A dose of déjà vu

Like many gamers my age, I grew up with a bevy of great and quirky titles developed by Rare. What I didn’t realize until I sat down with Rare Replay—a celebratory compilation of 30 games developed by the company since its inception in the mid-80s—though, was how much they grew up right alongside me. From thumb-numbing affairs like R.C. Pro-Am for the NES to more refined efforts for the Xbox 360 like Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, Rare Replay is a magnificent showcase of one of gaming’s more beloved developers and how they’ve evolved over the years.

At its core, something like Rare Replay is admittedly nostalgia driven. While reviewing the collection, hours flew by in the blink of an eye as I rediscovered titles like Cobra Triangle (my personal first Rare game from 1989) and Battletoads. And in many cases, the games played just as well now as they did back in the day, with muscle memory taking over after only a few moments—which wasn’t really all that hard considering I only had to remember two buttons usually.

Rare Replay even touts an awesome “behind-the-scenes” series of never-before-seen interviews and features that are unlocked the more you play. These fun “Rare Revealed” unlockables give you insight into your favorite titles and how they came to be, and why certain creative decisions were made—like how Conker became the foul-mouthed squirrel we now know and love, or what the genesis of Battletoads really was.

Of course, even while being swept up in the memories of my childhood and teens, it quickly became evident that not every game in the compilation stood the test of time. My rose-colored glasses cracked a bit in particular when playing Killer Instinct Gold or Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll, but that’s also to be expected to a degree when covering such a large swath of gaming history.

Where Rare Replay shines brightest, however, isn’t just in how it lets you take a stroll down memory lane. Since it’s unlikely most people have played every title in this compilation, the best moments are really when you discover a game you might’ve missed the first time around. Suddenly, you have another favorite in your gaming library, even if it’s coming from a game older than you are. In my case, that game was 1983’s Jetpac—technically developed by Rare’s eventual founders Tim and Chris Stamper and not the studio itself—that kicks off the collection with some classic early-80s arcade action.

Now, it would’ve been easy enough for Rare to just pull these games together and call it a day, but Rare Replay tries to offer up a slice of originality, too, in the form of the game’s “Snapshots.” All of Rare’s older titles come with five Snapshots—mini-challenges from a specific slice of each game—that will put a player’s skills to the test. Whether it’s defeating a boss without losing a life, earning a high score in less than a minute, or cumulatively playing a game for a certain amount of time over your career, the Snapshots try to offer up something new to pull you back into the NES era if you need some prompting.

While an interesting idea, I would’ve loved for Snapshots to be more varied. You’ll always have a cumulative one, a high score one, a combat challenge, and then maybe a couple that are more specific towards the given game. The most curious decision with Snapshots comes from the fact that not every game has them, though, and they stop altogether once you reach the N64 generation of Rare’s library. If Rare was going to try to implement something new, they should’ve done so uniformly throughout Rare Replay.

And the same goes for a special “Replay” feature in those older games. Similar to the “Rewind” option you see in games like Forza, by pressing the LT button you can actually replay the last few seconds of your game to avoid losing a life and keep going for that high score. A novel idea—even if it somewhat defeats the purpose of those older arcade games—but it’s only available in the older Rare titles.

As fun and as nostalgia-driven as this collection may be, Rare Replay is actually about a lot more than just Rare’s history. A more subtle benefit of the collection may be how it helps pave the way for the highly anticipated backwards compatibility for Xbox One. While you’re downloading and installing the bulk of the collection, separate downloads then start for games that were on the Xbox 360 like Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark Zero, Kameo: Elements of Power, and more. It ends up being nine separate Xbox 360 downloads, plus the Rare Replay collection of the remaining 21 games for 10 downloads total.

The one downside to this is, for the time being, you can only access the Xbox 360 games via Rare Replay, which acts as a sort of emulator launcher—even though each game takes up space separately on your hard drive (close to 50GB for all 10 downloads). That’s supposed to change when backwards compatibility fully comes to Xbox One sometime this fall, and in the meantime, if there are Xbox 360 games you don’t want, you can delete them apart from the main collection. At the very least, the transition between Xbox One and Xbox 360 is quick and relatively smooth after the first time you try it, and by simply holding the menu button, you can switch back to Rare Replay and the Xbox One whenever you want.

Rare Replay is a tremendous collection of great games that show how integral Rare has been to game development for the past 30 years. It may not offer up a lot that’s new gaming-wise, and it may lack some of the company’s biggest hits due to licensing issues (most notably Goldeneye 007 and the Donkey Kong Country series), but there’s plenty here that should still be celebrated. If you’re a Rare fan, there’s no better way to do so than with this compilation.

Developer: Rare Ltd. • Publisher: Microsoft • ESRB: E – Everyone to M – Mature (varies by game) • Release Date: 08.04.15
8.0
A great collection of classic games. Whether you’ve been a fan of Rare for three years or for thirty, there’s something here for everyone, with plenty of gems waiting to be discovered for the first time.
The Good Whether a Rare game junkie or a relative newcomer to their brand, everyone should find something to enjoy.
The Bad Snapshots don’t provide a lot of variety and aren’t available for all titles. Not every game stands the test of time.
The Ugly Even after nearly 25 years, I still can’t beat the Clinger-Winger stage in Battletoads. Damn you, Hypno-Ball!
Rare Replay is a Xbox One exclusive. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review.
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