The Rise and Fall of Rare
My claim to fame revolves around 2 things: the first is meeting Terry Pratchett for the book signing of Jingo. The second is a bit more obscure, as I didn’t meet them directly. My old English teacher was married to a man named Chris Marlow. Great, but who’s Chris Marlow? Those familiar with Conker’s Bad Fur Day will know that – not only was he a senior programmer – but also the voice of the operatic (and sloperatic) Great Mighty Poo. Basically, I had insider info for Rare’s up-and-coming games, namely Perfect Dark, Dinosaur Planet, Banjo Tooie and Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Did this breach confidentiality? Almost certainly. So, bragging aside, I will be taking a look at the gaming history of a once glorious company (and now sadly a corporate corpse). Welcome to the rise and fall of Rare.
Rare set up shop in 1985, but seeing as I was probably swimming around in my dad’s scrotum back then (I kept this line in, because it’s so horrible), I’ll fast-forward to 1994 and the release of Donkey Kong Country on the SNES. DKC defines what Rare were all about between the years of 1994-2001 – great graphics, gameplay, music and humour. Christmas day ’94 revolved around unwrapping a SNES console and DKC. This was perhaps only topped 4 years later, when that golden cartridge with the triforce on it was in my hands. DKC was a tough cookie, but a rewarding one. The subsequent Diddy Kong’s Quest and Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble only seemed to improve on the first. Rare were on a role at this point, and it wouldn’t be long before they made the jump to 3-dimensional gaming.
Admittedly, Blast Corps is a game I didn’t play on initial release. It was Rare’s first foray into 3D games, and it wasn’t half bad. Playing as (what were essentially) Transformers with a trade union membership, these giant robots smashed the shit out of buildings, demolishing them to clear a path for a lorry carrying nuclear missiles. Not the heights of what Rare would achieve, but it had fun moments nonetheless.
For many people of a certain age, their opinion of the best Bond film is probably tainted by a certain game. This game is Goldeneye, and it’s up there with the big guns as one of the best FPS of all time (and often voted as best multiplayer). Seeing the graphics for the first time was phenomenal, and trying to unlock all those cheats has defeated me to this day. Seriously, how in Xenia Onatopp do you finish Facility on OO Agent in under 2:05?
When the bear and bird duo appeared on N64 consoles in 1998, many were surprised to find Banjo-Kazooie had equalled (and even surpassed, in some eyes) Mario 64. It was a colourful world, with a distinctive art style that remained with the company until only very recently (namely, inanimate objects with googly eyes). Banjo was a fairly easy game, but it was a great platformer and contained some of my favourite videogame music (the Freezeezy Peak score is probably the most Christmasy thing you’ll ever hear).
How, in 1999, do you better a game like Goldeneye? The answer involved aliens, dodgy Scottish accents and cheese, and it’s one of my favourite games to date: Perfect Dark. You play an agent in the near future, uncovering a conspiracy in a Blade Runner-esque world. With huge content and ideas, Perfect Dark did everything Goldeneye got right and improved upon it greatly. This even included multiplayer, which had a very early (and offline) reward system you’ll see in modern shooters. Not to mention bots, if you didn’t have friends.
Rare went from strength to strength in the coming years, releasing a slew of platformers: Donkey Kong 64 was a humongous game (and while it wasn’t my favourite Rare game) it allowed you different methods of playing a world with 5 characters. Banjo Tooie was more Banjo, which fans wanted, and even upped the difficulty (to frustrating at times). And Conker’s Bad Fur Day (mentioned in a previous article), a personal favourite, changed from a planned kids game to an adult parody/comedy. By 2001, people were more than excited to see where the company would go…
Unfortunately things didn’t turn out so well when – in 2002 – Microsoft bought the rights to Rare. But when the asking price is $375 million, who can blame those capitalist peegs? It’s true to say that the quality of Rare’s games started to slip after this (although Starfox Adventures wasn’t particularly great). Grabbed By The Ghoulies was a head scratcher, Perfect Dark Zero was a mockery and Kameo: Elements of Power felt as if it could have been so much more.
That said, there were still some good games coming out of the Twycross based company. Viva Pinata had the charm of the Banjo games (largely because members of that team worked on it), and there was something addictive about building up a garden and inviting creatures into it. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is one of those games that gets better over time (it was certainly a WTF for fans).
After doing a bit of research (Wikipedia, like I did at uni), it turns out the co-founders of Rare left the company in 2007. Studio manager, Scott Henson , recently said the company’s focus was now on Kinect games. The fact that Kinect Sports has had meagre reviews, but brought in revenue, certainly indicates the direction they’re going in. The real nail in the coffin is the fact Scott Henson said, ‘going forwards’. That truly is the death of a once beautiful games developer.