Review: Rare Replay

Writing a review for Rare Replay is among the most bizarre tasks imaginable in video game journalism. Think about it: this isn’t just a review of one game, it’s a review of thirty. On top of that, these are thirty titles from a studio that countless gamers hold in extremely high regard and nearly all of them are regarded as great in some fashion. Okay, maybe throwing Kameo: Elements of Power and Digger T. Rock into the realm of greatness is a bit of a stretch, but some of the lesser titles included in this package still help to elevate it as one of the best values in gaming today. While some of the games in Rare Replay don’t necessarily hold up to the test of time (namely the non-Jetpac ZX Spectrum titles and Jet Force Gemini) and two inclusions contain notable technical issues, it’s nearly impossible to argue that any Xbox One owner shouldn’t have Rare Replay permanently installed. Whether this is a trip down memory lane or a wonderful history lesson, there’s enough content here to keep players satisfied for months on end.

With the average review consisting of 1200-1500 words, there’s no way on Earth that this will actually be a full 45,000 word novel detailing the pros and cons of each title included in Rare Replay. While there might be a sad soul out there who wants to read something like that, for the sake of conciseness, entertainment and my own personal sanity, this review will essentially be broken into multiple groups of titles. While playing through Rare Replay, there were a few distinct categories that every game seemed to fall into: classics that work in 2015, games that are okay today but were better in their day, interesting history lessons that haven’t aged well and games that are basically unplayable for whatever reason. The latter two groups actually make the daunting idea of thirty games in one package feel a lot more manageable, especially the group of games that serve as an interesting window into games of yesteryear.

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Okay, it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for: which games in Rare Replay are still amazing in 2015? It’s definitely a pleasure to say that a fair chunk of the thirty included titles still feel just as good as they did when they were released. SlalomR.C. Pro-Am, Battletoads, R.C. Pro-Am II, Battletoads Arcade, Killer Instinct Gold, Grabbed by the Ghoulies (okay, maybe this isn’t a classic, but whatever), Viva Piñata and Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise all fall into this wonderful category. Every one of these games feels like an individual highlight worth playing through all over again, which is definitely the reason you’re here right? The NES titles on this list are the greatest surprise, as something about racing down the hills in Slalom or racing your tiny car in R.C. Pro-Am is just as fun in 2015 as it was years ago. Of course, Battletoads and Battletoads Arcade are their own beasts entirely, as these seem to be the games headlining this massive collection, as evidenced by the massive Battletoad in the Rare Replay logo. While there are a bunch of people out there who think that this franchise is some B-grade Ninja Turtles ripoff, there’s something oddly satisfying about how tight the mechanics are in these two titles. Viva Piñata still might be the best looking Xbox 360 game of all time, and the art design in this garden simulator will certainly stand the test of time. If there’s any reason for you to purchase Rare Replay, it’s these games right here, as they not only show some of the best aspects of Rare’s work, but these are titles that are going to be fantastic for many years to come.

While there are a great deal of people who enjoy the Banjo Kazooie games today, these titles feel like they’ve ushered in some of the worst aspects of modern open-world design. The first two Banjo titles bring up an interesting question: would games like Assassin’s Creed have as many worthless collectibles if these games never existed? Sure, games like Super Mario 64 had a heavy emphasis on collection, Kazooie and Tooie feel like they took the idea to a whole new level. It’s for this reason that these two games highlight the selection of titles in Rare Replay that are intriguing lessons in the history of video games, but not necessarily the greatest experiences you can have in 2015. There isn’t inherently wrong with this next group of games, which includes Banjo-KazooieBanjo-Tooie, Solar JetmanCobra TriangleSnake Rattle ‘n’ RollPerfect Dark, Conker’s Bad Fur DayPerfect Dark ZeroKameo: Elements of Power and Jetpac Refueled, but these aren’t necessarily the titles that you’re likely going to be spending the majority of your time with. One interesting point to bring up is that the two Perfect Dark games have aged much better than one would think due to their advanced controls (with the former having modern first-person shooter mechanics due to its Xbox 360 remake). Make no mistake, these games definitely feel dated, but it’s fascinating to think about how these titles, however controversial, found a way to move their genre forward. The seventeen titles discussed thus far do this collection the most justice, as history lessons can be interesting, but they’re far more interesting when the games themselves provide worthwhile gameplay experiences in 2015.

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Now is where things start to get a bit more controversial. JetpacAtic AtacLunar JetmanSabre WulfUnderwurldeKnight LoreGunfrightDigger T. Rock and Blast Corps all definitely feel like meaningful inclusions in this compilation, but the sad thing is that they’re not all that fun to play in 2015. This is definitely a function of the fact that modern games have learned a great deal of lessons from these titles and have improved certain mechanics so much that it’s tough to go back. It’s likely that a decent amount of older gamers out there still enjoy games from the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64, but all of the games from these systems in Rare Replay feel far too dated at this point (though Jetpac holds up surprisingly well, though its updated version Jetpac Refueled is simply a better version of the original). Think about it: how much better would Atic Atac be if it had twin-stick controls like, say, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth? This absolutely isn’t something that Ultimate Play the Game could have controlled back in the day, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these games, but we, as gamers, have been spoiled. Games have evolved, and while it’s great to see where they’ve come from, it’s definitely tough to try and ignore everything that has been implemented in the years since these titles have come out. There are also weird moments in these games that definitely show the fact that these are largely straight ports. Conker‘s Bad Fur Day, for instance, has dedicated Xbox One controller buttons in the tutorial, but the dialogue itself still mentions the N64 button prompts. While the task of porting thirty games over to a new system is no small task, it would have been nice to see a few changes made to make these titles feel a bit more at home on Xbox One (this goes double for the unskippable dialogue in the Banjo games). It’s also worth noting that Blast Corps currently contains the one of the most glaring technical issues in Rare Replay, as its audio can completely drop out at times, sullying the experience.

Sadly, there are two games in Rare Replay that are largely unplayable by today’s standards, but for different reasons. Jet Force Gemini is, without a doubt, the title in this collection that has aged the worst. Somehow the feeling of the N64’s analog stick has directly transferred over to the Xbox One controller, as manual aiming feels still and uncomfortable. Combine this with the awkward menu layouts, the awkward control scheme (which can’t be altered in any game at this time) and the largely unbearable camera, and you have the makings of an experience that is best left in 1999. Don’t get me wrong, there might be some people out there that will take great joy from playing through this sci-fi title sixteen years later, but a great deal of players will likely put this one down never to return. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, on the other hand, is hands-down the black mark on Rare Replay. After making it through the opening sequence, its framerate tanks to an unplayable fifteen-ish frames-per-second, which makes steering your vehicle borderline impossible. Perhaps this is a function of poor Xbox 360 emulation, but to see a title that might have been the stealth highlight of Rare Replay suffer such glaring technical issues is nothing short of a shame.

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So what have Microsoft and Rare done to make Rare Replay feel like a unified experience? The good news, is that the answer is quite a lot. Possibly the best inclusion is the fact that you can save at any time by holding down the menu button, which also gives you access to game-specific cheats (want to play through Battletoads with unlimited lives?) and other options. Multiple save slots for each title feels like something that, if excluded, would have soured the whole experience. While the titles themselves haven’t been updated whatsoever, the fact that the wrapper around them feels like it belongs in 2015 is something special. The entire user interface is designed to feel like it’s some sort of play because of the constant curtain draws, the painfully adorable opening theme song and the general aesthetic of the entire experience. Rare has smartly designed this as more of a playable history show than anything else, which allows every game, even the less appealing ones, to shine in some fashion. Combine this with a dedicate ranking system that unlocks extra behind-the-scenes and making-of videos, and it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the action. Every time you accomplish a challenge, try a new game or play one of the NES Remix-like Snapshots, you’ll earn a stamp that counts towards your overall ranking. This meta-game, in addition to the wonderful coat of paint that the whole interface sports, makes Rare Replay feel like the exact opposite of what it could have been: a series of lazy ports.

The aforementioned Snapshots, which feel like they’ve taken a great deal of inspiration from NES Remix, mark a great change of pace from the regular games themselves. Though these disappointingly only comprise of titles up to Battletoads Arcade, there’s something oddly addicting about completing micro-challenges in a limited amount of time. In fact, being able to accomplish goals that are entirely separate from the titles themselves actually make the ZX Spectrum titles a lot more exciting, as players can focus on simply killing enemies or scoring points rather than actually playing the campaigns themselves. It would have been great to see some of the more modern titles included in these Snapshots (Viva Piñata challenges would have been amazing), but what’s currently present is fantastic.

Finally, the behind-the scenes videos really hammer home the fact that Rare Replay is both a history lesson about and a celebration of Rare. Finding out what went into the making of titles like Banjo-Kazooie, which originally started off as an open-world Zelda clone called Project Dream, or Conker’s Bad Fur Day, which might have been a really bland character platformer, is nothing short of fascinating. The fact that all of these clips are tied to player progression gives Rare Replay one of the most rewarding ranking systems found on the Xbox One. It’s weird to think that behind-the-scenes videos might be the highlight of a collection chock-full of classic games, but that sort of seems like it’s the case here.

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Closing Comments:

Rare Replay isn’t without its minor hiccups, understandable in such a vast collection, but it’s something that should be in every Xbox One owner’s collection. Even though Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts and Blast Corps have their share of technical issues and the ZX Spectrum titles included have aged roughly, it’s going to be almost impossible not to enjoy yourself here. Through its interface and additional content, Rare has composed a collection of ports that actually feels like a product of love rather than a way to get some extra cash before Sea of Thieves comes out. Whether you’re rushing through Battletoads‘ Turbo Tunnel, jumping over moguls in Slalom, doing the Romance Dance in Viva Piñata or collecting every note in Banjo-Tooie, there are hours and hours of entertainment to be had here. When Microsoft announced that Rare Replay was a real thing at E3 2015, everyone with an Xbox One rejoiced at the perceived value of this collection. It’s a joy to report that this perception is, without doubt, a bona fide reality.