Few longstanding game developers have a history as rich, engaging and downright zany as Rare. A British company that began its life as ‘Ultimate Play the Game’ (not exactly the most smooth of developer names), Rare got its start on the ZX Spectrum computer system that released in the U.K. in 1982, before becoming synonymous with Nintendo platforms from the days of the NES to the Nintendo 64. Obviously, Rare is now owned by Microsoft, limiting their content to Xbox platforms in the console space, though until recently, most of Rare’s catalogue wasn’t accessible on Xbox platforms.
This year however, that changed. 2015 marks the company’s 30-year anniversary, not counting their start as Ultimate Play the Game, and to celebrate, Rare has compiled thirty of their greatest hit games onto a single Xbox One package, in the form of Rare Replay. Touching up Rare’s vintage catalogue with all-new features, and presenting all sorts of wonderful extras about the company’s history that reward the most devout of players, Rare Replay aims to be an especially robust collection of Rare’s ups and downs throughout their long, often eccentric history.
Make no mistake though! This is definitely not a collection of half-assed ports. Rare Replay has had just as much zippy passion put into it as the majority of Rare’s projects. Right from the get-go, as you’re greeted by a goofy, nostalgic musical number, you can see the clear amount of love and passion that Rare still harbours for gaming, and for their history. Right away, you’ll get a great sense of just what kind of company Rare is, so even if you’ve somehow never picked up a Rare game in your life, you’ll immediately feel right at home with them. Honestly, many game compilations could learn from how enjoyably Rare Replay presents itself!
That’s before players start diving into the collection of games too. Rare Replay boasts one game for every year of Rare’s history, totaling a staggering sum of 30 games, priced at a budget $29.99 by default, even here in Canada. It represents an outstanding value, especially since the collection includes several real defining games that proved why Rare was the best in the business during the Nintendo 64 era especially. Even when you mine the NES and Xbox 360 catalogue in the compilation, you’ll find many beloved favourites to enjoy.
Predictably though, Rare Replay omits a few of the company’s finest offerings, for one reason or another, though some of these fan-favourite omissions will be inevitable. Obviously, the Donkey Kong Country trilogy, Donkey Kong 64, Diddy Kong Racing, and Star Fox Adventures are all missing, since those IP’s belong to Nintendo, preventing them from appearing on a rival console. Likewise, Goldeneye 007 is also not included, due to licensing issues with the James Bond game rights currently sitting with Activision, and Nintendo having publishing dominion on the classic Nintendo 64 shooter. This is along with the many other licensed games that Rare developed being predictably absent, though in several cases, their omission might be a good thing, particularly in the case of LJN stinkers like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Beetlejuice. There also isn’t a single handheld game in the collection, meaning that favourites like It’s Mr. Pants and Banjo Pilot, among others, are obviously not included. The Kinect Sports games are also absent, if that matters to you, due to the demand for the Xbox 360’s former Kinect model that the Xbox One can’t properly accommodate, especially for people who don’t own the Xbox One’s upgraded Kinect model.
Still, when you eliminate those selections, what are you left with? Jetpac, Battletoads, Banjo-Kazooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Viva Pinata, Perfect Dark, Killer Instinct, and more. It’s all here! Rare Replay even touches up the game textures of many of their vintage classics from the Nintendo 64 catalogue especially, making them appear far crisper and more appealing to look at than they would be even on Nintendo’s Virtual Console catalogue, let alone an actual Nintendo 64. Purists may be irked by some of the added visual polish given to a few of the Nintendo 64-era titles though, and Xbox game, Grabbed by the Ghoulies seems to have been especially visually boosted, upscaled to more current HD visuals, and looking far more sleek and polished than it ever did on the vintage Xbox hardware.
The visuals aren’t the only thing that this compilation touched up a bit either. The controls have obviously been modified to be smoother and more responsive on the Xbox One controller in many cases, with re-mapped buttons in the pre-Xbox era titles. The NES games take some particular getting used to, as the A Button functions are used with the Xbox One controller’s B Button, while the B Button functions are mapped to the Xbox One controller’s A Button. Nonetheless, the smoother controls especially benefit the Nintendo 64 games, namely offerings like Jet Force Gemini, which are far easier to play with the use of two thumbsticks available.
The compilation also wisely includes the Xbox Live Arcade versions of Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie and Perfect Dark, rather than their original Nintendo 64 builds, meaning that their presentation and control refinements from their Xbox 360 re-releases are maintained in Rare Replay. Some may also be happy to know that the original Nintendo 64 rendition of Conker’s Bad Fur Day is featured in the collection, not its prettier, but censored Xbox remake, Conker: Live & Reloaded. Finally, the game-breaking Battletoads bug, which formerly made the game unwinnable past a certain point in 2-player mode, has been fixed in Rare Replay.
Even with the touch-ups though, there are obviously several Rare games that hold up better than others. As much as games like Banjo-Kazooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, the Viva Pinata games, and even the ultra-punishing Battletoads remain classics that have held up well over time, there’s no denying that many of Rare’s earliest ZX Spectrum games have aged pretty poorly. Even with the refinements given to them on Xbox One, their controls are clumsy, their difficulty is ridiculous, and worst of all, they’re far too vague, giving players no real idea of how to play them, without consulting walkthroughs and YouTube videos on the internet. Jetpac is the exception, as it continues to be simple, addictive and fun, even being from 1983, though even then, its Xbox Live Arcade remake, Jetpac Refuelled is also part of the collection. The pre-Nintendo 64 era games at least come with the ability to ‘rewind’ using the left trigger to undo mistakes, along with featuring autosaves, which make them a lot more bearable to play in Rare Replay, but the fundamental frustration of the ZX Spectrum offerings isn’t truly fixed by this.
Some of the straight-up flawed games are also as flawed as ever in Rare Replay to boot. Grabbed by the Ghoulies feels dull and uninteresting in contrast to many of the collection’s other games by today’s standards, for example. Likewise, Perfect Dark Zero and Kameo: Elements of Power still reek a bit of being primitive Xbox 360 launch titles, not really comparing to the quality of most of the other games in the collection. In fact, beyond Viva Pinata and its sequel, many of the original Rare games made for Xbox platforms don’t really seem to compare to the Nintendo ones especially. Still, one has to give credit to Rare for not necessarily shying away from some of the less successful experimentation in their history. This helps Rare Replay feel like a more impartial guided tour through Rare’s storied history, rather than a glorification of a company that, frankly, has fallen out of many gamers’ good graces since its founders left in 2007.
Fortunately, an intuitive system of navigation helps you to quickly bounce in and out of games, meaning that a few quick taps of the Menu Button can get you from one game to the next with no hassle. Each game in the collection also comes with a handy selection of ‘Milestones’, motivating you to try your hand at all of them, which are sort of like in-game achievements that go along with the game’s staggering 10,000+ potential Gamerscore worth of real Xbox achievements to earn! Naturally, achievement hunters will be in absolute paradise with Rare Replay, and the fact that navigation between games, and keeping track of stats, is so simple, means that they’ll find this collection to be well-constructed and fun to shift through at their leisure.
The only unfortunate exception to this however is the Xbox 360 games, of which there are a surprisingly huge nine in the collection, including the trio of Xbox Live Arcade ports for some Nintendo 64 classics, and the Xbox Live Arcade remake, Jetpac Refuelled. Even if you buy a physical copy of Rare Replay at retail, the Xbox 360 games in the compilation have to be installed separately on your Xbox One hard drive, and your console has to move into a whole other application whenever you go into an Xbox 360 title. If you want to go back to Rare Replay, it then has to move back when you hold the Menu Button on your controller, a process that takes a little while, on top of making you move through Rare Replay’s intro and menus again, taking far longer than it should to get you back to the game menu so that you can choose another game.
Moreover, the Xbox 360 games require online authentication to play and earn Milestones in, so if your Xbox One isn’t connected to the internet, you can’t earn Rare Replay rewards from the Xbox 360 games in the collection. As if that weren’t bad enough, some of the Xbox 360 titles, particularly Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, Perfect Dark Zero and Kameo: Elements of Power, seem to suffer periodic bouts of slowdown and framerate dips in their Xbox One builds, which don’t occur if you play the games on an actual Xbox 360. This is a shame, since it makes the Xbox 360 titles feel like the only sloppy emulations, and makes their Rare Replay builds disappointingly inferior to just playing these games on a real Xbox 360. On the bright side, if you do have your Xbox One hooked up to the internet, you’ll automatically retain any achievements that you earned in the Xbox 360 builds of any of these nine games, without having to earn them again, and that’s a plus. Achievements earned on Xbox One don’t seem to back-transfer to the Xbox 360 builds though, sadly.
Clearly, the amount of game content in Rare Replay is already incredibly robust, and could have sustained the entire package by itself. Playing well will allow you to delve even deeper into Rare’s legacy however, as earning Milestones unlocks things like developer interviews, behind-the-scenes featurettes for games like Banjo-Kazooie and Conker’s Bad Fur Day, among others, soundtrack samplings, and even peeks at Rare games that were ultimately never released! These rewards will be amazing to behold for longtime gamers, and are often worth pushing through many vintage Rare classics’ often brutal difficulty. These unlockables will also encourage you to check out more obscure Rare games that have also held up well, such as the destructive Nintendo 64 action-puzzler, Blast Corps., and the simple, but addictive duo of R.C. Pro Am games from the NES library.
Still, some may have preferred that most of these extras didn’t sit behind rather absurd levels of demanding Milestones, which require an outrageous amount of time and skill to earn in some cases. In order to see everything, you’ll have to complete and master even the most fiendish of Rare’s included classics, and yes, that includes Battletoads, and the ZX Spectrum games. This can be a hassle, since many will no doubt feel that the interviews and featurettes should have all been unlocked from the start, especially when Rare Replay clearly isn’t wanting for game content. At the very least though, some of the games feature cheats, and their exploits haven’t been patched out, so with enough time and perseverance, it’s certainly not impossible to unlock all of the superb extras in Rare Replay. It’s strange that the Stamper brothers who actually founded Rare are oddly missing from all of the bonus features though. That’s a let-down.
Fortunately, retro gamers should have fun with the Snapshot feature regardless, which feels vaguely inspired by the likes of Nintendo’s NES Remix games. When playing a Snapshot, you’ll take on one of the pre-Nintendo 64 games with specialized challenges based around speed runs, earning points, and other such specialty tasks. They’re pretty addictive, and nicely challenging, and they’re quick enough so that they’re easy to try and try again at them, even if you struggle with some. You can even take them on in entire Playlists, which compile similar challenges from certain games. It’s another very cool way to revisit and challenge yourself on some of Rare’s finest classics, even if it also means more hard work to earn more behind-the-scenes bonuses to enjoy.
Even if not every game in the collection has held up perfectly, and a couple of design choices may irk certain players, Rare Replay is nonetheless one of the best-presented and fully-featured game compilations to launch on any platform in recent memory. Longtime gamers, particularly those who are already familiar with many of Rare’s classics, should absolutely seek it out if they own an Xbox One, especially for the compilation’s budget $29.99 price, making it an absolute steal in terms of value, essentially giving you a game for every dollar you spend, excluding tax, and even less of a cost if you get it on sale!
If nothing else, Rare Replay will keep you busy for a very long time, especially if you love amassing achievements for your Xbox Gamertag! Along with being a sublime, wonderfully charming tour of the past, it also seems to suggest a promise that Rare aims to go back to their finest days from now on, back to what they were before their apparent Kinect banishment by Microsoft in recent years. Time will tell if that comes to pass, but one thing we can say for certain already with Rare Replay, is that Rare’s magic still hasn’t been lost, even so many years, and a few mis-steps, since!
Rare Replay is one of the best retro game compilations to release in recent years, and while some of its 30 included games have aged better than others, the robust value, charming presentation and fantastic suite of extras make it one of the best Xbox One investments you can make!
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THE GOOD STUFF
Enormous count of games, and plenty of superb classics
Snapshots and Milestones give players new feats to strive for
Superb selection of behind-the-scenes extras to unlock
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
Xbox 360 games feel clunky and poorly emulated
Some games really haven't held up well
Demands to unlock certain extras can be unreasonable