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Developer Rare has been through some good and rough times spanning 30 years. From it’s beginnings as Ultimate Play the Game, starting to hit a stride during the NES era, revised one of Nintendo’s mascots on the Super NES, reached their peak on the N64, and struggled to get going after the Microsoft deal till bringing their identity back on the Xbox 360. Rare Replay is a compilation on the Xbox One celebrating Rare’s history getting longtime fans to revisit some of their classics again or those that missed out on them when they’re young wanting to see what the fuss is about. It’s also most players’ first time experiencing Xbox 360 backwards-compatible games since nine of them are 360 games/XBLA ports of N64 games. The effort and presentation that went Rare put into Rare Replay is arguably the best I ever seen for a compilation. Plus 30 games for $30 is just one heck of a deal in general especially for some of the 360 games in this package.
While the majority of games in Rare Replay are playable in the game itself, the 360 games are separate apps because they are backwards compatible games and have to be installed on their own. Combining all of these makes this compilation take about 50GB of the Xbox One’s hard drive space. Just seeing my games & apps section on the Home menu being cluttered up with 360 games is weird and with more on the way being backwards compatible, I hope Microsoft address that situation in a future update. Other than playing these Rare classics normally, all the games before the N64 and 360 eras have a rewind function in case you mess up in certain areas or going for certain milestones, widescreen, filters and cheats such as infinite lives. They also have snapshots where you play through specific sections of a game with a goal to complete, similar to what Nintendo did with their NES Remix series. Completing snapshots and milestones give you stamps unlocking behind the scenes documentaries as you level up. These videos being locked is somewhat unfortunate, but collecting these stamps need an incentive after all.
Rare’s catalog begins with the ZX Spectrum when they were Ultimate Play the Game. Their first and infamous game was Jetpac. It’s also the Spectrum game that still holds up to today compared to rest of the lineup with simple to understand mechanics and classic arcade gameplay the 80s were known for. Playing these Spectrum games when it’s just sound effects and no music was also a sign of the times when you need the game’s hook to keep you going. That wasn’t the case for me with most of these games where you throw you into the world without any explanation. Lunar Jetman was the Jetpac sequel, but a complete 180 from what Jetpac originally was. Atic Atac, Sabrewulf, Knightlore and Gunfright are interesting open adventure games before they were more of a thing even thought they didn’t catch my attention even for minutes while Underwurlde was their first platformer with wonky mechanics.
The name change to Rare happened when the NES came out and also some of the classics were out for. Slalom and Cobra Triangle are underrated for early NES games especially Cobra Triangle with the amount of variety the levels had. The RC Pro-Am series, Snake Rattle & Roll were cult hits during their heyday while Digger T. Rock and Solar Jetman came out late in the NES’ lifespan you likely missed them. Then of course there’s Battletoads.
As I was playing through NES Battletoads for the first time, I finally realized the frustration and pain players had trying to beat this notoriously difficult game. Some of the infamous sections are near impossible to beat at first glance, notably the Turbo Tunnel (there’s even an achievement beating a full loop of it… good luck with that), but good thing there’s rewind and other cheats to make things slightly more possible. Fortunately there’s Battletoads Arcade in this compilation too and it’s the better game of the two personally. The arcade game is more of a classic beat em’ up eliminating the difficult sections and focused more on the beat em’ up gameplay. Sure, there’s still enemies giving out cheap deaths you’ll experience because it’s a quarter gobbler, but Battletoads Arcade is a fun one to play through especially with potentially two other folks at least once.
The N64 years had some of Rare’s best games and cult classics. Killer Instinct Gold not so much because it’s a gimped version of Killer Instinct 2 and since there’s both arcade versions of the series available with the new game, I wonder why Microsoft and Rare couldn’t work something out to get those in. Then again, all the Killer Instinct games are finally in one console now so that’s something. 1997’s Blast Corps was indeed a cult hit for the N64 and still is a great game that holds up today. Jet Force Gemini was an interesting one revisiting because of it’s awkward control scheme, but a recent patch gave it modern controls. Not even that could save it from a being a good game and I can’t believe I was able to beat it when I was a kid. Conker’s Bad Fur Day is the N64 original and not the Xbox remake being censored, but still quite an edgy platformer when it came out in 2000 despite dealing with camera issues here.
The rest of the N64 games in Rare Replay are their XBLA ports. To me, Banjo-Kazooie is one of a handful games I can still play on muscle memory alone remembering where most of the jiggies and music notes were at. That alone was why it’s one of the greatest platformers of all-time and the XBLA port is indeed worth owning if you don’t have the N64 original. It’s sequel Banjo-Tooie however was when Rare amped up the collect-a-thon and backtracking too much it turned off players, so it wasn’t as memorable as the first game. Perfect Dark improved what GoldenEye 007 started and resulted in an arguably better game than GoldenEye to many people. Playing a N64-style shooter again with weird aiming controls was a rude awakening especially how core shooter controls changed over the years, but like the majority of the games in this compilation, it’s still worth playing just on nostalgia alone.
Grabbed by the Ghoulies was Rare’s first game under the Microsoft umbrella. This original Xbox game was also ported up to the Xbox One and surprisingly looks pretty good for a remaster on Microsoft’s current console. When it came out in 2003, it indeed get a ton of flack because Rare fans weren’t happy about them leaving Nintendo for Microsoft. Playing it for the first game on Rare Replay and then beating it a few hours later and it’s actually another underrated game by Rare with a cool visual style and unique controls while maintaining the charm they were known for years.
Rare had a double dose of games for the Xbox 360’s launch in November 2005. Kameo: Elements of Power was a long awaited game being in the works on previous Nintendo systems and one I missed out on nearly ten years ago. Just like Ghoulies, I played this underrated game and beaten it for the first time as it was indeed a solid launch title. The monster transformations Kameo have their unique uses, but for some of them I was fighting the controls more than enjoying them. Perfect Dark Zero was Microsoft’s go-to shooter for the 360’s launch, but playing it now felt like was already behind the times where trying to be as close to Halo as they can especially adding a clunky cover mechanic. At least the online multiplayer is revitalized for now thanks to this compilation.
After rushing out two launch games, it was the Viva Pinata series that got Rare back into their groove. Their versatility that they were known for years showed in the original in 2006 and it’s sequel Trouble in Paradise a year later. I also missed out on these games when they first come out and playing them for a bit here already got me hooked. Attracting new pinatas along with managing your garden making sure your pinatas are romancing and happy, keeping the sour ones out and preventing fights is something you don’t expect from Rare especially them making a garden simulator, but yet they managed to make a sleeper hit series that eventually also spawned a cartoon. Jetpac Refuelled was Rare’s chance to bring back a Spectrum game in high definition, which was Jetpac and resulted in a modernized version with powered up weapons and more. Lastly, there’s Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, the Banjo game that got a lot of hate because it wasn’t the same old Banjo, and the new gameplay hook of customizing vehicles Lego style to tackle levels turned out to be pretty cool being another sleeper hit on the 360.
Rare Replay does have obvious omissions because of licensing issues or other versions released elsewhere. Wizards and Warriors is surprisingly not in this compilation for example. Of course Nintendo wouldn’t let Microsoft and Rare put out the SNES Donkey Kong Country trilogy, Diddy Kong Racing and Donkey Kong 64 on a Xbox One. Then there’s the debacle trying to release GoldenEye 007 on Xbox Live Arcade, but that whole fiasco between Microsoft, Nintendo and Activision, who currently have the Bond game rights can be saved for another time. As mentioned earlier, the arcade Killer Instincts are already on the Xbox One if you bought Ultra Editions of the new seasons. Conker Live & Reloaded could be saved for DLC down the line if Rare feels like releasing that even though Bad Fur Day is already in.
There are definitely home runs and strikeouts in Rare Replay from some of the greatest games of all-time to their most underrated ones. I found newfound appreciation for Slalom, Grabbed by the Ghoulies, Kameo and Viva Pinata. Others I remembered liking when I was a kid, but not so much today with Jet Force Gemini for example. The Spectrum lineup is there for historic reasons even though most of them don’t hold up. The amount of effort put into the presentation was something Rare didn’t have to do, but they did since it is a love letter to the fans. I did encounter some framerate and audio issues with the 360 backwards compatible games likely because of they were handled on Xbox One than being ported. Depending on your gaming tastes, there’s something you’ll like on this $30 package and 30 games for that much is something you can’t miss out on the Xbox One. It’s exciting to see Rare’s history compiled in one disc and can’t wait to see what’s next for them especially with Sea of Thieves out next year.