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Rare: A Retrospective

The year was 1985. The video game world was just kicking off for good, with Nintendo leading the pack. Two brothers known as Tim and Chris Stamper were having many problems with software piracy. In their frustration, they decided to stop creating games for 8-bit computers, and focus more on cartridge-based games. Thus, Rare was born. They met up with Nintendo, and after some dedication, Rare became best friends with them, developing popular games for years to come. They would develop over forty NES games as well as Game Boy games over the next few years, including the fantasy-action title Wizards & Warriors, which spawned two sequels (though not developed by Rare themselves), and the classic isometric racer, R.C. Pro Am.

 

In 1994, Rare was asked by Nintendo to go steady. Rare became a Nintendo second-party developer, and the loved every minute of it. They donned the name Rareware, and became one of Nintendo’s favorite relationships. In fact, their relationship was so good that Nintendo went to Rare and said “Hey, here are some of our characters. We want you to make 3D CGI type game.” So Rare looked at them, nodded their head and created a side-scrolling adventure featuring one of Nintendo’s first mascots, Donkey Kong. Donkey Kong Country was a huge success, becoming the second best-selling SNES game of all time. The game went on to receive many Game of The Year awards, and received two sequels and quite a few hand-held spinoffs.

 

DKC

In 1997, Nintendo and Rare made another game, which was one of the most known games of the Nintendo 64 era, and also one of the greatest multiplayer experiences at the time. Yes, you know it! I’m talking about GoldenEye 007. This first-person shooter revolutionized the genre. The massive success of this game is no surprise, even though it was based on a movie. While I’ve yet to play GoldenEye 007, I have many memories of it from a child, seeing relatives play the multiplayer day after day after day. It was the first violent game I had ever come into contact with, and honestly? I didn’t like it! GoldenEye 007 went on to be the third best-selling game on the Nintendo 64, right after Nintendo’s own Super Mario 64, and Mario Kart 64. This game also featured music composed by Grant Kirkhope, whose slick compositions were a perfect fit for the spy thriller, earning the game much praise. Everything about GoldenEye 007 was pretty great, unless of course, you look at the cover…

 

007

 

Let me ask you something. Did you ever love a game series so much, that you would do anything to see a new game for? Did you play that game all the time and never get sick of it? I did, and still do. What is that game? Why, it’s Banjo-Kazooie! A fantastic platformer, it was released on the Nintendo 64 in 1998. It featured a duo known as, well, Banjo and Kazooie! Banjo, a honey bear, owned a backpack where his best friend Kazooie lived in. Yes. She lived in his backpack. One day, the evil witch Gruntilda, who was just SO ugly, kidnapped Banjo’s sister, Tooty, to steal her beauty and become, well, beautiful! So, it was up to Banjo and Kazooie, with the help of many colorful characters, to enter Gruntilda’s lair and get Tooty back! While the game was seen as a Super Mario 64 rip-off, it was widely popular. Sure, it was kind of similar to Mario… okay it was a lot like Mario 64. Instead of collecting Stars to save the princess, you were collecting Jiggies (Jigsaw pieces) to save Banjo’s sister. So yes, they shared the similarities, but they were still two totally different games. Banjo-Kazooie and its sequel, Banjo-Tooie were  highly hilarious, even if they did hide some dick-related content…

Yes… that is what it looks like.

Yes… that is what it looks like.

Banjo-Kazooie and its sequel remain two of my favorite games of all time. But it’s not just because of the colorful characters, the amazingly beautiful music, or the humor that went over my head. Some of you may already know where this is heading. That’s right; I’m talking about Stop ‘n’ Swop.

 

Ah yes, Stop ‘n’ Swop. For those who don’t know, Stop ‘n’ Swop was supposed to be the connectivity between the two Banjo games on the Nintendo 64. In Banjo-Kazooie there are 6 mysterious eggs hidden throughout the game, and one key made out of ice. In order to access these eggs and the ice key, you would pause the game, take out the cartridge, and put in Banjo-Tooie, hence the name, Stop ‘n’ Swop. The Nintendo 64 had a 10-second timer where a cartridge could remain out of the pins before it would freeze, giving plenty of time to switch cartridges. However, in 1999, a year after the first Banjo, and a year before the second, Nintendo changed a few things in the hardware of the system, which lowered that 10-second space down to just two seconds. So Rare scraped the idea, but still put the rewards for Stop ‘n’ Swop in the sequel, which included special moves and even turning Kazooie into a dragon. In 2001, two hackers known as ‘Ice Mario’ and ‘Subdrag’ found ways to access the eggs and ice key, by entering certain phrases into the game’s cheat sand castle, but even with eggs and key in hand, they still did nothing. To this day, Stop ‘n’ Swop remains my favorite video game mysteries.

Oh Stop ‘n’ Swop… You kept me busy for years.

Oh Stop ‘n’ Swop… You kept me busy for years.

 

So time went by. While Rare and Nintendo were still going strong, they began to argue. They fought here and there, but stayed strong for a few more years. Also, in late 2000, Rare was visited by Activision and Microsoft. Later that year, Rare released Perfect Dark, a spiritual successor to GoldenEye 007. It featured yet another amazing multiplayer, full of high-quality modes and features. Perfect Dark is also, in fact, Gamespot’s highest rated first-person game of all time, with GoldenEye 007 following, of course.

 

Rare’s last addition to the Nintendo 64 was about a rude talking, money-loving drunk squirrel. Conker’s Bad Fur Day featured Conker, of course! Basically, Conker is out drinking, talking to some squirrels about to go out to war with TEDDY BEARS, when he leaves home, and gets lost. In the course of the time he is trying to make it back home, he manages to bounce on a sunflower’s breasts, give a cow prune juice to make it poop into a sewer that he SWIMS in, fight The Great Mighty Poo (which is exactly what it sounds like), turn into a vampire, stop the war mentioned earlier, rob a bank, and then defeat a Xenomorph from the movie Alien (with a little help from the developers). All in one giant bad fur day. Yeah. The game was met with great acclaim, but suffered due to the fact that it was one of the last games on the Nintendo 64. One fact about Conker is that he actually was featured on the Game Boy Color years before, in Conker’s Pocket Tails, where he is a calm sober squirrel on a very non-exciting adventure.

 

He is the Great Mighty Poo, and he’s going to throw his shit at you.

He is the Great Mighty Poo, and he’s going to throw his shit at you.

 

But, like all great things, Rare’s era of nothing but classic titles came to an end! Remember the small visit Rare had earlier? Well, Rare left Nintendo for Microsoft in September of 02’, with Microsoft paying roughly $375 million to own Rare, and thus they became one of their first-party developers. Many would agree that Microsoft held the shovel, and Rare jumped in their grave. Well they have, just not yet. With the new partnership, all of the current planned games, such as Donkey Kong Racing, were canceled. Rare brought with them their own creations, such as Banjo and Conker, while Nintendo kept theirs.

 

Their first game after the new marriage was Grabbed by the Ghoulies, released in 2003, which was a beat-‘em-up game set in a haunted house. It received alright ratings, but was viewed as a disappointment compared to the games released on the Nintendo 64. Two years later they released Conker: Live & Reloaded, a remake of Conker’s Bad Fur Day. It featured amazing new graphics, but with a disappointing multiplayer compared to the original. Reviews were favorable, even with a stronger language filter slapped across the game.

 

When the Xbox360 launched, two Rare games launched with it. These are known as Kameo: Elements of Power and Perfect Dark Zero. In Kameo you played as a girl who can transform into several different creatures. The game is quite fun, but is mainly criticized for its easy difficulty and short length. Perfect Dark Zero was a prequel to Perfect Dark, which was set three years before. Yes, this too was met with acclaim, but the game had terrible AI, a poor storyline, and awful voice acting. It wasn’t until the following year that Rare released one of its greater games of the era, Viva Piñata. Marked with its family friendly attitude, and colorful characters, it was widely popular. In fact, it even spawned a TV series based on the animals of the game. You as the player, owned a farm, and you could mate, create, and destroy these animals made out of candy.

How could you not love these guys? THEY’RE ADORABLE.

How could you not love these guys? THEY’RE ADORABLE.

 

Despite the break-up, Rare still saw Nintendo every now and then. Together they made a few GBA games featuring our favorite Bear and Bird, in Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge which revolved around the witch traveling back in time to stop the duo from meeting. The other game was Banjo-Pilot, having no plot whatsoever, and well not worth the wait for a new Banjo Game.

 

In 2007, disaster struck! The founders of Rare, Tim and Chris, were not happy with the direction of the company, left to pursue other things, and have not been heard from since. This didn’t stop Rare from ruining one of my favorite video games of all time though! In 2008, Rare released Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts. Now don’t get me wrong, Nuts and Bolts is a great game. You start again as the bear and bird, but you have been stripped of all of your moves. You can jump, and Kazooie has a wrench. And, most important of all… we could build CARS!!! PLANES!!! BOATS!!! A CAR-BOAT-PLANE!!! The game was great, retaining the characters we loved, creating more humor, with amazing graphics. So you may ask “well if it was so great, then how did they ruin it?” Well, it was a great game… But it wasn’t a Banjo game. It was vastly different, featuring no platforming par climbing one tower, in the middle of the new city. The game featured six worlds, including one that was filled with items from all the worlds from the Nintendo 64 banjos. Like I said, it’s a great game, but not a great Banjo game. At least it shared its own dick related humor…

This is exactly what it looks like.

This is exactly what it looks like.

Rare did some good around the same time Nuts and Bolts came out, when they re-released the two original Banjo games and Perfect Dark on the XBLA, with achievements, shiny graphics, and leaderboards. I think that my favorite part of it, however, was that Stop ‘n’ Swop finally got the glory it deserved, when it was fully implemented between the two games. I’d be even more happy about that, if it wasn’t for this…

Haha… Screw you Rare.

Haha… Screw you Rare.

 

The early days of Rare are dear to us, and we look at them through thick rose-tinted glasses… yet…. Remember that grave Microsoft dug earlier? Rare willingly jumped inside of it when they announced that they would focus primarily on Microsoft’s Kinect. Rare, now merely a shell of its former self, created Kinect Sports and it’s riveting, exciting, action-packed sequel: Kinect Sports: Season Two! Oh boy. Just what every Rare fan wants to do; sit in front of crappy sensor and flail. Don’t get me wrong, the Kinect is a GREAT concept, but it’s very flawed. You have to have the most perfect lighting and space in the room for it to track everything correctly.

 

So that’s the history of Rare. A studio, born so strong and big, creating hit after hit (after hit) reduced down to making Kinect games. We went from shooting eggs from a bird’s mouth, to hitting invisible soccer balls. Where did the fun go Rare? WHERE DID IT GO?! It’s nice to think that maybe they would go back to their former glory, to go back to making hit after hit, but it’ll likely never happen. However… In September 2012, a twitter account was created. By whom you ask? It was made by a core member of the original Banjo-Tooie team. Why? They want to make a Spiritual Successor to Banjo. Not a direct sequel, but something new. And to me, that would be the next best thing, even if it wouldn’t feature my favorite bird and bear.

 

Looking into the future, composer Grant Kirkhope was recently on an episode of ‘The Game Grumps’. Talking with the two, not only did he reveal that he had a swollen testicle while recording for Mumbo, but he also had this to say:

            “I keep wishing that all the ex-Rare staffers would just get together and form a company, and go to Nintendo and say ‘give us the money. We’ll make you Banjo 3 for the Wii U’ or whatever. Just make Banjo 3 like it should have been made back then and it would be great, and it would be great on Wii U, and all the ex-Rare guys would be together again all happy and kissing each other. I just keep thinking we should just give it a try.”

What if they could give it a try? I mean, what is Microsoft and Rare doing with Banjo right now? Hell, what is it doing with any of its IPs? What IF the ex-Rare staffers could just get together and actually buy the Banjo IP from the terrible marriage that Microsoft and Rare created? What IF they could actually buy it from their drunken neglectful parents? Only time will tell, but I think, and I know many others do as well, that with enough support and dedication, we could get it to happen.

 

You know what my favorite Rare game is, so what’s yours? Leave it in the comments below, and tell us why it’s your favorite!

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