Rare Replay, a compilation of 30 games celebrating the revered 30-year history of developer Rare, is perhaps the easiest―and most difficult―review I’ve done in years. Easy because there’s an absolute irresistible amount of value in this collection, and challenging since it contains literally hundreds of hours of gameplay. While it would easily take months to play through all the games, you only need one night with Rare Replay to come to this conclusion: it’s worth the investment multiple times over.
A collection steeped in history
The gaming industry has gone through such profound change over the last thirty years, it’s somewhat rare (no pun intended) for a game company to have stuck around and thrived for as long as Rare has. We’re talking about a game company that cut its teeth during the same era as major development houses such as Acclaim, Psygnosis, Bullfrog, Ocean and THQ; all of which have subsequently closed their doors.
Rare, as a company, has stood the test of time, and now Rare Replay gives us a chance to see if their games have too. This compilation features 30 games from Rare and its predecessor company, Ultimate Play the Game, spanning a 32-year period going as far back as 1983. That’s six generations of gaming, from the 80’s golden era, all the way through Rare’s Nintendo 64 days, to their recent line-up of Xbox 360 games. With Rare Replay‘s manta of “30 games for 30 bucks,” it’s extraordinary, if not unbelievable, to get so many classic Rare games at literally a buck a pop.
Platform: Xbox One
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release date: August 4, 2015
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer
ESRB Rating: E-M (Everyone to Mature – rating varies by game)
A theatrical opening
Rare Replay’s catchy opening musical number gives us a wonderful reminder of how storied Rare’s legacy really is. The piece begins with the doors of an elegant, retro-style theatre opening up and whisking us through a twisty hallway of gorgeous portraits of Rare’s finest games. Inside the theatre we’re treated to a raucous papercraft performance, with lyrics that pay homage to the games, featuring many of the studio’s heroes and villains, including Conker, Banjo, Joanna, Piñatas, and more. If you’re not too familiar with Rare’s history going into this game, watching this musical introduction will make it abundantly clear the studio is something special.
Welcome to the Game Gallery
The game’s main selection screen mimics the theatrical décor with a beautiful gallery-style set-up that displays games with the honour they’ve rightfully earned. The game portraits are presented horizontally and sorted chronologically by default, which can be changed to alphabetical if you so choose. Selecting a game brings you to a more detail “Game Stage” area that gives you more information, such as a brief overview, its genre, the number of players it supports, and your progress to date. With 30 different titles to choose from, there are bound to ones you haven’t tried before, or ones you haven’t played in years (or decades, depending on how long you’ve been gaming!)
Stellar line-up of games
Microsoft touts over “700 hours” of gameplay included in Rare Replay and while I haven’t seen the breakdown of that figure by game, the bottom line is there’s enough content here to last you months. Included are 15 games from the NES era and before, including classic hits like Battletoads, R.C. Pro-Am, Jetpac, and Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll. Keep in mind that these are all the original versions of the games, and not remasters, so the controls and visuals remain untouched. Gamers used to modern, precision controls might find it a bit shocking how sluggish and lethargic the controls were back in the 80’s and 90’s. Most of these older games also didn’t come with any tutorials or warm-up stages, so don’t be surprised if you find games like Atic Atac and Knight Lore to be confusing, if not utterly unintelligible, compared to modern games. Despite these barriers, I found plenty of nostalgic gems worth playing, like Cobra Triangle (pictured above left), Digger T. Rock, and of course, Battletoads.
Rare Replay packs in 15 more modern classics, most notably some of Rare’s Nintendo 64 gems, their recent Xbox 360 games, and the awesome arcade version of Battletoads. Here there’s tons to enjoy, such as the incredible stealth shooter Perfect Dark, three Banjo-Kazooie games, and both of Rare’s irresistibly charming Viva Piñata outings. Here too I found some quality games I had never played before, like the third-person shooter Jet Force Gemini or the Xbox 360 launch title Kameo. What’s a little strange though is nine of the recent games included are Xbox Live Arcade versions that need to be installed separately, outside of the main Rare Replay install file. When you select one of these titles, it takes you out of the Rare Replay interface and load these games directly using the Xbox One’s new software-based emulation feature. You can jump back to Rare Replay at any time by holding a button, but the process feels more jumpy and disconnected than it should.
Helpful new features
For games pre-1995, there are a few helpful new options introduced in Rare Replay that can literally mean the difference between completing a game and giving up in frustration. The first is a rewind feature similar to that in the Forza Motorsport series, which lets you reverse up to ten seconds of gameplay to correct any mistakes. This is an absolute life saver in some of these classic titles known for their ridiculously challenging stages, with Battletoads the obvious one that comes to mind. It’s one of the most punishing games in history, and I still remember playing the game ad nauseam back in 1991 and only making to the 9th level (of 12). Thanks to Rare Replay‘s rewind feature, I finally beat the game some 24 years later! Naturally game purists might view this feature as cheating, but if you’re like me and want to complete these classic games without pulling your hair out, rewind can be a welcome addition.
For extra help, you can also flick on an unlimited lives cheat for older games, and the game will auto-save your progress. The retro games also have three game save slots, enabling you to create save states at any desired point or letting multiple people in your house play through the games at once. Since many of these classic games were built for older CRT televisions with a 4:3 ratio, Rare has added gorgeous side art (see Battletoad‘s side art above, and Atic Atac‘s at the right) to make the game’s presentation widescreen format. If you want, you can turn off the side art, and for added effect there’s a CRT filter option that curves the screen’s edges and fuzzes the picture quality for true 90’s TV quality.
Loaded with extra content
When you want to take a break from the full games, Rare Replay offers a “Snapshots” area containing bite-sized challenges that change up the rules of older titles. The Snapshots Gallery section presents increasingly difficult challenges for select games, but I had more fun with the Snapshots Playlists that provides themed challenges across multiple retro titles. For example, in the “Escape Artist” playlist you need to reach specific destination points within a strict time limit, and in the “Collect-a-thon” playlist the goal is snag as many goodies as you can in the allotted time.
Completing playlists, or meeting objectives in each game, will earn you in-game Stamps that rank up your profile level. Each level unlocks content in the “Rare Revealed” area, which features over 60 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage. In here you’ll find tons of goodies, from “making of” videos giving you an in-depth look at Rare’s best-loved games, to previously unreleased music, to even a peak at a few unreleased Rare games like The Fast and the Furriest and Kameo 2. It’s excellent to see so much bonus footage included in this already stuffed full compilation.
Here’s a full list of games included in Rare Replay:
|Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll||1990|
|Digger T. Rock||1990|
|R.C. Pro-Am II||1992|
|Killer Instinct Gold||1996|
|Jet Force Gemini||1999|
|Conker’s Bad Fur Day||2001|
|Grabbed by the Ghoulies||2003|
|Kameo: Elements of Power||2005|
|Perfect Dark Zero||2005|
|Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise||2008|
|Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts||2008|
Thinking about picking up Rare Replay? Be sure to tell me below what games you’re looking forward to playing the most!
By Paul Hunter, Editor Gaming
I work out of Toronto, Ontario as the Editor of Gaming here on the Plug-in Blog and as Editor-in-Chief of NextGen Player. I am thankful for having a loving and patient wife who doesn’t mind my 40 hour a week obsession with gaming. You can follow me on Twitter @NextGenPlayer