It’s tough to know where to start with Rare Replay. Ultimately, all I really have to say is “Banjo Kazooie and Perfect Dark are in it and they both play really well” and boom, there’s your money’s worth right there. However, the collection boasts 30 games, from across Rare’s history, taking gamers from their unknown days to their explosion in popularity to what some might charitably call their ‘decline’ in the past decade. At a price of AU $49.95, the value is pretty spot-on for a tour of the past 30 years of Rare, but is it worth taking the trip?
From the get-go, players are whisked into a short musical number, hearkening back to the days of Conker’s Bad Fur Day, as the collection of Rare’s mascots and characters sing a celebratory song of the past 30 years. Everybody’s there, Banjo, Conker, Joanna, the Great Mighty Poo, all your favourites. And Kameo. The presentation of the collection is really spot-on, showcased as a great theater hall with portraits of every game lining the walls. You can browse through the entire list, sort by name or release date, and quickly switch between the games, featurettes and ‘snapshots’. Snapshots are short challenges for the earlier ROM-based games (unavailable for most of the 3D titles), which remix sections of the game to become more challenging, much like Nintendo’s NES Remix. There are a couple of niggles, however, as the listed information for each game neglects to mention which console it was originally released on and attempting to learn more about the title or its controls brings up a separate snapped app, which often fails to load.
It’s also worth noting the way Rare Replay installs onto your system. Rather than a single, streamlined package, the collection installs ten separate games onto your system. One is Rare Replay proper containing the bulk of the included games, while the other nine are the Xbox 360 titles (including XBLA remakes of N64 games). This means they can be launched separately, and also updated independently of the game, which can be a little awkward as the bugs in the Xbox 360 backwards compatibility still seem to be getting ironed out (I currently have two copies of Banjo Tooie now sitting in my library, one which will launch and one which will not). Achievements unlocked in the Xbox 360 games will also be reflected in Rare Replay proper, as you are awarded ‘stamps’.
Stamps are used to unlock all of the pretty great documentary content featured in Rare Replay, which range from general retrospectives of the company, behind-the-scenes interviews on specific games and even some pretty cool profiles on certain people, like the voice talent. For fans of Rare’s history, there’s a lot of really cool stuff in here, including some interesting concept art and assets for some of Rare’s ideas that never made it to fruition. The only slight issue is that while there is a wealth of content, Rare will make you work for it. As you accumulate stamps by completing achievements in Rare’s 30 games, you’ll eventually increase in rank, which unlocks more content. While you may think that simply playing each game in the collection would be enough to unlock everything, you’ll actually need to spend a good amount of time with each and every one. Some of the best content doesn’t unlock until Rank 12, even Rank 20 and above.
But that’s enough about the presentation, let’s talk about the games. There’s essentially three ‘eras’ chronicled in the collection, which more or less correspond pretty well with the company’s history. The first third of the games included are from their days as ‘Ultimate Play the Game’ on the ZX Spectrum, including titles many will have never played like Jetpac, Sabre Wulf and Atic Atac. These are comparatively pretty simple compared to Rare’s later games, although they certainly pose quite a bit of a challenge. While the visuals are well-upscaled and crisp, I can’t say there’s too many games here that leave as much of an impression as Rare’s next included ‘era’.
The Nintendo era, of course, holds the best titles of Rare Replay. Games like Battletoads and Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll on the NES, Blast Corps, Banjo Kazooie and Tooie, Perfect Dark and Conker’s Bad Fur Day on N64 are all classics in their respective genres. In the 90’s, Rare had an undisputed track record for producing gold with every release, nailing each genre they attempted. While other companies had a slow and unsure transition into the scary world of 3D, Rare beat the third dimension’s face into a bloody pulp until it worked for them, bending it to their creative needs. Each of these games has an addictive and satisfying ‘je ne sais quoi’ about them, making them timeless and perfectly playable in the modern day.
Finally, we have the Microsoft era, after the company was purchased by the computer giant. Here, Rare enters a more experimental phase, as key staff leave and new staff come on board, and releases are stretched further out. This is where we get games that had a more mixed reception, like Kameo, Grabbed by the Ghoulies, Perfect Dark Zero and Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. There are some who will swear by these titles, although I can’t say I’m among them, as while their visuals can impress the underlying gameplay more often than not just doesn’t have the polish of the past era. There are still little oddball gems, like the Viva Pinata series, but that doesn’t help this chunk of the collection sink to around the middle in terms of quality.
There are notable omissions, though these seem largely due to licensing issues that would have made them impossible to include, like Goldeneye 007, Donkey Kong Country and Battletoads & Double Dragon. However, they do leave fairly glaring gaps in the catalog – the company’s Super Nintendo days are more or less entirely skimmed over. Mr Pants is nowhere to be found and there’s only a single Killer Instinct title in the collection.
Really, at the price-point that Microsoft are aiming at, Rare Replay is still a steal by any measure. If you just take into account the Nintendo classics like the Banjo series, Perfect Dark, Conker and Battletoads, that’s still a fantastic amount of quality gaming value in one package. That there is so much other content, from the ZX Spectrum originals to Rare’s more recent and mixed output, it can be seen as just icing in the cake, much like the unlockable documentaries the disc features. It’s a celebration of the company’s life, for better or worse, from beginning to end, and for fans of the company or just anyone keen to check out some absolute nostalgic corkers, Rare Replay really is a no-brainer.
Some absolute classics included | Crisp HD visuals | Plenty of bonus content
A lot of documentary content walled off unless you play a bunch | Some notable omissions | Integration hiccups