If you played games in the ’90s and late ’80s, Rare/Rareware was one of the top developers on Earth. Whether making some of the most weirdly satisfying games on the NES, working with Nintendo to redefine its famous gorilla, or creating some of the best titles on the N64, the team in Twycross, Leicestershire earned its dedicated fanbase with each new title. When Microsoft bought the company in 2002, it seemed like a new chapter in its stunning history. The results… were not exactly spectacular, and Rare went through a rather dark period that it seemed would be the end for the company.
After having so many projects cancelled and losing many of their veteran game makers, Rare mainly worked on Kinect titles that appeared to ignore a legacy. That changed in Rare’s third decade, with the surprising launch of Rare Replay. The Xbox One title offers 30 classics many thought would never see release again, all with impressive HD transfers and a boatload of extras for a reasonable $30.
After finally playing the full collection, the knuckleheads at Laser Time decided that having 30 games in one package was the perfect excuse to rank every single one of them from worst to best. So Chris, Dave, and Henry got together and did a thorough exploration of the disc to come to this definitive, unimpeachable ranking. Let’s start from the bottom, with some mild apologies to any ZX Spectrum fans. We just calls it like we sees it.
At some point Rare would master the isometric presentation but it sure as shit isn’t here. It’s difficult to see what’s going on here and the “gameplay” appears a bit like black and white closed circuit security cam footage in the upper right. Sheriff Quickdraw’s wanders the barren “Western” landscape hoping to randomly encounter a handful of outlaws, but the game is so criminally boring you’d be forgiven for shooting civilians to pass the time… except that the game doesn’t forgive you for that. Instead you’ll be fined to literal death, so good luck with this walking simulator –Chris
29. Lunar Jetpac
Okay, look. Can you maybe cut us Yankees a little slack? We didn’t grow up with ZX Spectrums, so we do not share the five-colored tinted glasses of Europe’s rosey nostalgia. This game plays like a slower Moon Patrol set in the middle of one clusterfuck of a meteor shower. It took us far too long to interpret the convoluted screen directions into something playable, and even then it’s more punishing than fun. -Chris
Is it sacrilegious to put the opening salvo from Rare (then known as Ultimate Games) so low on the list? Just about everything from Rare’s pre-NES days hasn’t aged all that well, and while Jetpac has moments of fun as you float around and pick up rocket ship parts, it’s too clunky and chaotic to enjoy in larger doses. They improved the formula a bit when it was remade some 23 years later, but unfortunately, it wasn’t by much. -Dave
27. Killer Instinct Gold
We already had the two best iterations of Killer Instinct on the Xbox One — the launch revival has a bundle that includes the 1994 original — and thanks to Rare Replay, we have the worst of the trilogy, too. The original has a simplicity that makes it approachable; much like the original Mortal Kombat it’s not exactly EVO-worthy, but it’s a fun relic to play a few rounds with. A lot of the Nintendo 64 games in Rare Replay are dated in various ways, but Killer Instinct Gold is just ugly. The character models the typical mid-90s CGI abominations blown up to comically large proportions and the combat is too slow to enjoy on the madcap level of the original and latest releases. -Dave
26. Sabre Wulf
When I try to mentally travel back to 1984, I could see the prehistoric presentation of Sabre Wulf having some effect on me. But as it stands now, the ultra-simple spin on early adventure games isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Seeing your doofy lead hobble around to get attacked by every beast of the jungle gets boring fast, as does the vanilla search for high scores by collecting treasure. And the sound effects are just so blunt — and with virtually no music to speak of — that the noise is even more annoying. Were it up to me, I’d just leave Sabre Wulf stranded in the desert. -Henry
25. Jetpac Refuelled
Everyone looks back at Xbox Live Arcade’s origins with rose-colored glasses, but a lot of the early stuff was cheaply done. For every Geometry Wars Retro Evolved and Pac-Man Championship Edition, there was a Feeding Frenzy and a Marble Blast Ultra. Jetpac Refuelled was one of the latter camp. Of all the games in Rare Replay it’s one of the few that shouldn’t look dated but still manages to; the background and the newly designed characters clash, while the gameplay isn’t all that evolved from the original save for a few overblown effects. What should be the perfect bookends in Rare Replay are both showcases that what worked (32 or 9) years ago doesn’t work today. -Dave
24. Perfect Dark Zero
Oh, to recall a time when I had high hopes for what Rare would do on the Xbox 360. After putting out next to nothing on the original Xbox, two games were launching Microsoft’s next system (and one was the prequel to a game I spent hundreds of hours playing)! However, when the fateful day came, Perfect Dark Zero flew like a lead balloon, disappointing many with some weak visuals, even weaker gameplay, and multiplayer that paled in comparison to Xbox 360 launch superstar Call of Duty 2. Joanna Dark’s anime flavored redesign was plenty unsightly as well, leaving many hardcore fans bewildered about what went wrong. Little did they know this would be the start of the dark ages. -Henry
23. Knight Lore
Knight Lore isn’t all bad; it’s probably the best-looking ZX Spectrum game in Rare Replay, and the concept of turning into a “werewulf” is a neat idea. Unfortunately, the clunky and slow isometric platforming isn’t as engrossing as it was 31 years ago and turning into a wolf makes matters worse when it should be a way to run faster and take more damage. At least it did wolf transformations better than Sonic the Hedgehog! -Dave
I’ll give Underwurlde credit for having the side-scrolling, open world genre locked down years before Metroid came to the NES. Plus, compared to the similarly meandering Sabre Wulf, this one is more fun to play by leaps and bounds. It makes adequate use of the ZX’s limit amount of colors, and works relatively well as a platformer compared to its ZX brethren. This is all faint praise for a game that still hasn’t aged all that well since 1984, but it’s a damn sight better than a lot of the other games Rare made pre-NES. –Henry
21. Atic Atac
Like most of Rare’s ZX Spectrum output, Atic Atac is painfully obtuse, but it does have a charm all its own that puts it ahead of most of the pre-NES pack. Instead of the still-yet-to-be-mastered isometric style of some of the Spectrum stuff, Atic Atac utilizes a top-down style that gives the game sort of a proto-Zelda style. It’s a technicolor, somewhat ugly proto-Zelda style, but one I’d stick with over the Sabreman series. -Dave