Sometimes, not very often, a developer comes along that conquers the technology of the time perfectly. Rare were one of the first. If that pun made you smile then you already know where this article is going. If you are anything like me, this will already be making you feel a little dead inside.
Before all that though, there was Donkey Kong Country. I know Battletoads came before that and I've just mentioned it by mentioning it... Anyway, Donkey Kong Country on the SNES was both technically and artistically one of the most amazing accomplishments in gaming. No one actually thought that 3d rendered sprites could be done on the SNES but Rare did it. Not only that, but the discovery on this technology enabled the consoles lifespan to be extended and compete with multiple Sega add-ons. Killer Instinct helped as well but the vibrant 3d models of DK was what kept it going. This started a beautiful partnership that produced some of my favourite games of all time. If I was to talk about all of them this article would be a lot longer than it already is. So, to save you time, here are said games; Goldeneye, Diddy Kong Racing, Banjo Kazooie/Tootie and Conker's Bad Fur Day. If one of their games isn't there it's because I didn't play it. If it was a Rare game on the N64 though, you can bet it is just incredible. My favourite out of them is Conker's Bad Fur Day. I've recently played through it again and it's still as refreshing, varied and funny, oh my god is this game funny, as ever. Nintendo's friendship with Rare continued though to the Gamecube. There can be a lot of reasons why games on this console didn't get the recognition they deserved. A lot of it has to do with the PS2 being the force of money printing that it was. I'm not complaining, just trying to figure out what went wrong. You may not know this but Star Fox Adventures was developed by Rare. It was their last game on a Nintendo console, not including handhelds, and it was good... not great but good.
Now a quick history lesson. In 2000, both Activision and Microsoft visited Rare. Also in 2000, Timesplitters came out. The developers of this game, Free Radical, were formed by former Rare employees directly responsible for Goldeneye and Perfect Dark. In 2002, Microsoft bought 100% of Rare making them a first party studio. Things weren't looking the best but with one of the largest companies in the world backing you, how could you lose.
The first game Rare made for Microsoft was Grabbed by the Ghoulies on the Xbox. You might not have heard of it, I sure as hell hadn't. Probably because it was on Xbox and wasn't Halo Combat Evolved. You remember a couple of paragraphs back I was telling you about one of my favourite games on the N64, Conker's Bad Fur Day. Well, imagine that game with all the swearing bleeped. And I mean all of it. "I am the Great Mighty <bleep> and I'm going to chuck my <bleep> at you". This was a turning point. The once great visionaries of the industry had been reduced to censoring their work like it was some sort of kids game. While this turning point was worrying, it could be put down as teething problems for the Microsoft/Rare relationship. With a new generation approaching, and one of the best studios around having no holes bared access to the new tech, Rare's next game would be the saviour. When it was announced that it was Perfect Dark Zero, pretty much everyone fist bumped the air. The much asked after sequel to one of the greatest fps ever made. Rare's grand re-entrance into triple A gaming. And. It was a bloody awful glitchy jumble. Level design so bad that you needed a line going along the screen to see where you were meant to be going. Bad multiplayer which was more about rolling around the screen than shooting. It was a rushed mess. This was followed by Viva Piñata which if I'm honest was almost a classic Rare game but the sales did not reflect the review scores. They're next game however was going to do what Zero's should have done. This was Banjo Kazooie 3, or at least it should have been, but no it was Nuts and Bolts. Finally, the last nailed had been hammered into the coffin with this average reviewed game that no one really wanted. This signalled the start of the lowest point of my little tale. Rare, for the next few years, where put in charge of making Xbox Live avatars and Kinect Sports titles. This is a studio responsible for making, what is still hailed today, as the best fps of all time in Goldeneye. Reduced to making Mii clones and Kinect vapourware.
That's Rare's legacy on Microsoft consoles. What went wrong? In 2003, a year after company was bought over, their logo went from Picture 1 to Picture 2 and to Picture 3 in 2010. You might say this is a company modernising their logo to adhere to different styles and eras. But I see something different. The first logo is fun. The logo and company name are proudly on display for anyone to see. It looks, too me, like a king with his chest puffed out and a crown on his head. The next logo however almost looks like the king is hiding behind a curtain. The last though is pure corporate. It looks like some sort of outsourcing call centre logo. Go back and look at it. Now tell me when you look at that logo, does all those memories of Banjo riding on Kazooies back or beating Goldeneye on 00-Agent difficultly come running back. They don't for me. All I think of when I look at that logo is that it looks exactly like a logo of a company that would make Xbox Live avatars.
So what went wrong? The truth is no one really knows. Like I said previously, around 1998 some of the Goldeneye team left to form Free Radical, resulting in the excellent Timesplitter series and the abomination that was Haze, but let's not talk about that. Thing is that some of Rare's best games came out after that including Perfect Dark and Conker's Bad Fur Day. No doubt this disrupted the team but it didn't cause a decline in quality. I'm kind of afraid to say what I think is the reason for Rare's downfall because of backlash but here it goes. It all comes back to Microsoft. They bought Rare in 2002 and one of the first things they did was try and turn Conker into a kids game. Follow this by a rushed launch game on Xbox 360. It could have been delayed. Microsoft could have looked at it and said "it's looking a little rough around the edges, so let's delay it a couple of months for some polish". I'm not just grabbing this opinion out of air as well. In 2012 there was an interview with an ex Rare employee. He basically confirmed what we all thought. Microsoft bought Rare because of their games appealing to both children and adults. All Microsoft cared about was the children aspect of that. They shot down all of the mature themed game ideas Rare took to them, including Killer Instinct 3 and Kameo 2. This created a negative atmosphere and almost all the key talent left.
A couple of years ago, at the Video Game Baftas, Rare won the award for Best Sports Title with Kinect Sports 2. Two guys collected the award. Very drunk as is per usual for British award shows. He ended the acceptance speech with a drunken "Rare is back everybody". The fact that he had to say this in the first place is sad. What really hurt though was the look in his face. He didn't believe it. Neither did I mind you. But, the fact it looked like he didn't believe it either stung. This was one of the most versatile developers this industry has ever seen. What other dev has covered genres such as; racing, fighting, adventure, platformer, fps and simulator. Now they are reduced to Kinect Sports titles. While I'm sure Kinect Sports Rivals is going to be a good showcase of the Kinect features of Xbox One, it's not what they should be doing. They should have been doing Killer Instinct. One of the most disappointed moments I've had in gaming was when I found out it was Double Helix doing the Killer Instinct reboot. Not because I'm a big KI fan. Not because I've got anything against Double Helix. But because I thought Rare were getting to make an actual game again. Fingers crossed they will. But I think the damage has been done. R.I.P Rare.
Picture 1 - Rare's logo 1994 - 2003
Picture 2 - Rare's logo 2003 - 2010
Picture 3 - Rare's logo 2010 - present day