Rare Replay Review – Victory Lap
When Rare Replay was announced at E3, it immediately became one of the most highly anticipated releases of the year – and for good reason: Rare is one of the most iconic developers in the world of video games. In 1982, Tim and Chris Stamper established Ultimate Play the Game, a small development group that would be reborn as Rare in 1985. It has been thirty years since Rare was founded, and Rare Replay is Rare’s way of celebrating the anniversary. Rare Replay includes thirty games developed by Rare throughout its history – from the ZX Spectrum games of the early 1980s to the Xbox titles of the 2000s, the history of the developer (and of the video game industry in general) is displayed in a wonderful fashion. Current generation consoles are being flooded by remasters and collections of older games, but Rare Replay is quick to show its unique style and feel, and it’s easily the best bundle currently available – there’s something for everybody here, and the variety and depth of the games included will keep you playing for hundreds of hours.
Upon start-up, Rare Replay presents you with three options: you can visit the Game Gallery, play bite-sized challenges called Snapshots, or watch behind-the-scenes videos in Rare Revealed. In the Game Gallery, you can play through any of the games included from start to finish (and then some). The thirty games that make up Rare Replay are (in chronological order of release from 1983 to 2008): Jetpac, Atic Atac, Lunar Jetman, Sabre Wulf, Underwurlde, Knight Lore, Gunfright, Slalom, R.C. Pro-Am, Cobra Triangle, Snake Rattle N Roll, Digger T. Rock, Solar Jetman, Battletoads, R.C. Pro-Am II, Battletoads Arcade (an arcade game that’s now playable on a console for the first time in history), Killer Instinct Gold, Blast Corps, Banjo-Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini, Perfect Dark, Banjo-Tooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Grabbed by the Ghoulies, Perfect Dark Zero, Kameo: Elements of Power, Viva Piñata, Jetpac Refuelled, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, and Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise. There are a lot of excellent games in Rare’s catalogue that aren’t present in Rare Replay. Games that Rare developed using Nintendo characters (e.g., Donkey Kong Country, Diddy Kong Racing, Donkey Kong 64, Star Fox Adventures) are absent because of licensing issues, while others (e.g., Goldeneye 007) were ruled out by Rare during the selection process. Even though it’s missing some of Rare’s greatest achievements, this selection of games is a good one, and it was obviously created with a lot of care. As you can tell, this is a lot of content. When I started up Rare Replay for the first time, I spent quite a few minutes staring into the screen while trying to decide what to do first. Since the enormous Game Gallery is the largest part of the game, we’ll discuss it first.
Each game is here in its entirety, so even the most hardcore of gamers will have to spend a lot of time with Rare Replay to complete every game in the collection. Some games even include additional content that was previously sold as DLC (Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is the best example of this). The older games (for ZX Spectrum, NES, SNES, etc.) are shown in their original dimensions so the visual issues caused by stretching a game vertically or horizontally don’t detract from the experience. Since many games don’t take up the full screen, Rare Replay includes colorful themed borders that surround the game. Many of these are cute, but they can be a bit distracting sometimes. Luckily, there is an option that allows you to turn them off. The older games also include a filter that replicates the display of an old, fuzzy monitor (complete with scanlines). It’s easily accessible, and is turned on and off by a quick click of the right control stick. It’s fun to play with, but the blurry effect makes me think that most people won’t actually keep it on for the entirety of play sessions. Cheats are also available for many of the retro games. For example, the Battletoads menu allows you to obtain infinite lives. You can also hold down the left trigger to use a rewind feature similar to the one found in Forza games. Up to ten seconds of gameplay can be “undone,” making it much easier to correct small mistakes and rethink certain game segments. In addition to the in-game saving system, there is also the option to save your game state, allowing you to return to the exact moment where you saved (similar to Nintendo’s Virtual Console service or most emulators). Hardcore retro fans might not enjoy these features, but they’re a lot of fun to play around with – especially if the difficulty of the older games continuously frustrates you. Rare Replay provides those who just want to have fun and those who want to be challenged equal opportunities, and that makes these games much more accessible.
Each game is fun enough to justify its inclusion in Rare Replay. Some games are difficult to get into – particularly the Sabreman games (Sabre Wulf, Underwurlde, and Knight Lore) and Solar Jetman – but not all of the old games are so hard to get started with. Games like Jetpac and Atic Atac will entertain even those who don’t consider themselves “retro gamers.” Battletoads, the Banjo games, Blast Corps, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and the Viva Piñata games are probably the highlights of Rare Replay, and these games alone are worth the price of entry. I personally had a great time with Atic Atac, Cobra Triangle, Jet Force Gemini, and Grabbed by the Ghoulies. If I had to list the weakest games in the collection, I’d name Killer Instinct Gold and the original Sabre Wulf. Everyone will have a different opinion on how good each of the games is, and that’s one of the coolest parts of Rare Replay – each player will find games they absolutely love, games they like, and games they don’t enjoy at all. This is because the variety of genres in Rare Replay is vast – action/adventure games, platformers, fighting games, racing games, shooters (first and third person), and simulation games are all here. Finding a new addition to your list of favorite games won’t take very long.
Going through each of the thirty games would be an ambitious (and lengthy) venture, so we’ll just cover some things that most players will want to know when thinking about whether or not to pick up Rare Replay. Though Conker’s Bad Fur Day was remastered and re-released on Xbox as Conker: Live & Reloaded, the version included in Rare Replay is the original Nintendo 64 version. Though it’s unfortunate that the multiplayer of Live & Reloaded isn’t here, the original N64 Conker is superior to its remaster for a number of reasons. The most important difference is that this version of Bad Fur Day is not as heavily censored as the Xbox version is. It would have been ideal for the N64 single player and the Xbox multiplayer to be included, but that would be quite difficult. For what it’s worth, the classic N64 multiplayer is here, and it’s a lot of fun. The controls in Conker’s Bad Fur Day make a successful transition to the Xbox One controller, as do the controls for all of the other N64 games – except for Jet Force Gemini. The controls for this game are really hard to get used to, and it’s even harder if you’ve never played the game before. The inclusion of dual analog stick support for Jet Force Gemini would make it a much more enjoyable Xbox One experience. Hopefully we’ll see that in future updates. You should also know that all of the Xbox 360 games in the collection (nine, to be precise) are not on the Rare Replay disc, and require separate downloads. A total of ten packages will need to be installed, and the total size of everything here is about 50GB. Much has been made of the separate Xbox 360 downloads, but I never found it to be annoying or distracting. When you go to play one of the Xbox 360 games, your Xbox One will open that application separately. You can then return to the Rare Replay application by pressing and holding down the menu button for a few seconds.
Rare Replay itself looks great. The theater aesthetic is well-done (you can get a feel for it by watching the intro video included at the top of this review), and each screen of the menu is bursting with personality and creativity. The majority of the games look pretty good, too. Most of the games included are straight ports, meaning that they weren’t remastered (even though Rare Replay boasts excellent HD graphics). However, there are a few exceptions: The remastered Xbox 360 versions of Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie, and Perfect Dark all look better than their original Nintendo 64 versions. Grabbed by the Ghoulies runs natively at 1080p and appears to have been touched up a bit, though there’s nothing in Rare’s description of Rare Replay to confirm this. It would have been cool to see more of the games remastered, but they all hold up pretty well, so the original graphics aren’t a problem. Even though the style of ZX Spectrum games will be difficult for most people to get used to, it’s awesome to see these games in their original form (especially the revolutionary Knight Lore, which is both incredibly important and, unfortunately, very hard to get used to). The only games that have glaring visual flaws (that I noticed) are Perfect Dark Zero and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. There are a few framerate stutters here and there in Perfect Dark Zero, but there are times when the framerate comes to a noticeably low value while playing Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. This is disappointing because Nuts & Bolts is one of the best-looking games in the Rare catalogue, and it’s frustrating to see it performing at anything but its full potential. You’re not likely to see too many visual hiccups in the games that are installed with Rare Replay, but it’s not uncommon to see problems in the Xbox 360 games (I also encountered minor visual bugs while playing the older Banjo games and Kameo). This might have something to do with the Xbox One’s Xbox 360 emulation system. This is the reason why Rare Replay scores lower in the Visuals category than it does in any other category, and it’s something that definitely needs to be corrected in future updates.
Rare Replay includes a cool level system that allows you to gradually unlock content as you play games and reach milestones. When you reach a milestone, you’ll be rewarded with a stamp. As you fill up tickets with stamps, you’ll unlock new content in the Rare Revealed section. One of the coolest ways to earn stamps (and one of the best features in the game) is to complete Snapshots. Snapshots are short challenges that twist the rules of a game and give you an objective to complete. It’s similar to Nintendo’s NES Remix. Snapshots are a great way to ease your way into a game that’s not very accessible. After completing its Snapshots, I really started to understand Atic Atac, and now it’s one of my favorite games in the collection. In fact, it’s a great place to start with all of the older titles in the collection. You can either choose to play one Snapshot at a time or to take on Snapshot Playlists, which group together several Snapshots that share a common theme or goal (e.g., the “collect-a-thon” Playlist features Snapshots that focus on collecting items). Either way, Snapshots are a lot of fun, and they’re a great way to play the games of Rare Replay in short bursts. The only thing this feature lacks is the inclusion of games that were released for N64, Xbox, and Xbox 360. Anything that came after Battletoads Arcade won’t have any Snapshots. The more recent games in the collection take much more power to run, and it makes sense that only the oldest games in Rare’s catalogue appear in this mode, but it’s still disappointing. This is the only downside to the separate Xbox 360 downloads – there’s really no way that any of the Xbox 360 games could ever have a Snapshot feature or appear in Playlists. Blast Corps, Jet Force Gemini, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day could all be given snapshots (in future updates or DLC), but Banjo and Kazooie will never find their home in the collect-a-thon Playlist, which is sad. Despite the absence of later games, playing through Snapshots and Playlists is a lot of fun, and comparing your score with friends and other players on the leaderboards makes each challenge even more exciting. My personal favorites are the infinite turbo tunnel challenge in Battletoads and the Atic Atac Snapshot that requires you to find your way out of the castle the game takes place in as fast as you can without using any attacks.
As was mentioned above, you’ll unlock new content for Rare Revealed as you fill up tickets. These videos and pieces of music are really cool, and they’re especially interesting to anyone who has an interest in how the gaming industry has evolved since its beginning. You’ll meet voice actors, get insight on how games like Banjo-Kazooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and Battletoads were made, and you’ll see exclusive concept art. When added up, the videos in Rare Revealed amount to over an hour of behind-the-scenes footage. Earning stamps in Rare Replay is easy for the first ten hours or so, but it quickly becomes much more difficult, and before long it feels like a lot of content is locked behind gates that require you to spend a significant amount of time with all of the games (even the ones you don’t like) to open. While some players (like myself) will see this as a challenge and a reason to play through each game, just as many (if not more) players will be extremely frustrated that they can’t watch these awesome videos because they don’t want to unlock all of the achievements in Knight Lore or max out their gamerscore in Viva Piñata.
Rare Replay is not a perfect collection of video games, but it’s the closest thing to that perfection that I’ve ever encountered. There’s a reason why Rare is so loved by gamers – their games have a unique quality that sets them apart from everything else that’s available. Games like Banjo-Kazooie, Viva Piñata, Blast Corps, Battletoads, and Gunfright are one-of-a-kind, and there’s nothing else like them in the world of gaming. For a ridiculously low price, you’re getting thirty full games (with the possibility of additional games being added as DLC), the collection of Snapshots and Playlists, exclusive Rare Revealed content, and an Achievement list that adds up to over 10,000 gamerscore. Rare Replay includes more high-quality content than any other collection of games, and it’s an absolute essential for any gamer with an Xbox One. Regardless of what kind of games you tend to enjoy, you won’t regret picking up Rare Replay. You’ll be playing these games for hundreds of hours, and not a single second of that time will have been a waste.
Review copy provided by Microsoft.
Tags: arcade games, atic atak, Banjo-Kazooie, Battletoads, Conker, gunfright, Jetpac, Kameo, knight lore, Microsoft, nes, Nintendo 64, Perfect Dark, Rare, Rare Replay, retro games, retro gaming, Sabreman, SNES, Ultimate Play The Game, Viva Pinata, Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One, zx spectrum