Rare Replay, a collection of 30 Rare-developed games from the last 32 years, comes out this week. It's a game that's well worth owning if you have an Xbox One, even just for the history's sake, but I'll leave our review to explain that.
But if you do pick it up, where do you start? There are a lot of games and a lot of history to dig through here. What's most worth playing, and what's better left untouched?
I created a numbered list of all the games in Rare Replay, ordered from worst to best according to my opinion. I've consulted with other Polygon editors on this list, but it should be clear that these were my choices in the end. I also invited colleagues Danielle Riendeau and Nick Robinson to record videos of each selection with me, which you can find included in each entry below or watch in a single three-hour-long sequence on YouTube.
I think the reason Perfect Dark Zero stands out as particularly bad compared to every other Rare game in this collection is just how big of a disappointment it was. Some other Rare games may not be as polished or may have some particularly nasty flaws, but Perfect Dark Zero was a sequel to a beloved game from the developer. It had high expectations from gamers, and it didn't really meet any of them, except arguably in its online multiplayer. And while that online multiplayer is still playable today, good luck finding much interest in it.
Like many of Rare's early games for the ZX Spectrum, Sabre Wulf is incredibly ambitious. It's also incredibly difficult to return to, especially if you didn't grow up with it. The speed of Sabre Wulf, in particular, makes it really tough to get a handle on what's going on long enough to actually make any progress. It doesn't help that your only real option against hordes of jungle creatures is ineffectively swinging a sword in their general direction.
If Knight Lore looks a bit similar to Sabre Wulf, it's meant to; it technically takes place in the same series, starring the same protagonist, lovingly known as Sabreman. That also means Knight Lore inherits a lot of the same problems as Sabre Wulf. It moves at a slower pace but adds in difficult platforming in a baffling isometric perspective.
Of Rare Replay's earliest games, Atic Atac is easily the most playable. While juggling items through your limited inventory space can be frustrating, there's some basic, simple fun to be had in exploring this haunted house and bouncing knives off the walls to kill spooky pumpkins.
Here's another one starring Sabreman. This time, though, the game is a 2D platformer with some of the most impressive animation seen at the time. I love the idea behind Underwurlde, though I was never able to make it too deep without getting knocked around by weird Cthulhu monsters.
Who needs Red Dead Redemption? This ambitious Western lets you roam around an open isometric town, hunting down bad guys for bounties. I'm still not sure why touching cacti and innocent ladies kills you, but such is life in the Wild West.
Do not take my poor effort at playing Lunar Jetman in the video above as condemnation. This is actually a really cool arcade-style game that builds on the legacy and theme of Rare's classic Jetpac. I just also happen to really suck at not getting hit in the face by space debris.
As Rare's first major Xbox game after Microsoft purchased the company in 2002, Grabbed by the Ghoulies was largely considered a letdown and evidence that Microsoft had made a mistake in paying a huge chunk of money for the developer. People wanted the next Banjo-Kazooie or Perfect Dark, and instead they got a fairly simple, kid-friendly beat-em-up. I get the disappointment, but removed from the context of that history, I do think Grabbed by the Ghoulies was a little unfairly maligned. It's nowhere near as good as Rare's best work, but it's also a far cry from its worst.
This trap-filled, treasure-hunting game was sort of like Tomb Raider before Tomb Raider existed. It also gets incredibly difficult in later levels, so be sure to put that rewind function to work if you plan to beat it.
Launching for Xbox 360 alongside Perfect Dark Zero, Kameo was similarly maligned for not quite living up to gamers' expectations. In retrospect, it's not so bad — a colorful, fast-paced fantasy game built around an imaginative world. Sure, it's not the next Banjo-Kazooie, but it's pretty fun in its own right.
Solar Jetman would be one of my personal favorites in this collection if not for one small issue: I find it damn near impossible to control the game's tiny space pods. Watching this video will not do the difficulty of this mechanic justice. It may look like the little rockets firing on the ship are doing something, but I promise you, it's not enough. Still, Solar Jetman deserves a look, and I'm now desperate to track down someone who's really good at the game and see them in action.
As a modern-day sequel to one of Rare's best games, Jetpac Refuelled captures the simple-but-fun gameplay of the original Jetpac. But it also adds in a lot of unnecessarily busy graphics, and the original Jetpac is in this collection, so it's hard to feel like Refuelled is essential. Can we all just stop to appreciate how rad Jetpac is?
I have a lot of fond memories of Killer Instinct from my childhood, which explains most of why it's ranked this high. I know some people will disagree, but honestly I find it really hard to go back to this era of incredibly stiff controls in fighting games. Of course, after watching this video, you may just chalk that up to me sucking, and you wouldn't be entirely wrong!
This may be a controversial opinion, but I don't think Conker's Bad Fur Day holds up very well. Rare's imagination is on display here with some fun movie parodies and the still-hilarious Great Mighty Poo sequence, but the core gameplay and level design are really clunky and poorly thought out compared to some of the developer's other great games of this era.
At first glance, you might mistake Cobra Triangle for any other vehicle-based shoot-em-up from the NES days. That would be a mistake, though. There's actually a lot of depth to this game, with mission objectives ranging from disarming mines to fighting a sea serpent to trying to protect innocent civilians from being kidnapped. Also, your boat transforms into a helicopter at the end of missions, and that's pretty rad.
Slalom is a simplistic NES-era interpretation of skiing, but it nails the basic feel of speed and control enough to make it worth returning to. There's also way more tracks than I would expect from a game of this time — including three separate mountains of varying difficulties to make your way down.
This weird-as-hell platformer is all about making your snake grow longer. Seriously. It's hampered a little by its bizarre isometric viewing angle, but then that's also part of the charm. Snake Rattle 'n' Roll is absolutely worth checking out if you've never played it before.
This one surprised me. I had never played this arcade rendition of the Battletoads franchise, and it turns out it's an incredibly fun brawler with a heavier focus on over-the-top animation and violence compared to the NES original. I've heard it was quite the quarter-muncher in arcades, but that makes Rare Replay the perfect place to experience Battletoads Arcade without carrying along a sack full of change.
Jet Force Gemini isn't the most polished of Rare's N64 offerings, but it is one of the most complex and interesting. The only issue with this planet-hopping action game? The controls are ... well, more than a little confusing, let's say. If you can get past that, though, there's a lot to love here.
Technically Rare's first-ever game, back when the developer was known as Ultimate Play the Game, Jetpac seriously holds up in a way that few games from the '80s (including others in this collection) do. The arcade game structure here is simple: You build a spaceship piece by piece, then gather fuel for it, all while avoiding UFOs and various bits of space debris. The tight controls make this a really fantastic experience that can be hard to put down, even today.
Battletoads is the stuff of legends. I was growing up when this notoriously difficult game came out, and I rented it from the local video store constantly. Most of those rentals, I never made it past the third or fourth levels. But thanks to Rare Replay's rewind functionality, it's time for me to get my revenge.
There's a fairly vocal segment of the Rare fanbase that loves Banjo-Tooie above all else. Though I may not agree, I can't say that they're mistaken about much; this is a fantastic 3D platformer that builds on some of the developer's best work. For me, Banjo-Tooie falls just a little short of its predecessor, largely thanks to a lack of focus. In trying to cram more and more into the game, as most sequels do, it ends up being a slightly less memorable experience overall. It's still excellent, though!
Viva Piñata was one of Rare's biggest surprises ever. A farming/animal breeding sim? With a focus on making candy-based animals mate? Yep! And it worked splendidly. This is one of my favorite chill-out games ever.
NES-era racing doesn't get much better than this. With a ton of tracks, an ahead-of-its-time vehicle upgrade system and sometimes hilariously challenging computer-controlled opponents, I sunk a lot of time into R.C. Pro-Am as a kid. Good news: It feels great going back to it.
Being raised on PC gaming and PC-based shooters in particular, I missed out on a lot of the hype around Perfect Dark. I knew my console-only friends loved it, but I didn't really get why. As I've grown older and returned to the game, though, I've come to respect how Rare builds on what it started with GoldenEye, creating what is probably the best shooter an N64 audience could have hoped for.
Remember how I was just praising the original R.C. Pro-Am for an ahead-of-its-time vehicle upgrade system? Well, the sequel improves on that idea tenfold. This time, instead of just grabbing upgrades on the track, you pick up money that you can then spend on upgrades of your choice between races. This makes your car's evolution feel more like an extension of yourself and your own choices rather than the randomness of which items you just happen to smash into during a race. Add in a bunch of new tracks and a wider variety of track types, and this sequel is everything I could have asked for as a kid.
As a hardcore Banjo-Kazooie fan, I admit to being a little disappointed when I discovered that this game was more free-form vehicle creation playground than the classic platforming I remembered and missed from the N64 days. That said, it's hard to hold a grudge toward Nuts & Bolts when the end result of the formula shake-up was a game this imaginative, fun and completely unique.
Blast Corps is arguably Rare's most underappreciated game, and the one most begging for a modern reimagining. There's a purity to the joy of smashing down buildings in the game's huge variety of vehicles (including jetpack-equipped robots!), and I can't help but imagine how awesome a similar style of game could be with modern destruction and physics engines. Someone needs to step up and make this happen!
Trouble in Paradise is in large part the same (excellent) game that came out two years prior, but the handful of quality-of-life improvements really put it ahead of the original. Of particular note, this sequel adds the fantastic "Just For Fun Mode," which gives you an empty garden and unlimited money and resources to create whatever type of home for your piñata pets that you'd like. It's maximum chill, and the ideal form of one of Rare's best ideas ever.
Of all Rare's games, Banjo-Kazooie is the one that best achieves a balance between ambition and focus. It's a huge game — in the Rare Replay behind-the-scenes videos, the devs even admit that they started work on Banjo-Kazooie with the intent of making something better than Super Mario 64. But it never gets lost in its size. Whether you're roaming through an open level or exploring a newly unlocked section of antagonist Grunty's secret lair, you're given freedom without losing sense of the path forward. Banjo-Kazooie is one of the best 3D platformers ever made — a statement as true today as it was when the game came out in 1998.