To celebrate its 30th year as a developer, Rare has crammed 30 of its games into a single package for just $30. Not only does that make for a brilliantly-coordinated promotion, it also makes for a value almost unheard of for a new release. Instead of breaking down each individual game in this collection, which would push us well beyond the word limit of a typical review, we're going to dig into what makes Rare Replay such a one-of-a-kind proposition and what it offers to long-term fans and newcomers alike. Long story short, Rare Replay should be purchased by every Xbox One owner that has a fondness for googly eyes, furry protagonists, and a big pinch of 90's 'tude.
The 30 games in Rare Replay – full list here – span from the ZX Spectrum, NES, arcade, N64, Xbox, and Xbox 360. Considering Rare mostly had its hands full with the Donkey Kong Country series during the Super Nintendo era, you won't find any 16-bit titles in this compilation. But does that matter? Not really. It's slightly disappointing that Battletoads in Battlemaniacs and the original Killer Instinct aren't here, but there are so many wonderful options to choose from that most people won't even notice. Well, OK… you might detect the crushing absence of Pierce Brosnan's handsome mug while scrolling through the N64 selections, but we digress.
When diving in, players are greeted with a whimsical theatrical number that serves as a celebration of the diverse, massive lineup of characters Rare has created – even The Great Mighty Poo from Conker's Bad Fur Day makes a brief appearance. That penchant for engrossing presentation also permeates the rest of the package, as the theater theme extends throughout all the menus and the way the games are showcased. With diorama-like artwork that springs to life when scrolling through the selections, don't be surprised to find yourself lingering about and taking in the sights and sounds. The menus themselves can be somewhat sluggish to navigate, but that's a petty complaint given the incredible amount of detail on display.
Sadly, not every game included in Rare Replay has aged well. In fact, a few of the ZX Spectrum games, like Underwurlde and Sabre Wulf, just aren't much fun to play due to erratic controls or poor design choices. Even so, they are worth a peek in the context of Rare's history. Plus, there are so many sensational games worked into the mix that a couple duds can't distract from the elite. Our highlights include: Banjo-Kazooie, Battletoads Arcade, Slalom, Jetpac, R.C. Pro-Am II, Blast Corps, and even Conker's Bad Fur Day despite the harsh realization of some truly irksome design flaws. Even the games that are widely considered to be Rare's underwhelming efforts – like Grabbed by the Ghoulies, Kameo: Elements of Power, and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts – are absolutely deserving of a playthrough.
The emulation process is very, very smooth, and nearly every game holds up from a visual perspective. While the bulk of the bundle runs within the Rare Replay framework, the Xbox 360 offerings require separate install files on the hard drive, and they operate through backwards compatibility emulation. It's a bit jarring to select one of these titles from the gallery and then drop out of the Rare Replay UI and into another ecosystem entirely, but it ensures the online features of these games are preserved and can be accessed on an Xbox One. We think that's more important in the long run, because it means you can still gather your buddies online for a Perfect Dark tournament – and let's be honest, there are few things better than that.
The games themselves haven't received any major tweaks or changes, though some, the N64 offerings in particular, are smoother than ever and feature improved framerate stability. One of the most welcome changes, however, comes in the form of fresh options. Not only can infinite lives/continues be activated for applicable 2D games, but there's even a rewind feature that allows up to a 30-second do-over at any point while playing. There's no punishment for using or abusing this function, and it serves the frustratingly difficult games like Battletoads and Snake Rattle N Roll for the better. Additionally, if you like your classic games to have that bubbled-glass, fuzzy CRT look, there's a filter for that.
By default, the games that aren't naturally presented in widescreen are encompassed by borders of original hand-drawn art – but if you're something of a purist, these can be turned off. There's no stretch-to-fit-the-screen option available, though, so expect black bars framing the action if colorful, static borders aren't your thing. This is one area of the package where we wish we had more freedom, but we respect Rare for not wanting the visual integrity of their games to be compromised.
Another potential letdown for some will be the lack of customizable controls. Certain games offer control options that will satisfy most needs, but there are some games, like Conker's Bad Fur Day for example, where tweaking the functionality of the right analog stick might drastically better the experience. Fortunately, options like this could be added in upcoming updates, which Rare has already done to modernize the much-scrutinized controls of Jet Force Gemini. Just a simple alteration to the aiming controls and that game is now twice as accessible as it was prior. Considering the right stick still can't be used for camera control, it's not perfect, but it's better than it was, and it does make a big difference.
Perhaps our favorite additive comes in the form of the Milestones attached to each game. By reaching specific goals – the number of these goals varies from game to game – players will unlock achievements and earn stamps on what's essentially a punch card. Every time one of these cards is filled with stamps, a short documentary-like video will be unlocked for your viewing pleasure. Some people will undoubtedly lament the fact that these fantastic behind-the-scenes features are locked and require persistent effort, but we like it. The videos are so worth watching that gaining access to them feels like proper reimbursement for the invested time and effort. From the making of Banjo-Kazooie to details of unreleased/unannounced projects, believe us when we say that there's a treasure trove of intriguing information for fans of Rare.
Since 30 games, an incredible presentation, and an extensive behind-the-scenes look apparently wasn't enough value for the money, Rare has even included 80 Snapshots to complete. Snapshots are bite-sized challenges based on single stages or areas from the 2D games in the collection, much like what you'd find in NES Remix. From assembling and fueling a spaceship as fast as possible in Jetpac, to surviving the nefarious Turbo Tunnel for 45 seconds in Battletoads, there are challenges available for varying skill levels. What's more, there are also Snapshot Playlists, which provide three lives to play through five consecutive challenges, all from different games. We've had such a blast chipping away at these Snapshots that we're already crossing our fingers for more to be added in the form of DLC.
Attempting to discern the amount of time it would take to squeeze every last drop of entertainment from this remarkable bundle would be nearly impossible. With the single-player campaigns, multiplayer modes, Snapshots, Milestones, and documentary features, Rare Replay is the ultimate time-sink and one of the best values in video game history. Even though that likely sounds like something of a hyperbolic statement, it's really not. What's here is sensational, both in terms of game quality and presentation, and it's not only a reminder of what Rare is capable of producing, but it also paints a clear image of the number of beloved properties Microsoft has within reach. Most importantly, for consumers, Rare Replay is either a priceless trip down memory lane or an educational glimpse at gaming history, and it costs half the price of a typical new release. How could you say no to that?
Traveling through the virtual halls of Rare Replay is like venturing through a well-preserved museum, one that proudly showcases the many timeless works of an extraordinarily creative developer. This package isn't merely a collection of 30 games carelessly slapped together for the sake of doing so; it's concerned with little details and extras, and it's presented in a way unlike any compilation before it. There are certain control and formatting options that we would've liked to see included, but there's so much engrossing entertainment here that it feels wrong to whine about what are, in most cases, negligible details. Even though it costs actual money, Rare Replay feels like a heartfelt gift from Rare to its fans, and it deserves your time, money, and appreciation.