For over 30 years, Rare has been creating intelligent and subversive video games across a range of platforms, and now in 2015 the Xbox One premieres a spectacular collection, Rare Replay, that celebrates the U.K. developer’s past achievements. From the 1983 classic Jetpac, which would be talked about in the same breath as arcade hits Donkey Kong and Pac-Man in a reasonable world, through to the criminally underrated and underplayed 2008 masterpiece Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, Rare Replay assembles 30 games from Rare’s lifetime game library with updated controls and a vast supply of special features. Think of it like an entire Criterion Collection for video games in one package.
It’s important to note that this is Rare Replay rather than a “Rare Collection,” as landing on Microsoft’s platform means Nintendo-owned properties like Donkey Kong Country are excised, and the important console-genre-defining GoldenEye 007 from the Nintendo 64 is notably absent, no doubt due to licensing issues. Despite this, there’s a sense of completeness to this set of games, which matches the earliest Rare games with featurettes that explore the history of the company, then chronicles their releases through to the modern consoles.
Rare Replay includes titles from the 1980s that most gamers have never heard of, such as Atic Atac and Gunfright, which never saw a wide release outside of the U.K. While many of these games seem inscrutable to modern gamers, some effort has been taken to introduce and contextualize them with the addition of a system of achievements (“Snapshots”) that load the games into save states with simple instructions offering a primer on the gameplay. While not all of these games are fun, it’s fascinating from a historical perspective to see how far ahead of their time Rare was, creating deep and complex game mechanics during a time when graphical and hardware capability was comparatively rudimentary. Consider the leap from the simplistic single-screen Jetpac to the large 2D open world of Lunar Jetman, complete with an array of warps and enterable buildings and changing terrain and a drivable vehicle, in less than a year after release. Or the complex and evolving adventure systems in Atic Atac, which built on the simpler gameplay of the Atari 2600 classic Adventure with mechanics that would later find themselves commonplace in the Legend of Zelda series. It’s easy to find elements of modern games throughout the contents of Rare Replay, making it a treat for anyone with an interest in the history of gaming.
Few video-game developers have imbued such personality into their games as Rare, and Rare Replay’s terrific presentation encapsulates this: The collection is presented in a vaudevillian theater featuring cardboard cut-outs of iconic Rare characters and an amusing opening musical number that declares they blew all their money just renting the premises. (A sense of self-deprecating humor runs throughout, as in the classic, self-mocking Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Banjo-Kazooie titles included here.) The witty presentation honors the legacy of the company and its games, while also embracing inclusivity, as it wants everyone to take part and have a go at everything it has to offer. Every game here features achievements, including one reward for each game solely for giving it a try, with many given the extra bonus of cheats and save states. Consider the Nintendo Entertainment System hit Battletoads, infamous for its difficulty, now made infinitely more accessible with a rewind and save function. Even lesser entries in the Rare pantheon are at least worth a quick play, and Rare Replay celebrates this.
Rare’s ingenuity runs deep into the more modern games, including the underrated Grabbed By the Ghoulies, which brings dual-joystick shooter mechanics to a fully 3D adventure game with an injection of schlock-horror, and the wonderful life simulation of the Viva Piñata series, which creates a vibrant and colorful world of living piñata species to foster and grow. The most recent title in the collection, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, replaces the dated 3D platform mechanics of the previous series entries with a construction system where the player builds any kind of vehicle or creation they want from a variety of assorted and frequently amusing parts to take on fun and varied challenges, ranging from flying through obstacles or taking part in races to causing wanton destruction, slotting right alongside the Scribblenauts series as a video game that values and celebrates creativity and ingenuity above all else. It’s worth the asking price alone, and included alongside 29 other games and hours of special features, it makes Rare Replay the finest video-game bargain in years.