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RareWare: Much Ado about Nothing

View Nelson Schneider's Profile

By Nelson Schneider - 06/19/11 at 03:40 PM CT

Ask any N64 fanboy who his favorite developers are, and you will receive the same two responses over and over: Nintendo and Rare. Rare, a British development house, spent the years between 1994 and 2002 as an unofficial Nintendo second party, meaning that they developed games exclusively for Nintendo hardware despite not actually being a wholly owned subsidiary of the Japanese console maker. In 2002, Microsoft bought 100% of the company and made Rare a subsidiary of their own gaming division. Of course, Microsoft has been building a reputation for inexplicably spending large amounts of money on worthless things.

This love by N64 fanboys is extremely disappointing, as whenever I stand on my anti-N64 soapbox, railing against Nintendo’s lack of quality games (or even quantity games) on their failed 5th Generation console, the defense drags out the same tired argument of Rare exclusives that were so amazing that the N64 didn’t need any other games. The truth of the matter is that the N64’s library was so small and withered that Rare’s typically abysmal fare suddenly seemed amazing as it stood alone in the middle of a desert.

Just take a look at all of Rare’s creations. Thanks to the flexible search engine provided by MeltedJoystick, it’s incredibly easy to look into the production histories of our favorite (or not-so-favorite) developers and publishers.

Rare wasn’t just unimpressive on the N64. That platform just allowed them to pick themselves up, stand tall with heads held high, and walk off a cliff right in plain sight, without a smokescreen of games by other developers to obscure some of the debacle. No, Rare has been creating abominations since the NES. Over the course of their existence, Rare has developed over 108 titles. Setting aside the awful movie tie-ins and boring sports games, Rare’s main contributions are as follows:

Wizards & Warriors: A series of 2D Platformers that tried to include some action/adventure elements. Too bad they also tried to include the slipperiest, sloppiest, most aggravating controls available in 1987.

Battletoads: A shameless attempt to cash-in on the extreme popularity of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This Beat ‘Em Up series could have made a splash if the very first game didn’t become nearly impossible in level 3 thanks to bottomless pits that required pixel-perfect alignment to cross and a speederbike course that required ESP to navigate.

Killer Instinct: A bald-faced rip-off of other 2D Fighting games of the 1990s. This series attempted to combine the more refined gameplay of “Street Fighter II” with the ultra-violence of “Mortal Kombat” in order to cause a stir and bring in droves of mouth-breathing fans. It failed.

Donkey Kong Country: Without the Nintendo intellectual property, this series would have been ‘just another platformer’ and condemned to obscurity along with the likes of “Vectorman” and “Plok.” Instead, its new ‘collect-a-thon’ gameplay and hideous quasi-3D pre-rendered character sprites were hailed a revolutionary. Also, WTF?

Banjo Kazooie: I believe we’re beginning to see a pattern, here! The “Banjo” series, like “Donkey Kong Country,” would have been doomed to obscurity as ‘just another 3D platformer,’ along with “Croc,” “Gex,” and “Jersey Devil,” had it been on the PlayStation 1. Instead, as the only 3D platformer with any kind of budget besides “Mario 64” on the N64, it was given way too much credit. The overall disdain with which the Xbox 360 audience looks upon this series tells me that “Banjo” was overrated on the N64 and is a poor match for the Xbox-owning sector of the gaming populace.

Perfect Dark: Take James Bond out of “GoldenEye 007,” replace him with ORIGINAL CHARACTERS DO NOT STEAL, and require the N64 RAM expansion pack… what do we get? A first-person shooter that was superior to “GoldenEye 007,” but that few people cared about. Not even the ravenous appetite for FPSes among Xbox 360 owners could save this series from obscurity… which is sad, as I would probably buy “Perfect Dark Zero” if I owned an Xbox 360 (and that is a big, enormous, colossal IF). I guess it needs more World War II, Space Marines, and Zombies… or maybe more James Bond.

Taking the above into consideration, one thing becomes obvious: Just because Rare made the inexplicably popular “GoldenEye 007” does not mean they are worthy of our love and admiration as gamers. Rare is a One-Hit Wonder. In fact, their most recent crime against humanity is “Kinect Sports” (and the upcoming sequel). Nintendo fans should not mourn the loss of Rare to Microsoft, and Microsoft fans should not mourn the squandering of Rare’s resources. Much like America’s idyllic vision of the 1950’s, Rare as an amazing second party developer never actually existed.

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Jonzor

Wrote on06/26/11 at 12:55 AM CT

Well... I would agree that a game's "fun" should be a priority. But since when is fun handcuffed to progress? Everything doesn't have to be about playing something I didn't play last time. Tons of great games (ESPECIALLY from the NES era) were short enough that they could be one-sitting games, and Battletoads is one of them. And besides, you don't need to "beat" a game to actually "have fun". Sometimes I just throw a game in to kill 15-20 minutes because the game is its own reward, and the first two levels of Battletoads have always been extremely fun for me, even when I couldn't beat level 3.

Mario features iconic characters, powerups and level design gimmicks... many of which were laid out two decades ago. I find it hard to swallow that Mario is the only one that can have derivative platforming games while everyone else has to kill themselves just so Mario fanboys won't brand them "another Mario clone". Just because Mario did it first and continues to do it at an extremely high level doesn't mean THEY get to beat the horse to death and get a pass from critique while everyone else has to feel the wrath.

What Mario did to video games became staples of the genre. At some point, calling features of platforming games a rip-off of Mario is like calling game-saving a rip-off of Zelda. These features are just too important to the genre (and gaming as a whole) to have them reserved for use by only one series.

Oh, and I'm ashamed I didn't mention before my undying love for Jet Force Gemini, the most under-appreciated Rare game of all time. It would be the most under-appreciated 64 game of all time, but that title goes to Ogre Battle 64.

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Nelson Schneider

Wrote on06/25/11 at 03:58 PM CT

@ Jonzor: Diddy and Conker bash themselves. There is nothing that needs to be spoken.

I wanted to like "Battletoads," but I had a lot of problems with the controls, and of course the lack of continues and/or passwords. If a game is going to mercilessly kill the player, at least it should give them plenty of chances to try again without having to start over from the beginning. Despite what David might tell you (and what you might believe yourself), games are supposed to be fun, not punishment.

You can't say that 'Mario' games would be 'just another platformer' without Mario. 'Mario' is THE platformer. That series features iconic characters, powerups, and level design gimmicks. I've only played a little bit of each "DKC" title because I didn't find them enjoyable enough to devote a lot of time to them. But from what I have seen, the only original features were collecting bananas and Rare logos (boring), occasionally riding an animal friend (Kirby beat them to it), and barrel cannons.

I don't know if you stopped paying attention at some point (or maybe the paint-huffing started to kick-in), but I actually praised "Perfect Dark." The real crime with "PD" is that Rare only made two of them, and did it so long ago that they weren't able to crib some modern FPS conventions (like regenerating health).

I'm just relieved that you didn't defend "Wizards & Warriors!"

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Jonzor

Wrote on06/24/11 at 04:06 AM CT

http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2002/9/25/

This is one of my top ten Penny Arcade comics. I can't even really explain why I think it's so funny.

I can't believe you passed on the opportunity to bash Diddy Kong Racing and Conker's Bad Fur Day. I'm not promising I'd have agreed with the bashing you dolled out, but I'm just shocked you didn't include them. Especially when you can bash DKR for being a "Mario Kart rip-off". Seems like your theme was Rare ripping off other stuff.

Let's see...

Battletoads - MUCH better than either of the first two TMNT games for the NES, and if you look at how favorably I gaze on TMNT II for the NES you'll know what it means to me to say that. The first Game Boy Battletoads game was a little bit more forgiving, allowing you to get 4-5 levels in before really taking it to you. But the thing about Battletoads was it had more variety in the first three levels than any of the TMNT games.

It's only issue was that it was so bloody hard... but what I always find humorous is that the level people ALWAYS talk about when mentioning how hard the game was is the 3rd level... which was nowhere near the apex of that game's difficulty. It was the level that made most people put the controller down. Thankfully, I had Nintendo Power, so I could at least attempt some of the other levels.

Seriously though, I get it... giant toads = giant turtles. But truthfully, assuming the TMNT games are just cashing in on the TMNT craze, and Battletoads is cashing in on the TMNT craze... Battletoads was the better game. At least until TMNT 4. Then it's a matter of taste.

Banjo Kazooie - not surprising from the guy who hates Mario 64 more than anyone he knows. You may as well have taken a few jabs at some "boring" sports games.

This game played like a smoother Super Mario 64. The bad news is that you can literally sum up the game in JUST that sentence. It was TOO much like Mario 64. From the get-go I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd spent a lot of time doing this already. Banjo Kazooie fixed a few issues Mario 64 had... but it's like that was their GOAL during development, "Let's take these issues with Mario 64, work them out, and make it into a new game!" I never finished it.

Donkey Kong Country: I just really liked this game. I really enjoyed the music, and there were some levels that were DAMN hard, which gave it sort of a wheat-from-the-chaff feel towards the end. Without Nintendo intellectual property, Mario games would be "just another platformer" too. I'm not sure it's fair to take a polished game (setting aside the controversial graphic design) and then crucify it for starring Nintendo characters... since EVERY Mario game boils down to polished gameplay + Mario themes = another Mario game.

Perfect Dark: take the Jame Bond out, replace him with original characters, and then add co-op (which, I don't care what anyone says, adds value to any game) and keep building on the multiplayer (which is what people loved about 007 anyway). Plus, they added bots in multiplayer, which you really didn't see a lot of back then. The ability to get your multiplayer fix in on a Wednesday in between your weekly Friday night game sessions.

I get that Goldeneye cashed-in on the popularity of the movie... but Rare can't cash in on themselves with Perfect Dark? Again... this feels like killing Nintendo for cashing in on the popularity of Mario with another Mario game.

I would assume. I didn't have super-cool Bond parties with my friends in high school. And I didn't buy this game until about 2 years ago. Dave and I played the game co-op back in like 2006, though. While it was mostly enjoyable, there some pacing issues, and that last boss fight was outright awful game design.

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Nick

Wrote on06/20/11 at 03:00 PM CT

Wizards & Warriors for NES: Classic game everyone knows and thinks is one of the hardest games on the NES.

Battletoads: Awesome game, is a little hard, but beatable!

Killer Instinct: Pretty descent, didn't mind this game.

Golden Eye 007: Great game, especially multi-player.

Rare made some good games, but their presence is long since gone. Microsoft can have them now and forever!

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