Rare Replay review: Rare returns with this amazing collection of classic games

Today's gamers could be forgiven for not recognizing Microsoft's Rare studio as the gaming juggernaut it once was. Microsoft has used and abused poor Rare in recent years, forcing the studio to languish away on Kinect Sports titles rather than the cutting edge games that made it famous. But with the fall of Mattrick and rise of Phil Spencer, Rare is once again poised to become a powerful force in gaming.

Rare Replay is the first "core" Rare title since the dark Kinect days. Not only does this 30-game collection celebrate the studio's 30th anniversary, but it also serves to remind modern gamers exactly how much Rare has contributed to the gaming landscape over the years.

With a wide selection of classic games spanning multiple consoles and eras, not to mention a slick interface and bonus features, Rare Replay is an impressive Xbox One exclusive collection. Find out more in our detailed review!

From Ultimate to Rare

In 1982, the studio was founded by Tim and Chris Stamper under the name "Ultimate Play the Game." After producing computer games for several years, the Stampers eventually sold the studio and created a new one called Rare, Limited. Rare became so successful it would eventually buy out the Ultimate name and catalog. Thus Ultimate games are also Rare games.

Rare produced an amazing 40+ games for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, as well as many GameBoy adaptations and a handful of Sega Genesis/Mega Drive titles. In 1994, Nintendo bought a 49 percent share of the company, at which point Rare shifted exclusively to Nintendo titles and arcade games.

Rare would continue working for Nintendo until 2002 when Microsoft fully purchased the studio. From that point, Rare released two games for the original Xbox and several portable titles for GameBoy Advance and Nintendo DS. The studio produced some quality titles during the first half of the Xbox 360's lifespan before being relegated to the Kinect Sports series by mustache-twirling villains.

And that brings us to Rare Replay…

Rare Replay Game Gallery

Rare Replay (Image credit: Windows Central)

Playing the classics

Rare Replay's main interface provides three options: Game Gallery, Snapshots, and Rare Revealed.

The Game Gallery allows players to scroll through and select any of the 30 games included in the collection. These games can be sorted alphabetically or by release date.

Upon selecting a game, you can read its description, watch a tiny looping gameplay video, view the game's help menu, check Milestone progress, access options, and switch to that game's Snapshot mode.

The Game Help section contains the text from the game's manual and basic advice on how to play. You'll have to read this to have any hope of understanding the older games and their objectives. Annoyingly, Game Help can only be viewed via the Xbox One's native snapped help window. It takes forever to load and looks unattractive.

The Options menu displays the game's controls and allows players to toggle options. You can't customize controls or select alternate control schemes – a rather egregious mistake. The NES games all have their controls mapped to B and A on the Xbox One controller. The problem is, your thumb naturally rests over X and A on an Xbox One controller, not B and A. Microsoft and Rare should really add some alternate control layouts via update.

Rare Replay Battletoads CRT Filter comparison

Battletoads with Filter On and Off

Players can select from a scant two visual options for pre-Xbox 360 titles: Screen Border and Filter. Since these games utilize a 4:3 screen ratio, the screen border decorates the sides of the screen with the game-specific artwork. Alternate borders would have been nice, but each game's border fits it well.

The Filter curves the display and adds scanlines and blurring to simulate the use of a CRT monitor. This filter can also be toggled mid-game by clicking in the Right Stick. I rarely enjoy scanline filters, but Rare Replay's is worse than average. It just blurs the image too much, like you're playing on a busted TV. I expect most players will leave the filter off.

Each game also offers a few optional Cheats to make things easier. The Rewind feature allows you to rewind the game by 10 seconds by pressing the Left Trigger, much as in the Forza series. Great idea. Other cheats typically include unlimited lives and unlimited time.

Players can manually save and load games at any time, which proves extremely helpful in the longer and more challenging games. Each game also autosaves.

While playing Rare classics on Xbox One feels better than ever, actually switching games can be a hassle. To access the collection-specific pause menu from which you'd save, load, or exit the game, you have to press and hold the Start/Menu button for a full second. Perhaps all that time Rare spent making Kinect titles mistakenly convinced them that holding selections down for seconds at a time is a good idea? No, it's slow and clunky.

Rare Replay Stamps

Stamp collecting

Rare Revealed contains a variety of unlockable videos and music. To actually unlock the Rare Revealed content, players must earn stamps. You get stamps from completing Milestones within the individual games and from completing Snapshots and Playlists. Each game has five milestones that range from playing for the first time to reaching cumulative score and kill totals. In total, the collection has 330 Stamps to earn.

The stamp system cleverly encourages players to try out and stick with games they might not otherwise be interested in. You constantly get rewarded and make progress towards the larger goal of unlocking all the documentary content. I love that we have a reason to play these games – even the crappy ones.

Rare Replay Snapshot Jet pacifist

Snapshots and Snapshot Playlists

Rare Replay's Snapshots are optional minigame-style challenges similar to those in Nintendo's NES Remix games. Each game has five Snapshot challenges to complete, such as reaching a target score in a set amount of time.

These goals provide a nice quick taste of each game, not to mention a challenge. Unfortunately, some of the goals can be difficult to understand how to complete – I'm looking at you, Lunar Jetman Snapshot #4. Achievement hunters will probably make guides for everything eventually, though.

Playlists are a series of cross-game themed challenges that must be completed within a set amount of lives. Collect-a-thon, for instance, involves collecting items in several different games. Annoyingly, Rare Replay doesn't explicitly state which games a Playlist involves (though you can watch a looping video for clues), making it hard to prepare for the Playlist. I don't recommend trying Playlists before you've played the individual games, either. It can be tough (if not impossible) to learn some of these games' mechanics on the fly.

Rare Replay Knight Lore

Knight Lore

Pre-NES titles

Rare's earliest games (developed as Ultimate Play the Game) ran on the ZX Spectrum series of computers. Most also came out on other computer platforms, but the ZX Spectrum versions are what we get here.

The Spectrum did not compare favorably with rival platforms at the time, but it remained popular in the UK from 1982 all the way to 1992. The most distinctive quirk of the Spectrum is that all game sprites were limited to a single color. So the hero might be all white while enemies would come in solid colors like red, green, etc.

  • Jetpac (1983)
  • Atic Atac (1983)
  • Lunar Jetman (1983)
  • Sabre Wulf (1984)
  • Underwurlde (1984)
  • Knight Lore (1984)
  • Gunfright (1985)

Jetpac was Ultimate's first game and spawned a loose series across platforms which includes Lunar Jetman, the awful Solar Jetman, and Jetpac Refuelled. It's also included in Jetpac Refuelled itself, likewise a part of this collection.

It works and controls the most intuitively of the pre-NES titles. Players control an astronaut who in each level must repair his ship and refuel it before taking off to the next level. The difficulty gets unfair due to enemies randomly spawning in proximity to the player, but otherwise Jetpac is a solid game.

Rare Replay RC Pro-Am II

RC Pro-Am II

Nintendo era titles

  • Slalom (1986)
  • R.C. Pro-Am (1987)
  • Cobra Triangle (1989)
  • Snake Rattle 'n' Roll (1990)
  • Digger T. Rock: Legend of the Lost City (1990)
  • Solar Jetman: Hunt for the Golden Warpship (1990)
  • Battletoads (1991)
  • R.C. Pro-Am II (1992)
  • Battletoads Arcade (1994)
  • Killer Instinct Gold (1996)
  • Blast Corps (1997)
  • Banjo-Kazooie (1998)
  • Jet Force Gemini (1999)
  • Perfect Dark (2000)
  • Banjo-Tooie (2000)
  • Conker's Bad Fur Day (2001)

Finally, Microsoft has given Xbox owners a taste of Battletoads! The original NES Battletoads is a 2-player co-op beat 'em up with plenty of personality and fresh ideas. Unfortunately, the co-op is poorly designed and makes the game harder instead of easier.

Battletoads also suffers from three infamous jetbike levels that are almost impossibly hard. Level 3 is the first jetbike level, which means that most Battletoads players never experienced anything beyond that point. I like to imagine that everyone else on the Battletoads development team hates the guy who designed those awful levels since he kept gamers from seeing the rest of their work. Screw that guy.

Replay makes Battletoads a fair bit easier by offering save states, unlimited lives, and rewinds. You can rewind whenever you crash the jetbike and try again rather than going back to a checkpoint. However, Rare really should have added the option to skip the bike levels entirely. Then we could just play the fun parts of Battletoads and not the potty parts.

Speaking of Battletoads, Rare Replay also includes the first-ever home port of Battletoads Arcade! A three-player brawler with tons of graphical flashy effects and no stupid bike levels, Battletoads Arcade is truly a classic of the genre.

Rare Replay Grabbed by the Ghoulies

Grabbed by the Ghoulies

Xbox titles

  • Grabbed by the Ghoulies (2003)
  • Perfect Dark Zero (2005)
  • Kameo: Elements of Power (2005)
  • Viva Piñata (2006)
  • Jetpac Refuelled (2006)
  • Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise (2008)
  • Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (2008)

Grabbed by the Ghoulies is the first game Rare developed for Microsoft and the only original Xbox title in this collection. Players control a boy who must rescue his female companion from an army of ghouls in a haunted mansion. The game plays like a cross between a beat 'em up and a twin-stick shooter. You aim and attack with the right stick, but your attacks are mostly melee rather than projectile.

Grabbed by the Ghoulies wasn't too popular in its day, but it plays pretty well and still looks nice even now (especially with the new native widescreen support). The clumsy cinematics and dialog (represented by grunts) don't do the presentation any favors, but you should still let this one grab your Ghoulies. Or wherever.

The remaining Xbox titles (plus Banjo-Kazooie 1 and 2 and Perfect Dark, which are the XBLA versions) are backwards-compatible Xbox 360 games. They can be installed and launched independently of the Rare Replay collection. You'll want to launch them through Rare Replay so that the collection can track your progress, though. Pressing and holding the Xbox menu button is supposed to return you to Rare Replay, but that doesn't seem to work in my experience. I always have to press Home and relaunch the collection.

Rare Replay Kameo needs an update

Note that the 360 games don't automatically install with their updates, so you have to download independently those when you first launch them. The update for Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts clocks in at 855 MB and the other title updates fall in the same range. Shame the Xbox One doesn't automatically include the updated versions.

Of the Xbox 360 titles, Kameo most qualifies as a hidden gem. An Xbox 360 launch title, Kameo was unfairly overlooked by critics and gamers despite its high quality and gorgeous visuals. Players control a fairy named Kameo who can turn into a variety of (regrettably hideous) creatures to defeat enemies and solve puzzles. Kameo is a massive game complete with a separate online co-op mode.

Jetpac Refuelled also stands out as a solid early XBLA title. Refuelled does a fantastic job of reinventing the original Jetpac, with a whopping 130 levels, beautiful background art, loads of weapons, and tons of enemies on-screen. It even has local and online multiplayer.

Rare Replay Conker's bad Fur Day

Conker's Bad Fur Day

Missing in action

30 games is a lot, but Rare Replay is still missing many of the 100+ titles in Rare's library. From the Nintendo era, Battletoads in Battlemaniacs for Super Nintendo is the most glaring omission. Essentially Battletoads 2, Battlemaniacs was dazzling to look at, creative, and a lot easier than its predecessor. Battletoads Arcade is still the best of the series, but it's a shame we didn't get the full set here.

Rare Replay also has a bad habit of not including the best versions of many of its games. Battletoads and Snake Rattle & Roll for Sega Genesis/Mega Drive both look much nicer than their NES counterparts, but all we get are the inferior versions. The Famicom (Japanese NES) version of Battletoads with its adjusted difficulty would also have been appreciated.

Rare produced two original Xbox games, but the most popular of those two is not included here. Conker: Live & Reloaded is a much-improved remake of the original N64 game. The N64 version still holds up decently well, but I doubt today's gamers would prefer it to the Xbox game's updated visuals. Perhaps Microsoft left Live & Reloaded out because its online multiplayer mode relied on the original Xbox servers, which have long been shut down. Still, they could have at least given us the single-player portion!

There's always a chance that Microsoft could sell a few extra classics as downloadable content, much as Halo 3: ODST eventually became available for Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Here's hoping, because I want more Rare goodness!

Rare Replay Achievement


In total, Rare Replay offers an incredible 10,000 Gamerscore worth of Achievements. The catch is: the Xbox 360 titles in the collection just have their original Achievement lists. If you already have the Achievements from those games, you can't earn them again here. Not a huge deal with so many other Achievements to earn, though.

Xbox 360 titles aside, Rare Replay has 200 Achievements that total out to 4,000 Gamerscore. You get Achievements just for launching each game for the first time, completing each game's milestones, knocking out Snapshots and Snapshot Playlists, and more. You've got to love earning Achievements from playing classic NES and N64 games.

Rare Replay Kameo: Elements of Power

Kameo: Elements of Power

The Ultimate Collection

It's hardly hyperbole to call Rare Replay one of the best collections of classic games ever assembled. The titles span so many different eras and platforms that gamers of any age or taste will find something to enjoy. The mostly classy presentation, new Milestones and Snapshots, and documentary videos are icing on the cake.

Rare used to make fantastic games before the allure of motion controls loomed overhead, and this collection proves it. Shame a few of the studio's best titles like the Donkey Kong Country series can't be included, though we still get plenty of quality titles here. I'd like to see more control options and DLC titles, but I still can't recommend Rare Replay enough.

Which Rare games are your favorites, awesome readers?

Paul Acevedo

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!