How the Games of ‘Rare Replay’ Laid the Groundwork For Some of Today’s Biggest Titles
A bunch of old-school games has gone to number one in the UK, and here are just some of the reasons why.
Rare Replay was released last week and it's already proven to be something of a hit. In the UK it promptly leapt straight to the top of the all-format games charts, becoming the first ever Xbox One exclusive to do so and Rare's first UK number one since Banjo-Kazooie 17 years ago.
Mind you, it's little wonder: considering it offers 30 of the Twycross studio's finest games for a measly £19.99 it's clearly one of the greatest gaming deals in recent memory.
What may be less clear as you play, however, is the number of innovations present in the perfectly preserved games on offer. Much like the Beatles' music and the high jump's Fosbury flop, many of the games in Rare Replay pioneered exciting new ideas that have been replicated so many times since it's easy to take them for granted.
Here's just five examples of game design in Rare Replay that felt fresh and innovative when its games were originally released, as well as the modern titles that owe at least part of their success to the Rare games that came before them.
Atic Atac – The Legend Of Zelda
In the early 1980s arcade games were still the order of the day and as such the vast majority of games were designed with linear, straightforward goals – clear the maze, destroy all the aliens, race to the end and so forth – in order to both be easy to understand and force a Game Over relatively quickly.
This all changed as home computers and consoles started to become prevalent in homes and developers realised they were able to make games that didn't need to be over in five minutes. They could instead be proper epic adventures.
1986's The Legend Of Zelda for the NES is often credited with pioneering the non-linear RPG-style adventure, but that's mainly because America wasn't really exposed to the ZX Spectrum, which had been offering games that did a similar thing for years. A full three years before Zelda, Rare released Atic Atac on Sinclair's popular home computer and the BBC Micro.
Atic Atac offered many gameplay mechanics that the first Zelda later also featured. Players were given a top-down viewpoint and were asked to navigate a dungeon, finding keys and other items that could be used to defeat the enemies that inhabited each room. Even though the Zelda series has evolved drastically in the decades since, its dungeons still retain those basic non-linear concepts.
Knight Lore – Diablo III
The relatively low processing power of home computers during the early '80s meant that most games tended to have one of two different viewpoints: side-on or top-down.
1984's Knight Lore was one of the games that was instrumental in combining both to add a third new viewpoint: the isometric perspective, which offered a unique 3D-style look.
It's perhaps a little hard to imagine it a massive 31 years later, but back then players and critics alike were blown away by Knight Lore's revolutionary appearance. "I've never seen graphics as good as this on any micro game," said CVG magazine back in 1985.
The isometric viewpoint went on to become a mainstay of gaming, especially during the 8bit and 16bit sprite-based days. Although these days the use of polygonal graphics mean players can usually rotate the camera angle however they wish, some notable games such as The Sims 4 and Diablo III continue to favour an isometric viewpoint as default.
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RC Pro-Am – Super Mario Kart
Before 1992, the kart-racing subgenre didn't exist. There was no Super Mario Kart and therefore no countless imitators trying to replicate the same combination of chaotic, tight racing gameplay and a cast of familiar characters.
Five years before the Mario Kart series began though, Rare released RC Pro-Am on the NES. Though it wasn't a kart game – it used dinky little remote-controlled cars instead – it still established some of the mechanics that would ultimately also end up in the Mario-themed racer.
It featured speed boosts and oil slicks, though those had been seen in games that preceded it. What was less common at the time, though, was the addition of explosive weaponry.
RC Pro-Am players could collect either bombs to be dropped behind them (like bananas) or rockets which could be fired ahead in a straight line (like green shells), and though it predated Super Mario Kart by half a decade it was still an immensely satisfying feeling to take out a rival with a well-aimed shot.
Digger T. Rock – Spelunky
One of the lesser known games in Rare Replay, 1990's Digger T. Rock puts players in the role of the titular Digger as he explores the Lost City in search of hidden treasure.
The game is a side-scrolling platformer in which players have to explore a number of large caves, using explosives and ladders to navigate their surroundings while also avoiding enemy attacks and fatal falls. Eventually you come across shops that let you buy new tools with the treasure you find.
The above paragraph, completely unaltered, can also be attributed to much-loved indie game Spelunky. Though its most obvious influence (as the name suggests) is the Atari 800 game Spelunker, it still has to be noted how impressive it is that Digger T. Rock came so close to nailing the formula some 22 years before Derek Yu's demanding modern indie classic.
Mind you, there is one major difference: Digger T. Rock is significantly easier than Yu's game, so at least you'll still have all your hair intact by the end if you play it.
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Perfect Dark – Halo
It would be silly and outright wrong to suggest Rare invented the console first-person shooter, since there were plenty that came first: the SNES ports of Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, for starters.
That said, it's also fair to argue that Rare was the first company to make a console FPS with a truly revolutionary multiplayer mode, with the release of GoldenEye 007 in 1997.
Alas, GoldenEye isn't on Rare Replay due to licensing issues – and as long as other publishers retain the Bond license there will be no re-release any time soon. Instead, Rare Replay features its spiritual successor, Perfect Dark.
This was one of the first console FPS games to feature a sci-fi setting and a detailed narrative, which each mission adding to the story and placing the character in between warring factions. Although Halo was released a year and a half later and ultimately went on to spawn a far more successful sci-fi FPS series, let's not forget that Joanna Dark did it first.
Rare Replay is out now and if you have an Xbox One you should probably own it already.
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