disney-like version of the “Groovie Ghoulies” with some slick creatures to fight, including zombies, skeletons, mummies and occasional visits from the Grim Reaper.

* Conker’s Bad Fur Day (released in 2001, 1 to 4 players) — Built for the Nintendo 64, this action platformer  stars an alcoholic squirrel just trying to get home to his attractive chipmunk girlfriend after his long night of drinking. The 3-D graphics were state of the art at the time while the risque humor and anthropomorphic characters were hilariously shocking.

* Viva Pinata (released in 2006, 1 to 2 players) — Youngsters tend to a lush garden in this complex, life simulation. My original review of the game back in 2006 called it “Microsoft’s more robust version of Nintendo’s Animal Crossing,” and it was guaranteed to cause arguments as the entire family usually got involved in the colorful decision-making.

By the way, developers also add plenty of nuances to the games such as playing the 8-bit classics though a display on an old cathode ray television screen. Better yet, additional options include a rewind feature to reverse the action to tackle difficult parts of a level over again or ways to cheat levels with unlimited lives.

Without a doubt, “Rare Replay” truly offers a special gaming experience for any aged member of the family while exploring one of the more creative leaders in the interactive home entertainment industry.

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