My Donkey Kong Country article helped wonderful childhood memories come flooding back into my mind all about the awesomeness that was Rare, the developer that owned the N64 without question. But then I started to think about the state of Rare these days and that fuzzy warm feeling rapidly faded away. If I can be so bold, what the heck happened to Rare? It’s time for a little retrospective and a short history on Rare.
Rare, The Early Years
Rare has ties far, far back. Whether you realize it or not, they’ve been developing games since the 1980’s. Ever heard of Battletoads? Despite how cruel the game could be in difficulty, it was awesome, and we have Rare to thank for that. However, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t until 1994 and Donkey Kong Country when you first started taking note of the company.
Donkey Kong Country changed a lot of things in the industry thanks to the way the graphics looked. It was the first home console title to have 3D rendered graphics, graphics that still look good even by today’s standards. Killer Instinct followed and showed that Rare could appeal to both the kids and the adults in us all. After a few more Donkey Kong Countries and another Killer Instinct, it was time for Rare to take over Nintendo.
The Kings of the N64
The N64, despite having Nintendo’s name and logo branded on it, was Rare’s system. While I loved Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time, Rare had hit after hit after hit coming out throughout he N64’s lifetime. One of Rare’s first big successes on the console was GoldenEye 007, the game I still consider the best FPS of all time. So many hours got logged just playing through every level I possible could as fast as I could. I’ve never been better at a FPS since the days of GoldeneEye.
It’d been a while since Rare did anything with the Donkey Kong bunch, so when I heard about some new game called Diddy Kong Racing I was intrigued. Taking the basis of what made Mario Kart 64 so great, Diddy Kong Racing diverged with an actual story, numerous challenges, and simply an awesome game. While Diddy Kong appeared again, a few noteworthy characters were first introduced such as Banjo, as well as Conker. We’ll get to those guys later.
In fact, let’s talk about Banjo right now. He’s half of the duo from Banjo-Kazooie, Rare’s take on the elements started by Mario 64. It didn’t copy it of course. Banjo-Kazooie did its own thing completely, establishing a whole world with new characters and rules and everything. I still remember the hype Nintendo Power successfully got me into before the game was even out. I saved for months and when I finally bought the title I did nothing but play it to 100% completion, all by myself. Of course, the ending promised a sequel, so I was entirely ready to get my face melted yet again.
It seemed to take forever for me, but Banjo-Tooie finally came out two years later and I was once again happy to play through it to 100% completion. It was a perfect sequel, adding just enough to make it different from its predecessor. The best add was certainly all the characters. Both titles did a fantastic job of coming up with hilarious and creative characters, plus good dialogue for an N64 title. There was just a lot of magic to the formula it created.
GoldenEye 007 set the stage and Rare followed that with Perfect Dark, an absolutely awesome title. It’s largely considered the spiritual sequel to GoldenEye since the two games play nearly identically, plus levels from GoldenEye were available in multiplayer. Rare was only getting better every title.
I was patiently waiting the true next DKC, and after all my waiting, Donkey Kong 64 finally appeared along with the Expansion Pak for the N64, an add-on that boosted the graphics somehow. For me, Donkey Kong 64 was the perfect game. There were endless variety in worlds, challenges, and characters, plus probably the best final boss fight I’ve experienced in any game since, as well as the best 100% completion ending bonus. I have a friend that has a yearly ritual where he and his twin brother play through DK64 yet again, just because it’s their favorite game.
Something seemed very strange to me though as Nintendo Power had told me about Conker 64 since the N64 was announced. For years and years I’d heard about this other 3D platformer Rare was working on. I even saw screenshots and the like for the game in progress, and I expected it to mostly be more like Banjo-Kazooie, something that didn’t bother me whatsoever. And then one day it just vanished from production schedules. Eventually, it reappeared as Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and oh boy, what a game.
Now at the time, I wasn’t old enough to play or even understand Conker’s Bad Fur Day, so I didn’t. I heard all about it, and mostly assumed it was just some filthy game since it was an M-rated game. An M-rated game? On the N64? I couldn’t fathom that. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I finally got a hold of a used copy for the N64 and played the game all the way through. And oh boy, what a game.
Conker had gone from being a cute little character like any other video game character to something completely offensive, a move that I applaud Rare for making. If they hadn’t scrapped the first concept, Conker 64 would have just been a mediocre title like all the other Also Rans of the N64. Instead, Conker’s Bad Fur Day is one of the most unique experiences you can have in video games anywhere. Seriously, there’s a segment where a giant poop monster sings to you in a fantastic opera voice. Can’t beat that.
A Falling Out
Still, Conker’s Bad Fur Day seemed to signal a shift in relations between Rare and Nintendo. For years Rare had been Nintendo’s go-to company for all things profitable. And then the GameCube was announced and things just crashed. The first and only Rare-made game on the GameCube was Star Fox Adventures, a random title due to the Star Fox formula getting tossed completely out the window for something closer to a Zelda title. Did it work? Not even a little. Granted, it was all because Nintendo saw Rare developing a game called Dinosaur Planet for the N64 and noticed the main character was a fox. “Hey, why don’t you just make this a Star Fox game?” That was that. A console generation later and Star Fox Adventures came out to confuse the heck out of Star Fox fans everywhere. On its own, Star Fox Adventures would have just been a cool title, but because it was considered a Star Fox game, things got ruined.
It wasn’t long after this that Nintendo axed Rare completely, sending them off to do whatever they liked. Microsoft instantly bought up Rare and turned it into a first-party developer. What games did we see on the first generation Xbox? Grabbed by the Ghoulies. Did anyone play it? Not really.
Since then, Rare has been incredibly hit or miss when it comes to games. They remade Conker’s Bad Fur Day for the Xbox, but it was just the N64 title with better graphics and more censorship, ironically. When the Xbox 360 was launched, two Rare titles were available. The first was Kameo, a game that people generally seemed to like but wasn’t very long, especially for a launch title, a title that’s supposed to justify the purchase of an entirely new system. The other title was Perfect Dark Zero, the actual sequel to Perfect Dark. It was universally panned for being buggy, boring, and just plain bad.
The first really great Rare game came as Viva Piñata, an entirely unique game once again. People that played it loved it. Sadly, it still wasn’t played as much as you’d think it should have been since, well, it was a family friendly game on the 360. We all know where those games are supposed to go, and the 360 isn’t it.
For me, the final straw was Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts for the 360. Finally, a new Banjo-Kazooie game! Oh, it doesn’t focus on any of the elements that made the first two games fun? So it’s all about making vehicles and using them for different missions? And the controls are awful? Yeah I think I’ll just wait for you to try again and give us the game we asked for in the first place.
These days Rare is hard at work developing for Microsoft in all ways possible, what with Rare doing the Xbox Live Avatars and helping a whole ton with Project Natal, as well as releasing XBLA ports of Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie, and Perfect Dark. But I’ve got to ask, is Rare way past its prime? Are we ever going to see another undeniably awesome Rare title come out? When are they actually going to give us a new Killer Instinct? Or for that matter, a new Banjo-Kazooie title the fans really want? Or how about the return of Conker?
The heads of Rare from the old days have disbanded at this point, so we’re left with a company that bears the brand name only. Is that enough to keep things going great? I want your input. Do you still have high hopes for Rare or have you moved on to something better?