If there’s a story about the gaming industry that breaks my heart, it’s the story of what’s happened to Rare, Ltd. over the last decade.
Rare, for those who don’t know, is a UK based game developer that has created franchises, like the shamefully underused Battletoads, and the Banjo-Kazooie series. The company really hit something special when it began working closely with Nintendo in the early 1990s, a partnership that resulted in one of the most amazing games visually at the time – Donkey Kong Country – on the Super NES. In addition, Rare built a unique fighting game for the platform, Killer Instinct.
I think Rare hit its zenith on the Nintendo 64, however, building the legendary Goldeneye 007 and spiritual follow-up, Perfect Dark, two first-person-shooters that really helped define some of the foundations for building games of that type. Those titles alone were enough to deserve accolades, but the afore-mentioned Banjo-Kazooie originally appeared on the N64, and in my opinion, was one of the finest games on that system. The company followed up with a sequel, Banjo-Tooie, a year or so after developing the sprawling 3D platformer, Donkey Kong 64. In addition to those titles, Rare developed a couple more original properties in the under-appreciated Jet Force Gemini and, more notably, Conker’s Bad Fur Day.
Rare was able to eek out one more game in partnership with Nintendo in the early 2000′s for the GameCube, Star Fox Adventures, which was a re-jiggered N64 property first introduced as Dinosaur Planet.
After that Rare was purchased by Microsoft, and produced one game of note for the original Xbox, Grabbed by the Ghoulies. The developer became a little more active early after the launch of the Xbox 360, producing Kameo: Elements of Power as a launch day game (a title that was originally slated for the GameCube), new IP Viva Piñata, a sequel to Perfect Dark, Perfect Dark Zero, and eventually a third game in the Banjo-Kazooie series, with the subtitle “Nuts and Bolts.”
Today, Rare is making Kinect Sports for the Xbox 360, and while that seems commercially lucrative for both the developer and Microsoft, it’s very sad for someone who grew up on a stable of Rare games that represented the best of what the gaming industry had to offer.
Over the summer there was rumor that Nintendo might actually be in talks to buy back Rare from Microsoft. However hopeful that makes me, I have to assume at this point it was just a rumor, because virtually nothing about it has been said beyond that tidbit. Outside of that, some former Rare employees are supposedly off on their own planning a spiritual successor game to Banjo-Kazooie, but no word on where that title, if it ever materializes, might land.
For my money I’d love to see Rare rejoin Nintendo as a second party developer, especially now that Nintendo is about to launch with the Wii U. Texas-based developer Retro assumed the place of Rare in a lot of ways beginning in the GameCube years with the excellent reimagining of the Metroid series in Metroid Prime, not to mention producing a revival of Donkey Kong Country on the Wii, “Donkey Kong Country Returns.”
Retro is working on at least one Wii U project I’m sure we’re all excited to see, but I don’t think anyone would mind if Rare could return to the halls of Nintendo and bring with it its fantastic properties like Banjo-Kazooie, Conker, even Jet Force Gemini, which I think would be a real treat if that game were ever released one of the Virtual Consoles.
It doesn’t seem the separation has served either Nintendo or Rare particularly well. A lot of talent that was responsible for Rare’s early successes are now gone, and Nintendo really could have used a company like Rare to serve as another pipeline for games for the Wii.
For now, I’ll leave you with a few game play clips of several vintage Rare games.