Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Rare, Medium Rare, and Very Well-Done

The good-ol'-days
Seeing a game from the British Developer Rare is just as their name would imply; that it’s certainly rare, indeed! From the mid 90s to early 2000s I was a huge Rare fan – the biggest you could possibly find. Now they’re a company that seems to be in a sort of creative limbo. I’m not saying that they are stuck making Kinect and Avatar products for the Microsoft brand (well maybe they are), but I do think that they’re being held back from developing the great games that we used to know them for.

I became a Rare fan with the release of Donkey Kong Country (I hadn’t even heard of Rare before this), and I was instantly hooked on what they were trying to deliver.  The visuals for Donkey Kong Country were stunning, like nothing I had ever seen before; the gameplay was a hectic take on the Mario-style collection and platformer ideals. Needless to say I was intrigued to see what Rare would do next -- put a new spin on an old Nintendo franchise or come up with a new IP entirely.

It happened to be the former…but I was completely for this. I played Diddy’s Kong Quest, and Donkey Kong 3, and loved them both. Little did I know that Rare as a developer would dominate my gaming 90’s with their torrent of great titles for the Nintendo 64.

An original title [Banjo-Kazooie] was what I had been waiting for since first becoming a Rare fan. Sure the Donkey Kong games were fun; I just wanted to see what Rare could create without needing an established name behind it. I absolutely loved Banjo-Kazooie, and I consider it one of the best platformers even to this day. We continued getting great games from Rare on the N64, and I’d even go as far as to say that Rare made the N64 a much more successful system with their great line-up of titles. Titles like:  GoldenEye, Banjo-Tooie, Jet Force Gemini, Perfect Dark, and Diddy Kong Racing were among some of my favorites.

I was completely ready to follow Rare into the next generation of gaming upon the release of the Nintendo GameCube. Unfortunately this is where Rare began to show its lack of forward thinking and seeming inability to adapt. I was always curious as to what was taking Rare so long during most of the lifespan of the GameCube; I just kept reading and waiting to hear what they were working on. Digging for anything related to Rare one would find that they were working on some game called “Dinosaur Planet”—an original Intellectual Property. I was skeptical, but I thought, “Hey, they must have been working on it forever; it’s got to be good!” Instead we got Star Fox Adventures; a game in which Fox and company have to abandon the space on-rails action, that they were famous for, in order to save Dinosaurs in a Zelda style clone. They game was pretty, but as previously mentioned it was just an uninspired Zelda clone.

I was saddened with what we received from Rare in Star Fox Adventures; yet I had no idea that Rare as a company was going to be sold off, and Microsoft would acquire everything. I personally was shocked. I had grown up with Rare and Nintendo being synonymous with each other. I thought that I was really going to miss out on great titles from my once favorite developer. Instead Xbox owners got games like Grabbed by the Ghoulies and a remake to Conkers Bad Fur Day. Both titles were hardly worth the wait, and I felt somewhat okay having moved onto the Playstation 2 at the time.

As the current generation of gaming rolled around I decide to forgo my Nintendo Wii and instead purchase an Xbox 360. At the time of purchase I had almost completely forgot that Rare was even still developing games for Microsoft’s system. Rumors surfaced that Rare was working on a new Banjo-Kazooie game – soon a trailer would be released to confirm this as true. You better believe that I was excited, but not when I had heard it was going to be based on vehicle creation. I was surprised in the end Banjo-Kazooie Nuts and Bolts, as it was called, was surprisingly fun and imaginative. It wasn’t a simple racing game; and I lovingly build new vehicles every time that I had to complete a new challenge. It was just pure creation, sure there were a little too much racing centric challenges; but not so much that it became stale.

Banjo-Kazooie Nuts and Bolts was just plain gorgeous!
At the time I thought Rare was back on track, and we would start getting an entire barrage of games from the once great developer. Instead Banjo-Kazooie Nuts and Bolts bombed sales wise (I knew it was going to happen, but I had hopes that it would sell well enough) and Rare seems to have just abandoned game development all together. I consider Banjo-Kazooie Nuts and Bolts to be Rare’s last true game. We now know that Rare just focuses on the Xbox Live Avatar brand and various Kinect projects.

Rare is done, well done in fact. I’ve moved on though… Banjo-Kazooie Nuts and Bolts was great and I’m glad that they could develop one last “true” game before seemingly being tucked away in a corner of Microsoft Game Studios. Hey, I’m fine with it; we all have to move on sometime. It’s just somewhat sad to see…but in the end, Rare as I used to know it is dead isn’t it?! It’s my job as a gamer to adapt and move on, something Rare as a developer has no idea how to do.

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