Rare Replay on Xbox One is by far one of the best official gaming compilations ever released. A polished user experience, thirty games – both good and bad – exploring thirty years of Rare’s games, unlockable videos rich in historical content, innovative gameplay modes, and the company’s trademark humour are present throughout. Not withstanding the omission of a few obvious titles, this release sets a benchmark for retro compilations. Available for as little as $20, even if you’re only interested in playing some of the iconic games included in this collection there’s no excuse for not owning a copy of this love letter to one of the UK’s most enduring game developers.
Although I’d previously played a relatively small percentage of Rare and their predecessor Ultimate Play the Game’s one hundred and twenty titles over the last three and a half decades (admittedly, this includes most of the games included on this disc). My overwhelmingly positive experience of these titles across numerous 8 to 64-bit consoles and computers led to the purchase of Rare Replay not long after release. Why am I only getting around reviewing it now? To be honest, the PS4 has remained my preferred console of this generation for the triumvirate of games, streaming, and Blu Ray movies while my Xbox One mostly collected dust. It took the untimely demise of my PS4 disc drive (seriously, my newest console out of over fifty machines, and it’s the first disc drive perma-death I’ve ever had!) to finally promote the Xbone to a more prominent place of residence on my entertainment unit. After interminable operating system updates followed by the installation of the games, then more updates, Rare Replay was ready to go!
Following the gorgeous theatrical song and animated introduction, replete with in-jokes and references to many of the included games, the sense of place in an imaginary theatre continues with the main menu. Jumping straight in, of course there’s the Game Gallery where you can choose which game you’d like to play, with the titles conveniently placed in chronological order. Each time you play a game for the first time you’ll earn ‘stamps’ for the Rare Revealed option. This leads to numerous archival and contemporary videos covering the history of the company and their various games; as mentioned, these require unlocking by playing the games, but you won’t earn enough stamps for many of the videos this way! This leads to the Snapshots mode, with a number of bite-sized and thematic snippets of numerous games collated together in the form of challenges.
Completing these both unlocks videos and also allows the player to get to grips with the mechanics of many of Ultimate and Rare’s earlier releases in an environment outside of booting up and diving into each game individually. This is a definite plus; if you’ve been playing games since the 8-bit days, you’ll likely agree that even many hitherto games considered classics are less than user-friendly and not exactly pick-up-and-play. Snapshots provides an innovative way to learn how to better play these games by dropping you straight into the various challenges. This can be somewhat jarring, and you will lose (often) on some of them until you get to grips with the mechanics of each title and the specific requirements of each snapshot (survival, beating your opponent, reaching a certain score, beating a time limit, and so forth). I doubt I’ll have enough skill to complete anywhere near all of the challenges, never mind the patience required. Preventing access to the historical content in this way feels a bit mean, and a little too much like work. I suspect that in the long run access to some videos may be prevented by taking this approach, so there’s one slight negative mark against this compilation.
Of the videos I’ve currently unlocked, the featurettes so far are a wonderfully rich dive into Rare’s history and approaches toward making games over the years. Additionally, there’s videos specific to individual games. I working toward unlocking the video for Conker’s Bad Fur Day, its unreleased cutesy progenitor Twelve Tails: Conker 64, and why we probably won’t see games of its ilk from Rare again. There’s even featurettes for a number of unreleased and previously unannounced games and soundtracks. Overall, it’s a very comprehensive collection for budding retro gamers and historians. If you’re unable to complete the myriad of tasks required to access all the videos, you also can find them online. Rare’s founders Chris and Tim Stamper are noticeable by their absence in any of the included videos; this is unsurprising given they left Rare in 2007 (after Microsoft’s acquisition of the studio in 2002), and their noted avoidance of the media. As noted by arstechnica (in a rare, ahem, interview from 2015) Chris Stamper lamented “A day spent doing an interview somewhere is a day that’s not spent on development and design—and that really bothers me.”
So, finally, the games? Check out the game details by clicking the toggle below.
- Jetpac – 1983 – ZX Spectrum
- Lunar Jetman – 1983 – ZX Spectrum
- Atic Atac – 1983 – ZX Spectrum
- Sabre Wulf – 1984 – ZX Spectrum
- Underwurlde – 1984 – ZX Spectrum
- Knight Lore – 1984 – ZX Spectrum
- Gunfright – 1985 – ZX Spectrum
- Slalom – 1986 – Nintendo Entertainment System
- R.C. Pro-Am – 1987 – Nintendo Entertainment System
- Cobra Triangle – 1989 – Nintendo Entertainment System
- Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll – 1990 – Nintendo Entertainment System
- Solar Jetman – 1990 – Nintendo Entertainment System
- Digger – 1990 – Nintendo Entertainment System
- T. Rock – 1990 – Nintendo Entertainment System
- Battletoads – 1991 – Nintendo Entertainment System
- R.C. Pro-Am II – 1992 – Nintendo Entertainment System
- Battletoads Arcade – 1994 – Arcade
- Killer Instinct Gold – 1996 – Nintendo 64
- Blast Corps – 1997 – Nintendo 64
- Banjo-Kazooie – 1998 – Nintendo 64
- Jet Force Gemini – 1999 – Nintendo 64
- Perfect Dark – 2000 (Xbox 360 remaster of the Nintendo 64 game)
- Banjo-Tooie – 2000 – Nintendo 64
- Conker’s Bad Fur Day – 2001 – Nintendo 64
- Grabbed by the Ghoulies 2003 – Xbox
- Kameo – 2005 – Xbox 360
- Perfect Dark Zero – 2005 – Xbox 360
- Viva Piñata – Xbox 360
- Jetpac Refuelled – 2007 – Xbox 360
- Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise – 2008 – Xbox 360
- Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts – 2008 – Xbox 360
If you can set aside the glaring omission of Rare’s Nintendo IP imbued SNES era games (notably the Donkey Kong Country series) and the Nintendo 64 classic Goldeneye, Rare’s wide oeuvre is fairly well-covered in this collection. It is a shame that the Xbox version of Conker: Live and Reloaded wasn’t include to more completely round out the post-Microsoft acquisition era, but that’s a minor quibble. From the faithfully preserved slowdown and sprite flickering of the ZX Spectrum era, to the typically hard-as-nails NES games, the self-assured brilliance of their Nintendo 64 releases, and the hit-or-miss nature of Rare’s output post-Microsoft acquisition, this compilation brings together weeks upon weeks of gaming for a pittance. Most typical and expected features of retro re-releases are included: optional simulated CRT scanlines, rewind (for the 8-bit titles), upscaled N64 graphics, and save states are all present and appreciated. Having in-game instructions and hints for the more esoteric and elderly games would have been appreciated, although that’s easily solved with a short Google session over a coffee.
Click on the images to view the slideshow.
Does this mean all the titles are classics? Not by a long shot; some are hard to get into, especially the games from the early era of game design, the legacy controls can be quirky and show up the various games’ age, and even certain ‘modern’ titles show up the occasional miss-step (Grabbed by the Ghoulies and Perfect Dark Zero, ahem). Complaining about these issues would be missing the point. Good, bad, and in between, game design is always evolving, improving, and sometimes one can only really start to appreciate true innovation by playing through what came before. Almost every gamer will find something to love about the various titles included in the package. For mine, everything from the classic arcade action of Jetpac, the initially confusing but groundbreaking challenge of Knight Lore, the less confusing but incredibly tough fun of Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll, the innovation, humour, and animation of the two Battletoads titles, the humour and pop-culture reference stuffed Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and the amazing first person gameplay of Perfect Dark (better than Goldeneye!) are winners. And I haven’t even started on Killer Instinct Gold, Blast Corps, the Banjo Kazooie series, and the two Viva Piñata titles. Only a total grinch would find the collection of games in this package unsatisfying. My only minor gripe with the game integration is the slightly awkward separation of the Xbox 360 titles which require jumping out from the main game; Rare utilised the previously unannounced Xbox One compatibility/emulation of the 360 for these games. It’s unfortunate that the whole package wasn’t more tightly integrated, but it’s not a major annoyance.
Released for $30US on release five years ago, Rare Replay was a steal upon release and is equally worthwhile now. If you own an Xbox One, any of the included games hold fond memories, or anything in the previous few paragraphs has piqued your interest, do yourself a favour and grab yourself a copy of the disc (which is also available in a double pack including Gears of War: Ultimate Edition – bonus!). Rare is (or at least was) a company worth celebrating through their highs and lows, and what better way to do it than through this lovingly curated collection. Beyond the games themselves, this compilation highlights the incredible leaps in gameplay, game design, control, visuals, audio, and complexity during a relatively short time period. Whilst we all welcome the innumerable innovations we’ve been witness to over barely forty years, one might wonder if the all-too obvious graphical and sonic innovations have been at the expense of challenging gameplay. But that’s a question to explore at another time…