Boasting no fewer than 30 games from Rare's extraordinary back catalog, Rare Replay takes us on a three-decade-long trip through gaming's history, starting with the 1983 ZX Spectrum classic, Jetpac – which was originally released under the auspices of the legendary Ultimate Play the Game label – all the way through to the 2008 Xbox One title, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts.
The game is actually ten applications in all – nine Xbox 360 titles that are downloaded directly to your hard drive and run under backwards compatibility, and a tenth program that contains the rest of the games, which all run under emulation. At least, I assume the older games run under emulation, because they look absolutely identical to their original counterparts – just crisper, clearer, and with some great (optional) border art surrounding the screen.
What's immediately apparent when you boot up this compilation is just how wonderfully crafted and beautifully presented it is. It strikes the perfect balance between looking great, sporting a few frills like curtains opening and closing (with a neat touch that the menu music then becomes slightly muffled) and showcasing carnival-style ads for the games, but not being so slow or obtrusive that you become annoyed waiting for things to happen.
But it's when you get into the games proper that you can really appreciate the attention to detail that's been poured into this historic compilation. The non-360 games can be saved at any time (and they auto-save just in case you forget) – so you can drop in and out whenever you wish and continue from where you left off. There's a full rewind option that lets you reverse the last ten or so seconds of gameplay – which is an absolute godsend for some of the absolutely rock freakin' hard early games like Battletoads and Snake, Rattle and Roll. Some games also have an unlimited life toggle, and even a CRT monitor effect. Brilliant stuff!
It doesn't end there. While I would have been fully satisfied with what I've already outlined, Rare has gone above and beyond with this collection, creating a "Stamp" system – I'm sure named in tribute to the Stamper brothers who started Ultimate Play the Game back in the early 80's and were Rare stalwarts all the way through until their departure in 2007. This is basically a huge series of challenges that award stamps that you collect to unlock things like making-of videos and featurettes, Rare tunes, concept showcases, and unseen projects and ideas. Challenges vary from just opening and playing a game to specific tasks like collecting or discovering certain things. There's even a series of dedicated challenges that exist as a playlist of portions or moments of a game with a specific target you need to achieve. These range from short challenges, such as killing a certain number of creatures in a short amount of time to finishing up a game that's near completion.
I think these challenges are a great idea. While it's possible to blitz through a game using unlimited lives and the rewind option, the challenges give you targets to aim for that aren't always so easy, and essentially give you a different way – or ways, depending on the challenges – to play the game.
While this compilation of titles has been wonderfully put together, the real stars of the show are, of course, the games themselves. The collection represents a stellar journey through the back catalog of perhaps the most important British developer in the history of gaming. At this point I wish I had the time to go off on a tangent about how historically influential many of these games are, and why (if you're interested, the Retronauts team and I discussed many of these games in a podcast episode back in March), but I'll save that for another time.
Instead, I'll simply say that, clichéd though it may be, there's something here for everybody. Depending on when you first discovered Rare games, this package just oozes memories and nostalgia. If, like me, you're from the very dawn of computer gaming, then obviously the collection of ZX Spectrum titles like Sabre Wulf, Lunar Jetman and Knight Lore, complete with authentic sound and attribute clash, are going to send you straight back to sitting hunched in front of the TV during the mid-80's. NES players have a smorgasbord of titles to wax nostalgic with, ranging from Rare's first game on that console, Slalom, through the late 80's and early 90's games like Snake, Rattle and Roll, RC Pro AM, Cobra Triangle, and the legendarily difficult Battletoads.
Of course, it doesn't end there. The hits keep on coming all the way through the 90's and 00's. There's the Battletoads arcade game, Killer Instinct Gold, one of my all-time faves, the absolutely awesome Blast Corps, three Banjo games, a pair of Perfect Dark titles, two Viva Pinata titles and, as way of a nice historical endcap to the Jetman series, Jetpac Refueled. And that's still not everything on this compilation! The only games that seem to be "missing" are Goldeneye and Donkey Kong Country, but that's for reasons that should be patently obvious.
Ultimately, Rare Replay is an excellent journey through three decades of gaming that's both a pleasure and – to those who mightn't have played some of the early Rare and Ultimate games – an education. For younger players, I'm sure some of the older games will seem a little simplistic and long in the tooth, but to people like me who cut their gaming teeth on many of these titles back in the mid 80's, it's terrific to be able to play them again with modern-day trappings like save game features. What amazes me is that I managed to finish many of them the first time around – these days I'm dying every few seconds and constantly using the rewind feature to avoid making repeated mistakes. One thing's for sure – no matter which Rare game is your first, this compilation is a reminder of how tough games used to be back in the day.
At $30 for 30 games, this is a great package for the cash. Even without any frills, this would have been a splendid jaunt down memory lane – but add in all the extras that have been lovingly added to this compilation, and you have an absolutely top-notch collection that offers exceptional value for money. Just playing through the games for a short period of time each takes a few hours, but there's so much more to Rare Replay than just that. With many different challenges to complete – plus the challenge playlists – Rare Replay represents a high water mark for compilations.
A fantastic package that charts the history of one of Britain's most important developers. It works both as a historical archive, and as a top-tier package of classic games. There really is something for everyone in this wonderfully crafted anthology.