Primer is an on-going feature in which we delve into the history of a given developer, catalog their Kinect releases, and look at why they make great games.
Rare was founded in the United Kingdom in 1985 by two brothers, Tim and Chris Stamper, who (probably unbeknownst to them) would become the face of one of the world’s biggest names in game development. In the early days of Rare, the company focused on releasing as many games as possible for the Nintendo Entertainment System and the original Game Boy. The most prominent of those releases was Battletoads, a franchise that is still heralded by fans today and spawned several sequels and spin-offs. With the success that Rare found in their early years, the Stampers invested heavily in new technology that propelled them to be one of the world’s most advanced game development studios. It was at this point that Nintendo themselves decided to buy a 49% stake in Rare, and bring them into the Nintendo family.
Stepping into the Nintendo umbrella and the subsequent birth of the SNES did wonders for Rare. Rare was given access to Nintendo’s franchises and chose to go to work on the Donkey Kong franchise. The result was Donkey Kong Country, one of the most heralded platformers of the era. With an extremely unique look that appeared almost like 3D claymation, Donkey Kong Country found both critical and financial success, spawning several sequels and spin-offs, but more importantly, earning Rare a spot in the upper echelon of the gaming industry. It was during this period that Rare also developed a fighting game called Killer Instinct, which used the same look and technology as Donkey Kong Country. Like Donkey Kong Country before it, Killer Instinct was a big hit with SNES owners and the franchise continued its way onto the Nintendo 64 and into the arcade (if you’re old enough to remember those). To this day, fans on forums across the web are still hoping to see the Killer Instinct franchise rise again.
The arrival of the next generation of consoles gave developers the opportunity to produce true 3D environments for the first time in the young life of home gaming consoles. Rare once again took advantage of new technology and produced some of the Nintendo 64′s biggest hits, the most prominent of which were the first-person shooters GoldenEye and Perfect Dark. While Halo: Combat Evolved is often credited with being the first successful modern FPS on a console, it was GoldenEye and Perfect Dark before it that first brought friends together in the living room to digitally murder each other. During the life span of the Nintendo 64, Rare also launched other properties such as the highly successful Banjo-Kazooie franchise and the tongue-in-cheek, mature adventure Conker’s Bad Fur Day, as well as Donkey Kong 64 and the cult classic Jet Force Gemini.
The Microsoft acquisition
As the GameCube era dawned at Nintendo, something strange happened at Rare. The studio showed off several titles in development for Nintendo’s new console, but outside of the strange Zelda inspired adventure Star Fox Adventures which took Star Fox out of the skies and put him on the ground fighting dinosaurs, none of them ever saw the light of day. In the end, it turned out that Nintendo was looking to sell Rare, and eventually did so, to their newest rival in the console business, Microsoft, who had recently launched their first home console, the Xbox.
Once pulled into the Microsoft fold, the potential was limitless. Packing a hat full of franchises like Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark, and Conker, many expected Rare to greatly help Microsoft where they lacked – in appeal to younger audiences. And for a while, they did. Or at least attempted to. Rare developed Grabbed by the Ghoulies, a forgotten cel-shaded haunted house beat em’ up for the original Xbox that didn’t win many fans. After that, the developer released a beautiful remake of Conker’s Bad Fur Day, with high-definition graphics and online play over Xbox Live. While it was at the tail end of the Xbox’s life cycle (pun intended), it performed well. Rare also spent this period developing several games for the Game Boy Advance, which to this day leaves many Rare fans scratching their heads. Why a Microsoft owned studio was developing handheld games for their former owner’s handheld, we don’t really understand.
The launch of the Xbox 360 ushered in a new era for Rare. No longer being thrown into a whirlwind of new ownership and developing for a console already half way through it’s life cycle, many expected Rare to find its new stride with the Xbox 360. Whether they actually have, is questionable. Rare released Kameo: Elements of Power with the Xbox 360, an adventure game that was originally planned for GameCube release which featured an elven girl who could transform herself into various creatures that she had captured. While we don’t hear many gamers harkening for a return to the world of Kameo, it fared well for a launch title and showed off the power of the Xbox 360. Rare also released Perfect Dark Zero during the 360′s launch window, a prequel to one of the N64′s strongest titles. While expectations were high, PDZ failed to capture audiences, subsequently sending the franchise into the dark, outside of a high-definition re-release of the classic Perfect Dark on Xbox Live Arcade.
Perhaps Rare’s biggest success this generation was in the creation of the Viva Pinata franchise. Sporting stunning and stylish visuals, Viva Pinata allows players to create and care for their own “garden” of living, breathing, pinata animals. The game sold extremely well and earned a sequel, both of which helped broaden Microsoft’s appeal. Rare also developed and released Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts this generation, a strange spin-off that tasked everyone’s favorite bear and bird combo with building zany vehicles out of anything and everything they can find laying around their world. The classic Banjo-Kazooie games of the Nintendo 64 era have also been released in HD on Xbox Live Arcade. This brings us to Rare’s work with Kinect…
Kinect Sports- $19.99
Kinect Sports served as a launch title to Kinect and is considered one of the accessory’s must-own titles. The game allows you to bowl, box, run track, play ping pong, volleyball, and soccer – all without the use of a controller. Your body is the controller. Although fairly straight-forward and simple on the outside, Kinect Sports was one of the first titles to introduce the world to Kinect and the new way that they would be enjoying videogames. It also introduced us to the montages that many Kinect games compile and then show us at the end of each round or event. Seeing just how silly you look throwing yourself about in your living room is simply priceless. Three million Kinect owners across the globe are currently enjoying the original Kinect Sports, making it the best selling Kinect title thus far.
Kinect Sports: Season Two- $29.99
Kinect Sports: Season Two was released a year after the original, building on its predecessors success. It uses the same formula as the first game, but with golf, darts, baseball, skiing, tennis, and American football taking the stage this time around. Rare released a plethora of downloadable content and challenges for Season Two, wrapping up development for it in June of 2012.
There is no doubt that Rare is a different studio than it once was. The Stamper brothers have moved on to other ventures and the studio is now under the direction of Microsoft. Much of the GoldenEye and Perfect Dark team went on to found Free Radical Entertainment (Now Crytek UK), which created the TimeSplitters franchise. Martin Hollis, Director of GoldenEye fame, founded Zoonami, a small independent studio that was once rumored to be developing a killer app for the GameCube that never came to fruition. Instead, Zoonami has released several smaller titles across downloadable services like PlayStation Network and WiiWare. Several other former Rare employees founded a small studio named Starfire, which released the twin-stick shooter/RPG hybrid Fusion: Genesis on Xbox Live Arcade earlier this year.
While everything at Rare may have changed; the ownership, the faces, the names, the platforms…Rare is still Rare at its core. It’s still very much emits a bright and cheery atmosphere, filled with British humor (or humour perhaps) and the future is bright again. With the next Xbox expected to launch in 2013, Rare is once again poised to take advantage of advancements in technology. Along with the obvious leaps in graphical technology, the next iteration of Kinect is expected to open up entirely new possibilities. Will a new Perfect Dark be the first full blown controller free shooter experience? Will a new Killer Instinct be the first fighting game that allows you to “become” the fighter on-screen? And what other new wild and wacky ideas have the creative minds at Rare cooked up? Only time will tell, but one thing is clear: the future of Rare and Kinect are intertwined. They will carry each other where ever the wind takes them, and we can’t wait to see what lies ahead.