In the mid to late 2000s, retro compilations were a huge deal. Lapsed gamers wanted to play some of their childhood favorites, and disc sizes got to the point where dozens of games could be included with then-modern flourishes like online leaderboards. With the rise of digital distribution, these compilations went the way of the 8-track as only modern-day compilations and Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection hit shelves to satisfy those with a sweet tooth for the past. Instead of scoring four touchdowns in a single game like Al Bundy, Rare Replay allows you to relive not only some of Rare’s ’90s hits, but also its more recent and distant-past games as well.
As someone whose earliest Rare game was RC Pro-Am before this compilation, I found the inclusion of so many of the older games to be fascinating. You can see some modern game design elements in things like Lunar Jetman, which really wouldn’t be out of place now as a runner-style game on mobile devices. Of the collection’s pre-NES hits, that and Jetpac surprised me with how well they’ve aged. The bright multi-colored graphics definitely helped, even if the gameplay is super-simple by today’s standards.
Playing through everything included here shows that while some of Rare’s best work was on Nintendo’s IPs, they also had a ton of stuff that they created that was top-shelf outside of that realm. Battletoads remains as fun (and frustrating) now as it was in his day. However, some anti-frustration features have been added to the pre-N64 games to make them more user-friendly to today’s fans. Emulation fans are familiar with save states, and they’re here to help if you need them. Rewind functionality is also included, and a must for the speeder bike portions of Battletoads.
The rewind is done much like an old VCR with scratches all over the video, and it’s quite impressive. What isn’t so impressive are the mandatory borders on the screens. While they might make for fine wallpaper images, and I wouldn’t mind having full images of them available for that purpose, they do clutter the screen up. It’s something that really sticks out as an issue when you see footage in the bonus featurettes, and it has the game footage without borders and just uses black bars. It’s such a better overall look and keeps the focus squarely on the games.
This collection is a great dollar value for anyone wanting Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and the Perfect Dark games. Heck, just for the 360 stuff alone it’s an amazing value. However, the real value comes from all the underrated games here. As a long-time RC Pro-Am fan, I love seeing that included here alongside its sequel. It’s a bit odd to not have the Genesis version included as well to make this the definitive Pro-Am experience, but that’s not a huge loss. Battletoads in Battlemaniacs is one though, but it’s also almost made up for by including Battletoads Arcade – playable on a console for the first time ever.
That game is one of the gems that makes this collection a must-own. Blast Corps is another one, and like Jet Force Gemini and Perfect Dark – it plays great using the Xbox One controller. Care has gone into making the transition from that controller to this one seamless, and the button prompts have been updated (for the most part) to reflect the current controller and not the original one. Button remapping would be nice though, as it’s a bit more natural to have A jump and X be an action button in some games, but it’s not a big issue – just a minor annoyance.
One of the best parts about the collection is the history of videos. You get glimpses into the history of the company and just why the games were made. You see rarely-seen bits of artwork from Project Dream, which became Banjo-Kazooie, and early Twelve Tales footage as well. No story of Rare’s best work would be complete without Nintendo, and while Nintendo-owned IPs aren’t included, the interviews do praise the company a lot. The making of Conker featurette has the crew praise Nintendo for being so lenient, and while yes, the chainsawing of the N64 logo is gone – everything else from Bad Fur Day is included. It does seem a bit odd that Live and Reloaded isn’t, but perhaps that can be included down the line as DLC (and without censoring) if an original Xbox emulator is ever made for the Xbox One.
Little video clips like this have been included in past compilations, like the Midway Arcade Treasures ones on the PS2/GC/Xbox, but they were really low-quality. They looked like old VHS footage put into bordered boxes and never went beyond surface-level. Here, you’ll learn about the struggles in making Battletoads Arcade. Each bit of software for the game had to be written, including audio drivers. They also made it so that in the first 45 seconds of the final battle, nothing you did could hurt him – but he could of course destroy you. Battletoads and Double Dragon crossover is mentioned, but isn’t shown – while Battletoads in Battlemaniacs, which sadly isn’t included, is. Hopefully the latter game gets included as DLC later, because it’s tremendous and one of the best entries in the series.
Other neat inclusions are classic ads shown during the videos and accolades some of the games have received. For being a Microsoft-published release, it’s astonishing to see how much other companies get covered here. Sony even gets some coverage in a sales chart, while Microsoft themselves gets no real mention despite owning the company. It’s a tad odd, but in a good way. Rare Replay feels like a celebration of Rare’s history as best as it can be told without Nintendo’s involvement. It starts off with a beautiful song and the game itself has a theater motif that treats each game like a painting – a work of art if you will.
Rare Replay is one of the best compilations ever created even if it does have some less-than-stellar games in it. 30 games for $30 is still a fantastic value, and any younger players who have been wondering what all the fuss was about with Rare since the Microsoft purchase will be able to get a very good idea as to why Microsoft bought them in the first place. There’s a lot of heart and soul here, and just seeing all of the art and little video clips that haven’t been seen either ever before or ever makes it a must-have for anyone into gaming history.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
This review is based on a digital copy of Rare Replay for the Xbox One provided by Microsoft Studios.