Last year, I bought a used Nintendo 64 off of eBay for the sole purpose of replaying Rare's Blast Corps. When it arrived, the console smelled funny, its exterior was caked with mud, and one of the controllers had a busted analog stick. It was totally worth it, of course: I could play Blast Corps again. But retro gaming doesn't have to be so trying, and Rare Replay proves it. The veteran studio's expansive catalog is pared down to 30 games and, as a result, Xbox One now has one of the best retro compilations in recent memory.
The package includes a collection of software for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, a strong lineup of Nintendo Entertainment System titles, and even a few Nintendo 64 games, along with a handful of remakes and original efforts previously released for the Xbox 360 and Xbox Live Arcade. At $30/£20, it's likely the inclusion of your personal favourite game alone will justify your purchase, but even if you don't have a favourite Rare game (in which case where have you been?), this package offers exceptional value.
It's also more than 'just a collection of old titles'. Snapshots serve as a greatest hits-styled compilation of key moments from several featured games. The standout Battletoads Snapshot challenge, for instance, asks players to survive an infinitely-scrolling version of the infamous Turbo Tunnel for as long as possible. These bite-sized challenges are built around crucial elements that made classic games memorable and impactful, giving a solid sense of why they're cherished among older generations of players.
Snapshots can also be played back-to-back in playlists, creating a fascinating historical narrative using gameplay as context. Though Rare's later 3D platformers are often criticized for their habit of forcing players to root around for pointless collectibles, Rare Replay's "Collect-A-Thon"-themed Snapshot reveals that item-hunting has played a critical role in many classic Rare games. It's interesting to see how these mechanics evolved over time and informed Rare's later games, and Snapshots do an excellent job of letting players experience this evolution first-hand.
If you want scanlines, filtering, or other advanced presentation options, you're out of luck. Rare Replay offers only one such option, which claims to simulate the look and feel of an old CRT television... That is, a blurry, badly phosphor-burned hunk of junk that you'll switch off within minutes. If you tried to play games on this kind of TV in real life, you'd quickly return it to the landfill where you found it and start digging for something better.
That said, even the full experiences' authenticity varies from game to game. While the Xbox 360 titles run natively, the older games in Rare Replay are presented via software emulation. For the most part, they look just like you remember them. Featured games from the 8-bit and 64-bit eras are scaled in order to fit your TV's vertical space and aren't stretched horizontally, preserving their original aspect ratios. The result is a pixel-sharp presentation with none of the stretched blurriness that drags down similar releases like last year's Pac-Man Museum.
However, the emulation itself leaves a little to be desired. Some sound effects and music tracks are inaccurately reproduced, and the color palette used for NES games seems too bright, often producing garish visuals. It's especially noticeable in Battletoads, where colors clash in an eye-searing blur during high-speed sequences - especially in the aforementioned Turbo Tunnel.
Worse, the NES games bind controls to the Xbox One's A and B buttons, with no option to remap them. While this setup aligns with Nintendo's Virtual Console standard, it's really uncomfortable on an Xbox One controller. Besides, requiring players to use B to jump and A to attack in a game as demanding as Battletoads is downright evil.
Rare Replay's Nintendo 64 games suffer similar emulation quirks, but in this case, the inaccuracy is actually an improvement. Blast Corps' once-blurry presentation is now much sharper, and Conker's Bad Fur Day maintains a more consistent frame rate than it did on the Nintendo 64. Rare Replay's N64 games also play better than the originals, by virtue of not having to use the Nintendo 64's three-pronged monstrosity of a controller.
In addition to its broad collection of classics, Rare Replay also includes several unlockable interviews and behind-the-scenes featurettes, giving insight into Rare's history. These interviews are surprisingly frank; Battletoads' developers don't shy away from the fact that merchandising played a large role in the game's creation, and the Conker featurette acknowledges the character's squeaky-clean origins before diving into a foul-mouthed celebration of The Great Mighty Poo.
Rare Replay has a strong lineup of games overall, but it's difficult to look past its omissions. Personally, I'm disappointed by the complete lack of the Wizards & Warriors series, but of course the specter of GoldenEye 007 hangs over the collection. Sadly, as much as I'd love to see a dual-analog, retextured port of GoldenEye (which automatically bans Oddjob from multiplayer matches), complex licensing issues will likely keep my dreams from ever becoming reality.
Omissions are inevitable, but they sting just a little bit more considering some of the junk that actually made the cut in Rare Replay. I doubt that many people were looking forward to a faithful remake of Rare's Xbox brawler Grabbed by the Ghoulies, but for whatever reason, it's here in all of its awkward, weirdly bump-mapped glory. Early-era NES game Slalom is another puzzling addition, as it's neither as innovative as the bundle of included ZX Spectrum titles, nor much fun to play. It just feels like filler.
Even with the questionable additions from Rare's latter-day catalog, none of the minor issues change the fact that Rare Replay offers exceptional value. While its emulation quality is questionable and the inability to reconfigure controls is frustrating, devoted '80s and '90s kids will get months of playtime here. And for everyone else, you just might get more than a handful of new favourite games.