Compilation games don’t come around very often. When they do, they generally take the form of a “Game of the Year Edition” that includes a popular game and its previously released DLC. On occasion one will ship that includes several full games in a single value-priced package. These are normally just marketing gimmicks to grab some quick cash from people who didn’t catch the games the first time around. That’s much the case with Microsoft’s Rare Replay too, although the massive Xbox One package is actually worth the price.
Rare Replay includes a whopping 30 games that span 31 years. Like any studio that’s endured that long, Rare has had some huge successes and some massive duds. For better or worse, they’re all included here. Microsoft and Rare haven’t hidden any warts nor polished any turds, save for a few HDTV-friendly updates to make them playable on modern displays. And that’s really part of the compilation’s charm. Rare Replay is aptly named; it’s a rare chance to replay games that you’ve loved and lost, but are lost no more.
With 30 games to choose from, the compilation includes hundreds of hours of gameplay potential. Just don’t think of it as the modern open-world “hundreds of hours” definition of gameplay. Most of this compendium isn’t about choosing your adventure, but about trial and error. The original Jetpac kicks things off, a 1983 game that’s like the love child of Asteroids and Joust. The controls are simple enough: one button to shoot enemies and one to control the character’s movement. But Lord help you in the later stages, which like most old-school games get insanely hard by offering more and progressively faster enemies. The core gameplay mechanics are always the same, but the challenge amps up with each successive level.
Several of the 30 games in Rare Replay are like this: pretty straightforward but devilishly hard. Slalom (from 1987), R.C. Pro Am (from 1988) and Battletoads (from 1991) are three prime examples. In each case, the games offer hours of enjoyment just because of the sheer challenge they offer. Other games aren’t nearly as enjoyable, though it’s more due to how the industry and gamers have evolved than it is a testament to the games themselves.
Atic Atac, Sabre Wulf, Knight Lore and Gunfright, all of which released between 1983 and1986, seem almost unplayable by modern standards. Unless you really enjoyed them three decades ago, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll try them more than once in Rare Replay.
These games were among the industry’s first attempts to create large, somewhat-open worlds, with players walking “off screen” to open up new paths and areas to explore. In the early 1980s this was revolutionary, and wandering off aimlessly to discover what the hell you were supposed to do in the pixelized world was fun. Now? Not so much.
Today’s gamers have grown accustomed to things like minimaps, wayfinders and lists of objectives to help navigate to the game’s conclusion. None of those is really present in these early games, making them quite frustrating as a result.
As the games in Rare Replay’s compilation get into the 1990s and 2000s, those issues obviously go by the wayside and the games become more approachable. The fighting mechanics in Killer Instinct Gold, for instance, are unrefined by modern standards but feel familiar and workable. The open-world mechanics in Banjo-Kazooie and Conker’s Bad Fur Day feel early but workable. And by the time you get into quite-modern games like Perfect Dark Zero, Kameo and Viva Pinata, even the kids in your household will feel comfortable navigating the controls. In essence, Microsoft and Rare may have released Rare Replay in pseudo homage to the famed developer, but they really shipped an abridged version of industry and gameplay history.
That history is presented quite well, which is a big reason for giving Rare Replay high marks. By default the 30 titles are organized by release date in a midway games-themed selection screen. This really gives the impression of sorting through history, and it’s fun to see how game genres, mechanics and even box art have evolved over the past 31 years. If you prefer, the games can also be sorted alphabetically.
When you open a game’s “about” page, you’re presented the opportunity to play it outright or select from a series of bite-sized challenges. The challenges vary based on the game and its mechanics, resulting in a good mix of time-based objectives, body-count type challenges or the number of races you finished in first place. Completing some of these challenges earns you an Achievement, while every one will earn you a new stamp to unlock making-of videos, concept art and other “bonus feature” types of goodies.
I’ve played games throughout the time period covered by Rare Replay, so most of these games were known commodities to me. I was giddy at the chance to replay some of them, while others seemed like painful trips down memory lane. About 12 of the games in this compilation will never see me press start again; I simply don’t enjoy them. But that still leaves 18 games to play, several of which really intrigue my young kids.
And really, that’s the magic of Rare Replay. Not only does the compilation span decades, but it bridges a generational gap and provides something for literally everyone in the house to enjoy. It’s safe to say there are games here you won’t like. That’s OK. With 30 games on the roster, a few duds mingled among the stars is forgivable. Although even the most-recent game is several years old, this massive collection would’ve been worth a normal $60 price — presuming you didn’t already own these games. But at its current $30 price, you really can’t miss with, especially in these summertime doldrums.
Rare Replay is available now exclusively on Xbox One as a digital download or physical disc. This review was based off a review code provided by publisher Microsoft.
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