From its initial announcement, Rare Replay was squarely aimed at bargain hunters. While I bristle at judging games by their hour-to-dollar ratio, it was obvious this collection of thirty games from one of Microsoft's most storied studios could make its name on sheer quantity alone. I imagined myself reviewing this game like a carnival barker, shouting to passers-by about value. Think of the savings! What I didn't expect is to see it come together as such a cohesive historical document, capturing the development of the industry through the microcosm of a single studio.
The significance comes from seeing Rare's library placed side-by-side. It didn't take long before I started to notice how the pieces fit. It was like gaining a first-hand glimpse into the studio's culture by noticing game concepts and mechanics transferring between projects. RC Pro-Am's drifting mechanics are a clear predecessor to the Backlash in Blast Corps. Banjo Kazooie's not-quite-edgy humor led to the more blatantly off-color style of Conker's Bad Fur Day. These are similarities that only became apparent to me when playing the games in sequence.
The games themselves are augmented by a series of well-produced featurettes covering the history of the company, the creation of specific franchises, and even revelations about projects that never came to be. They're unlocked by achieving Milestones, a form of achievements that run throughout each of the games. I wish I'd had more say in which order to unlock the videos, perhaps with a currency earned from completing Milestones, since some of the mini-docs definitely interested me more than others. Even the ones covering games I didn't care for as much were entertaining, though.
Not all of the Rare games here are hits. Some of the older arcade games, in particular, have a tendency to feel obtuse and dated. There's a reason Pac-Man's popularity has spanned the years and Knight Lore has not. There's something to be said for intuitive mechanics, and some of those early game showed Rare's reach exceeded its grasp.
Still, the misses show influence on other Rare games, or the gaming landscape in general. Sometimes they even seemed ahead of their time. I was particularly impressed by Atic Atac, which plays like an early prototype of The Legend of Zelda despite releasing in arcades years earlier. Gunfright was essentially an open-world game with consequences for shooting civilians. It's nice to see such ambitious ideas with hindsight, even if they didn't work out particularly well given the restrictions of the time.
The classics are also given some extra love in the form of Snapshots. These quick retro challenges come in single-serving Gallery or the multi-game Playlists, and do a decent job of breaking out small chunks of gameplay from the early years. They're presented in a very straight-faced manner, however, so those hoping for more modern-day twists and remixes a la Nintendo's NES Remix games will be disappointed.
I would be remiss not to mention that this isn't exactly a complete Rare collection. Thanks to a variety of licensing issues, several games like Donkey Kong Country, Goldeneye, and Rare's various handheld games are nowhere to be found--except, oddly enough, as casual mention in some of the featurettes. It's perfectly understandable, and I wouldn't call it a complaint, but if I'm going to praise it as a museum of Rare games I have to acknowledge that some of the wings are closed.
Regardless, it does deserve that praise. Rare Replay is a lengthy jaunt through the history of video games by way of one particularly diverse studio. The games range from uniquely ambitious experiments to fondly-remembered classics. It's an easy recommendation for value-conscious gamers who want to squeeze every last drop of entertainment from their dollars. Perhaps more importantly, it packs a surprising amount of historical heft, making it just as much a must-have for those interested in a broad and distinct look at the medium itself.
This review is based on a Xbox One download code provided by the publisher. Rare Replay will be available in retail and digital stores on August 4, for $29.99. The game is rated E-M.