Rare Replay ReviewJason Venter
"Champion." That's what the letters you collect in the Rare Replay version of R.C. Pro-Am spell out now, instead of "Nintendo" the way they did back when the game debuted on the NES in 1988 and Nintendo published the title. When Rare Replay was announced at E3, I knew immediately that I'd wind up owning it, in part so I could satisfy my curiosity on that one minor point. Of course, I could instead have looked for the answer online, if the desire for mostly useless knowledge were my only reason for buying the game. But as it happens, I had plenty of other reasons. 29 of them, you might sayâ€¦
Rare Replay is a magnificent collection of 30 games that Rare developed over the course of as many years. Featured among them are a number of titles I was anxious to play at first, but soon found I didn't especially like. Most of the worst ones were introduced during the days when the company went by a different name (Ultimate Play the Game). Fortunately, that crummy stuff is balanced out by a few of my favorite titles from the NES and Nintendo 64 eras, and then the virtual celebration is capped off by a few treats from the Xbox and Xbox 360's aging libraries. Even if you toss aside the duds, which by my estimation make up roughly half of the collection, you're left with an embarrassment of riches that easily justifies the measly $30 price tag.
A lot of people don't realize it, but Rare developed dozens upon dozens of games during its heyday. It was actually one of the most prolific NES studios anywhere in the world, either coming up with original properties or reworking arcade classics and bringing them to consoles on behalf of developers such as Midway. If you played games much during the late 80s and early 90s, you've almost certainly played more Rare titles than you realize. Rather than publishing its own stuff, the company let Milton Bradley, GameTek, Konami, Acclaim or even Nintendo handle costly packaging and distribution. A lot of 8-bit activity isn't represented here, which is a shame. I wouldn't have minded seeing Captain Hawk, Time Lord, or the Wizards & Warriors trilogy included, despite their varying quality.
Licensing restrictions likely explain why a number of titles didn't make the cut. GoldenEye is one of Rare's most famous efforts and clearly belongs in a compilation such as this one, but it's a no-show. A lot of the Midway arcade titles would have been fun to play again, as well. Their omission is easy to understand, though, as is the absence of Bettlejuice and the Sesame Street stuff. It's unlikely anyone will miss those, anyway, and stuff like Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! has since been done better on newer hardware.
Instead of gathering such dubious titles, the collection includes the aforementioned R.C. Pro-Am, along with its frequently overlooked (and far superior) sequel. If you've always had a soft spot for that franchise, it's almost enough to justify purchasing the collection all on its own. The arcade version of Battletoads, a surprisingly gory arcade brawler with expressive animation, is another rarity that you won't want to miss.
Most of the rest of the games in the set are either old enough that I don't care about them (with the exception of the extremely retro Jetpac ) or new enough that I care a lot but still have my original copies available and in excellent condition. Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie, two of the most enjoyable titles in the collection, recently underwent visual upgrades and were released on Xbox 360. Those enhanced versions are included here and they play great, but I had already purchased them just a few short months before Rare Replay was announcedâ€¦ for $15 each. Perfect Dark is back and better than ever, but those glad tidings are canceled out by the pitiful performance of the sequel, which feels even worse than it did at launch.
Rather than keep rambling about the selection of games included, though, I really should discuss how it's all tied together. Plenty of studios could grab (mostly) the best of their old output and assemble it on a disc, after all. Rare went the extra mile and added some cool extras.
As you play the various titles and then (hopefully) begin to excel at them, you'll gain stamps. These fill up virtual stamp cards, which in turn unlock videos. The footage is for the most part quite good. It features interviews with some of the people most responsible for producing Rare's biggest hits, including Battletoads and Banjo-Kazooie. A highlight for me was seeing the man behind the voice of the Great and Mighty Poo from Conker's Bad Fur Day. My only gripe is that during the mixing process, someone added music that sometimes drowns out a few of the more mumbly developers who are saying interesting things. It's not unbearable, though, and there is some genuine insight on offer (including a revelation about the final boss of the Battletoads arcade game that I foundâ€¦ rather sinister).
If your reflexes have slowed over the years (or if they were never up to the task in the first place, given how hard or cheap some of Rare's classic output could be), you might be pleased to learn that you can now take advantage of a rewind feature that the developers have mapped to the L trigger. So, for example, you might go racing through the speed tunnel in Battletoads and suddenly slam up against a wall. Instead of losing a life, you can rewind the action a bit and take another run at it. Maybe this time you'll even reach the Dark Queenâ€¦ if you can get used to how different an Xbox 360 controller feels from an NES one. Seriously, that slight difference messes with my muscle memory like nobody's business.
If you like Achievements, there are plenty of them here. I played Rare Replay for a few dozen hours prior to writing this review, and I didn't finish every game. I wouldn't even say I came close! There's just too much stuff here for that, especially if you lose hours to the surprisingly addictive time sink that is Viva Pinata. A lot of the Achievements only reward you when you dig especially deep, too, and master custom challenges. I figure that if an old school gamer were to buy a brand new Xbox One and just this one compilation disc to go with it, he could stay busy for months or even maybe a year or two, just soaking in the nostalgia. That's pretty darn cool.
I'm not in love with everything about the package, though. The first thing I had to do was install the game, and that took a long, long while for some reason. I really donâ€™t know why, but I had to spend most of a day before it all was on my hard drive. Then, some of the older games would occasionally glitch out to a black screen and I would have to exit and reenter the hardware, though that hasn't happened recently. I'm not sure if a patch fixed it or what, but I certainly didn't appreciate it when it was happening. I also unlocked an Achievement for playing through every level in Snake Rattle 'n Roll, even though I had actually done no such thing. And finally, a lot of the Xbox 360 stuff is a bit of a hassle, as you load up a game and then play it in an emulated mode. If you turn off the game without returning to Rare Replay by holding a menu button for several seconds--which didn't always even work for me when I was experimenting with the surprisingly dated Kameo: Elements of Power--you won't receive full recognition for your efforts.
In any event, Rare Replay is a generally solid and frequently exemplary collection, filled with so much good stuff that it's easy to ignore the duds in the lineup and the occasional interface quirks. Of course I wish that some of my favorite other Rare games had made the cut, but I daren't complain too loudly because I'm delighted with what I got. I didn't expect it, but I'd even go so far as to say that Rare Replay is my favorite Xbox One game to date. If you own that system but not this game, you're not doing it right...
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.