Rare Replay review: in times past

Game Info
Platform Xbox One
Publisher Microsoft
Developer N/A
Release Date Aug 4, 2015

Whether you have fond memories of Rare games or not, there's no denying that it's a developer with an almost comically deep history.

Rare has existed since 1982, when it was a quirky start-up British development house going by the name Ultimate Play the Game. Since then, the studio has worked on well over 100 games across a huge number of platforms. Rare Replay doesn't contain anywhere near every game from the developer's striking catalog, but its collection of 30 games represents a full spectrum of genres and creative capabilities.

Some of Rare Replay's games are fantastic, and some are terrible; some are a welcome return to warm memories, while others would have served me better by fading from my brain for good. But what's notable about Rare Replay is not the quality or lack thereof of any individual game. This collection provides something more important than the merits of each title on its own: a vital historical record, an incredible archive of the achievements — good and bad — of one of the most ubiquitous developers in the industry.

Rare Replay has smart tools to help new players get comfortable with older releases

Depending on which era of Rare games you grew up alongside, this collection can be imposing at the start. The huge list of games available begins with 1983's Jetpac, an excellent arcade-style game that belongs in the same conversation as classics like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong.

But the rest of the earliest entries in Rare Replay are ambitious, ahead-of-their-time games that can be really hard to parse for a modern gamer. Entries like 1983's Atic Atac or 1985's Gunfright — games that were popularized on the U.K.-only ZX Spectrum hardware but remain largely unknown to a U.S. audience — were difficult for me to figure out.

However, Rare Replay has several smart tools to help new players get comfortable with the older releases. Most notably, the pre-N64 games in the collection come with a series of "Snapshot" challenges, bite-sized bits of gameplay that force you to master one specific mechanic in each game. The Snapshots can also be strung together in a playlist format, challenging you to get through snippets from multiple games with a limited number of lives. Snapshots can be tough, but I found them useful (if not essential) to piecing together how to actually play these relics.

Rare Replay also takes a note from emulator software by providing an incredibly useful rewind function. This is again limited to pre-N64 games, but for those older titles, any time you mess up or feel like redoing a segment, you can rewind up to a minute back in the gameplay. Though there's no traditional quick save/quick load functionality, the game will auto-save your spot in any older title when you quit, allowing you to jump back in at the same location. Some gamers might consider these cheap shortcuts, but it allows even the less talented players to see as much of a game as they want if they have enough perseverance.

And let's be real, it's the only way I'm going to ever finally beat the NES version of Battletoads, so I'm thankful for that.

Rare Replay a fixed

In addition to the collection of games and tools to make playing them easier than ever, Rare Replay is packed with archival documentary footage. This includes interviews with Rare staff members past and present, video features on topics such as what qualifies something as a Rare game and even some behind-the-scenes looks at projects from the developer that never saw the light of day. Though much of it has to be unlocked by collecting stamps through playing the games, there's a lot of entertaining stuff here. Even if you don't like the developer at all, I can't imagine coming out of seeing this stuff without some level of respect for what it's done.

Rare Replay review b


Rare Replay comes packed with 30 titles, and if you didn't grow up in the United Kingdom in the '80s, it's entirely possible you haven't even heard of many of them. So where should you start? I made a feature listing every game in the collection, from worst to best, and we also made videos for each one. You can check that out here.

If there's anything questionable about Rare Replay, it's the way that the games are structured on the Xbox One hardware itself. That is to say, Rare Replay doesn't install as a single game. Rather, you install a core game with 21 titles included, and then nine more — Banjo-KazooiePerfect DarkBanjo-TooiePerfect Dark Zero, Kameo: Elements of PowerViva Pinata, Jetpac RefuelledViva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts — install separately as individual titles. This is because these inclusions are the Xbox 360 versions of each of those games, running off of Xbox One's new Xbox 360 backward compatibility functionality.

The install process is a little odd and maybe overly complex, but what's really concerning is that it seems like — at launch, at least — these Xbox 360 titles may not all run perfectly on the Xbox One. We ran into some framerate issues with Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts and Perfect Dark Zero in particular. We weren't able to compare these to performance on the original Xbox 360, but regardless it's disappointing to see a few of the games in this collection running so poorly on much more powerful hardware.

Wrap Up:

Rare Replay is an essential piece of gaming history

Performance concerns aside, Rare Replay demonstrates how a single developer has carried certain elements across a whole span of genres and platforms. There's a sense of ambition to Rare's catalog, of joy and whimsy, a brightness that comes through even in the more self-serious games. Rare Replay paints a picture of a studio always excited and eager to try something new, even if that new thing turned out imperfect. Whatever Rare's future, there's a history here that's worth remembering and celebrating.

Rare Replay was reviewed using an early retail Xbox One copy of the game provided by Microsoft. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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8.0 Xbox One