Rare Replay – A Compilation Done Right

Rare Replay CoverI recently picked up the new Rare Replay compilation that just came out on the Xbox One. It’s the third compilation game that I’ve grabbed on the console, after Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Borderlands: The Handsome Collection. Of the three, the latter two are definitely I think the better executed of the bunch. I’ve written plenty about how Master Chief Collection just falls flat in its delivery already so I won’t belabor the point here. Instead I want to talk about what makes the Rare Replay work so well.

For starters, value is really important with these compilation games. Rare Replay shines here – there are 30 games celebrating the 30 years that Rare has been a company. That’s already a good start, but add in that the price is only $30 and that adds up to a really awesome value just from looking at it from the top down. But when you look at some of the games in the collection, that’s really where the value starts to show. Banjo Kazooie, Banjo Tooie, Battletoads and Blast Corps are all classic games over the last 30 years that each would be easily worth more than the $1 dollar on the collection. The fact that there are some truly hidden gems on the collection (R.C. Pro Am, Sabrewulf, Conkers Bad Fur Day) just helps add even more to the value.

Battletoads Cover

But the reason why I think this collection and the Borderlands collection do so well, while Master Chief falls short is because they don’t rely on it all being in one place. Borderlands 2 and The Pre-Sequel are actually separate downloaded titles – Handsome Collection is just the only way to get them on the Xbox One right now. Rare Replay takes a similar approach – all the previous 360 titles are downloaded and launched separate from the main game, which has the older titles on it. That makes trouble shooting a whole lot easier, and I would have to think that coding it a hell of a lot simpler too. The big lesson that I think we can learn from Master Chief is that having multiple game engines running in one title can be terribly problematic. With Rare Replay the emulators are limited – an NES, Arcade, N64 and Original Xbox – each older consoles with more stable emulation. Pulling the 360 games out as separate entities helps keep it that way. It is easier to address any future issues with the emulation on the older games this way.

The other thing that helps make Rare Replay special is the love behind the game. Master Chief came close – it really is an incredible collection of the Chief’s adventures so far, and does feel like a love letter to his story. But Rare Replay takes it even farther – with behind the scenes videos detailing the studios history, to go along with specific ones on games. There’s a lot more bonus content with this beyond the 30 games than in either of the other two collections. Add in to that the fact that Rare has always been a very unique studio, doing things their way, and it just feels right. In the end, even if there is only a couple games you’re interested in here, you really should pick it up. The value is awesome, the games play great, and there’s some legitimate gaming history here.

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Weekly News Recap: Week of March 2, 2015

This week, we got a hell of a lot of news dropped on us. The Game Developers Conference was this week, and this weekend is PAX East in Boston. Normally GDC doesn’t really produce much in the way of huge news bombshells. This year though, we got two pretty big stories out of the conference. Add in a major pre-PAX announcement and we had a nice week.

SimCity Logo

EA CLOSES MAXIS EMERYVILLE
Right in the middle of GDC, EA announced that they would be closing down Maxis Emeryville. Maxis is best known as the studio behind Sim City. Whether or not the closing is a result of the whole cluster-eff that was the launch of Sim City, that’s probably not ever going to be made public. Regardless, it’s always rough news to see a studio, especially one with pedigree get closed. I doubt that EA will kill the Sim City franchise – or The Sims, another Maxis franchise. Both are incredibly popular franchises, so I don’t see EA pulling their plugs. That said it is sad news to see the studio close.

Shovel Knight Battletoads

MICROSOFT PUSHES INDIE TITLES HARD
At Microsoft’s GDC press event they may have made a bit of a surprise move. Instead of showing off some of the big triple A titles that are in the works for the Xbox One this year, they instead picked a good number of indie titles to show off. The big surprise was that Microsoft announced that Shovel Knight will be making an appearance on the Xbox One this year. And then they added to it with an appearance of the Battletoads – further adding speculation to the thought that we might be seeing a new Battletoads game soon. The list of games that Xbox has in the works looks really good – I’ve been particularly interested in Cuphead since E3 last year.

Rock Band 4

HARMONIX MAKES ME INCREDIBLY HAPPY, ANNOUNCES ROCK BAND 4
The final major of the week was the pre-PAX announcement from Harmonix that we’ll finally be getting Rock Band 4. That alone would be enough to make my day – but they went farther. Rock Band 4 will be hitting Xbox One and PS4 this year – my guess would be this fall sometime. Details are still a little sparse – there’s no set-list for the disc yet, nor any word on the actual instrumentation. But in the announcement we did get a couple bullet points that are definitely important for us fans. The big one is that any songs that we’ve already purchased will work. Those 2,000 plus songs available right now, well they’ll all still be available to play with Rock Band 4. That alone makes me think we’ll see the same set of instruments that we have now – Guitar, Bass, Drums, Vocals and Keyboards. The other important detail is that they are producing new hardware for the game. I think Harmonix is well aware of the desire for fans to be able to use our existing instruments. I know the Xbox One does have a couple USB ports, so I think that’s still a possibility for the wired instruments, but wireless will probably need some sort of adapter or new instruments entirely. Beyond that though there’s still a lot to find out. Hopefully we’ll get a few more details this weekend from PAX East, and E3 at the latest. All I know is that I’m super pumped for this – I really can’t wait.

Speed Saves – How One Charity Event Changed My View on Speed Runs

Battletoads CoverI don’t think I’m totally alone with my original thoughts on speed runs. A few years back I thought of them as people missing the point of playing the games – they were just blazing through as fast as possible. My perspective on speed running has completely changed though – those original thoughts were just plain wrong. And my shift in thought is entirely due to Ray (of Achievement Hunter fame) continually talking up one runner in particular – Caleb Hart. I, on a whim, checked out his race of Mega Man X1 from AGDQ (Awesome Games Done Quick) last year with Zewing. I was 100% blown away. It wasn’t someone just racing through the game – it was a clinic on precision and skill to blitz through the game. I’ve since watched a number of runners, streams, and archived runs on YouTube – including a bunch from this year’s AGDQ, which is going on right now.

I look at speed runs now as more like an academic study of a particular game. The goal – ultimately a World Record time – is essentially your thesis, the lens you’re looking at the game through. The runners study the most basic elements of the games – frames and pixels – and break them down to help attain that WR. For example, Caleb is well known for a trick in Mega Man X called “Iceless.” It requires nailing a perfect wall dash jump, off of one specific pixel, and then grabbing a ledge thanks to again, one pixel. The precision required is unreal – I spent about 15 minutes trying one day to get it. And now Caleb is able to hit it, consistently, in the middle of a run. It’s incredibly common to hear runners talk about frame-perfect and pixel perfect jumps. The Mexican Runner, a runner who specializes in Battletoads, in his run from last year’s AGDQ explains the mechanic for dash-jumping in Battletoads. It’s an NES game that runs at 60fps, and in order to dash and carry that momentum into a jump, it requires frame perfect input – and watching his runs makes you realize just what level of skill these players are playing at.

Mega Man X

One last game that I think perfectly exemplifies speed running (MMX is a great one too) is the SNES classic, Super Metroid. It’s a game that has been run countless times, but even as recently as last summer had new tactics discovered. Go watch the videos on YouTube – Zoast’s run at SGDQ (Summer Games Done Quick) 2013, the four-way race at AGDQ 2014 and Zoast and Ivan’s runs from SGDQ last year – and you’ll quickly get a good feel for just how much that game’s mechanics have evolved and become more understood. The runs themselves are always impressive, but the best parts of these runs are the couch commentators – the other runners, not currently playing that help breakdown the crazy tactics required to play that fast. The Super Metroid runs all have Golden on the couch, Battletoads has PJ, and Caleb handles both duties with his runs generally. These runners understand that with these events, the audience is way larger than usual, thanks to the added aspect that both GDQ’s are also charity drives. This year’s AGDQ is raising money for the Prevent Cancer Foundation – and has raised well over $500K already.

If you’ve never thought about watching speed runs, this is the very best time to start – there are incredible runs online from the AGDQ already. They vary in games too – from well known classics like Super Mario Bros. 3, to hidden gems like Kid Chameleon. Regardless of which game you decide to start on, you’ll find a runner that’s supremely knowledgeable about their game, and shows off that skill with incredible precision.

10 Franchises That Need New Entries

E3 this year was a unique blend of new IP’s and the return of some old fan favorites. So now that we’ve all had plenty of time to digest the convention, and get our plans set for this fall’s release schedule, I thought a lot about other franchises that I feel really need a new entry as soon as possible. Some actually were answered at E3 – Battlefront, Star Fox and Mario Party – all come to mind. For my purposes here, I’m defining a franchise as a series with at least two entries already – so no Beyond Good and Evil or Dishonored, as much as I think they deserve them. I also am excluding franchises that are still being supported relatively well – The Elder Scrolls, Fallout – both had games come out recently, or have one in development. So let’s dive in, shall we?

Megaman 4

10. Mega Man
This is probably the most cop-out answer I have on the list, but that’s just because I’m a huge fan of the whole universe of Mega Man. The last new Mega Man game was technically the free Street Fighter X Mega Man from 2012, but before that it was Mega Man 10 way back in 2010. It’s a franchise that has a lot of options for expansion – l think the audience is there for pretty much every one of the different sub-franchises, in particular, the X series. It was a huge deal when Capcom cancelled Mega Man Legends 3 last year. I really think that Capcom just has to look at the response that Mega Man got with his introduction in Super Smash Bros. to see that the Blue Bomber still has a really strong fanbase – yours truly included.

Knights of the Old Republic

9. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
I’m not talking about the MMO that came out a couple years back – I want a proper Knights of the Old Republic 3, developed by BioWare. The last entry was way back in 2004, ten years ago, which in this day and age might as well be ancient history. While I am certain that the market for a new KOTOR game is there in spades, I just think the timing doesn’t look good for one anytime soon. BioWare has Dragon Age: Inquisition this fall, and a new Mass Effect in development along with a new mystery IP, so any chance of a new KOTOR is slim at this point. Maybe in a couple years.

G.I. Joe NES

8. G.I. Joe
Here’s one that newer games might scratch their heads at a bit. I’m not talking about games based around the movies from the last few years, I want a new game based around the 80’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero cartoon that a lot of us grew up on. I think that the universe is tailor made for a great game, it just needs the right studio. I was thinking someone like High Moon Studios, after their success with the Transformers: War for Cybertron/Fall of Cybertron games. And before anyone thinks this is a BS entry, there were two games (G.I. Joe and G.I. Joe: The Atlantis Factor) way back on the NES in 1991 and 92 respectively.

Final Fantasy Tactics

7. Final Fantasy Tactics
While the main Final Fantasy series is getting some much needed love in the next couple years, the Tactics sub-series hasn’t seen a new game since 2008. While it’s a major shift in style from the standard JRPG Original series, I think with the success of the 3DS, the platform for a new Tactical RPG style FF game is definitely there. I think the audience is there – Tactics is one of those “cult” classics that is well loved, but never really got the commercial success it deserved. Plus the success of this could convince Nintendo to get on a new Advance Wars game finally too.

Rock Band Blitz

6. Rock Band
Maybe a little bit of a cop-out, but it’s been four years since we saw Rock Band 3’s release, plus it’s been over a year since the weekly DLC was stopped. The issue is that Harmonix is hard at work on multiple projects – Fantasia, Dance Central, Amplitude – and I just think we have to keep waiting a little bit longer. Maybe once the new gen consoles have a bigger instal base the demand will be there. Luckily, this is a series that never loses fun, so I can still hop on RB3 and enjoy it like day one.

Metroid Logo

5. Metroid
I really hope that Nintendo feels that they’ve put enough distance between them and Other M to start working on a new Metroid game soon. I know that the desire is there from the fans – Kotaku recently had an article answering Miyamoto’s question as to what we wanted, and Metroid was the number one answer – we just need Nintendo to listen now. I think fans would be more than happy to take a new 2D, Super Metroid style game, or a new Metroid Prime game as well. Plus with the whole industry finally taking gender seriously and trying to have more strong female heroes, Samus stands out as being the OG (Other M excluded of course). I think this is a question of when, not if.

Battletoads Cover

4. Battletoads
It’s become a bit of a joke on the web, but honestly, it’s a fantastic series that I think would totally benefit from a new game. The original is still one of the hardest games I’ve ever played, and the spin-off with Double Dragon remains one of my favorite games from that era. It’s also been dormant for a long time – with the last home console game in 1994. That said, there’s a lot of fan support for the game, and RARE is well aware of it, adding in a Battletoads suit for Kinect Sports Rivals, which of course just fuels rumors. I think an ideal plan would be to release on the Xbox Live Arcade the previous games in a bundle to help introduce younger gamers, then work on a new Xbox One game, similar to the new Strider game.

ToeJam & Earl

3. Toejam & Earl
Another classic from that mid-early 90’s era of gaming, the two Toejam and Earl games that I think of came out in 1991 and 1993 respectively. They’re both great examples of how a game can be wacky and out-there and still be a lot of fun and, most importantly, sell well. I know there was a third game released on the Original Xbox in 2002, but it just didn’t have quite the same feeling to it as the originals did. With the resurgence of “old-school” style visuals all the rage now in games, I think the timing is great to do an Arcade release of a new game.

Earthworm Jim

2. Earthworm Jim
Sticking with the classics from the SNES/Genesis era that I loved growing up, Earthworm Jim might be my favorite of the bunch. The whole vibe of the game was like Ninja Turtles on crack, taking nothing too serious – a goldfish as a boss that you just tip over?! – while still delivering awesome gameplay, it struck a chord with me as a young gamer, and as stuck with me over the years. The HD remake on the XBLA a few years back was a welcome addition, but what I really want is a true sequel to the series – again, the time is perfect; games like this, that are self-aware, while still solid games are “in” now. Plus the TV show was freaking awesome.

Timesplitters

1. Timesplitters
There’s no series from the PS2 that I want to see brought back more than the Timesplitters, and it kills me, because when Free Radical closed, they were working on Timesplitters 4 and it just got swept up in the dust. The sad thing is that it’s a series that is well-loved, but misunderstood by the suits. After Crytek bought Free Radical, I think there was hesitation to put out a game that’s so far from their norm – no one could call the TS games serious shooters at all. While there’s been some rumblings of a fan-made Timesplitters 4 in the works, I really want to see Crytek take a chance and run with this, or sell the rights to a studio that can do it right; Insomniac Games jumps to my mind as a studio that could definitely do the series justice. I just think that it’s too fun a series to let waste away as a remnant of that generation.

That’s my list – and I know right away that I missed a few, especially big ones like Half-Life or Left 4 Dead, mainly because they’re so well-documented. I wanted to hit the ones that maybe get passed over these days. Do I think we’ll see these games – I never say never, this is probably the best time to be a gamer, especially one that loves the classic games of yesterday. Who knows – maybe by this time next year we’ll have some answers.