Game Buzz is a weekly opinion column designed to take an irreverent look at one of the biggest news stories to break in the past week. Every Friday we’ll be bringing you another slice of reaction to topical gaming news, and inviting you to agree, disagree, shout assent, vent rage, scream and complain to you heart’s delight. This week, we look back at Rare's legacy with ten of their best games.
Whilst sometimes I might forget these days that Rare even exist any more, it's important to recognise that the Twycross studio has made some absolutely cracking games over the years and given me personally endless hours of blissful time wasting in virtual reality. Although technically the company is more than 25 years old - the Stamper brothers initially founded their venture as Ashby Computers and Graphics Ltd. back in 1982, before becoming Rare Ltd. in 1985 - we'll be looking back at ten of the best, games that are still beloved my millions to this day, games that put Britain on the map as a country that could produce excellence in game development (a mantle taken up today by Lionhead, Rockstar Leeds and North and Jagex to name a few) and games that undoubtedly helped to spice up a few console wars. Forget their fall from grace for a moment, let's delight in some absolutely wonderful moments in gaming history...
10. Banjo-Kazooie (N64 - 1998)
Took the model of Mario 64 and, arguably, surpassed it. Replete with crazy characters, stuffed with the Stampers' trademark humour, near endless collectibles and a wondrous symbiosis between cartoonish action-adventure and pinpoint platforming, Rare showed the public again that they could try to out-Nintendo Nintendo!
9. Diddy Kong Racing (N64 - 1997)
Taking their cues again from the parent company, Rare set their sights on developing a platform competitor to Mario Kart. Although perhaps not quite as anarchically brilliant as the plumber's racer, DKR managed to garner over 800,000 pre-orders in the fortnight before its release, thus becoming the fastest selling video game ever...for a short while. There was even a kind of single-player adventure mode that was clearly only dreamt up to try and fit in the utterly bananas backstory involving the evil machinations of a Machiavellian pig wizard aptly named Wizpig. Genius.
8. Battletoads (NES - 1991)
Arguably the world's greatest plagiarists, Rare took inspiration from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with this one and it has the accolade of being one of the most graphically advanced games to ever grace the NES. The exaggerated finishing moves were a particular highlight of this title, with the amphibian avatars suddenly growing enormous appendages with which to beat and smash opponents, on several occasions transforming into giant boots or wrecking balls. It's also one of the hardest games to beat of all time and can incinerate casual gamers if they so much as utter the game's name.
7. Blast Corps (N64 - 1997)
If ever a game deserved an HD reboot, it would be this massively underrated gem. Essentially a game that had you destroying buildings with increasingly outlandish vehicles, Blast Corps was a triumph of cerebral gameplay, phenomenal accessibility and blowing shit up to make way for a truck that if nudged could explode and cause a global nuclear winter. Insanely fun and criminally overlooked by the masses, this was a game jam packed with challenges and things to do. Plus any game that has a giant robot in it named Thunderfist simply must be played.
6. Jetpac (Sinclair ZX Spectrum - 1983)
XBLA gamers might have seen Jetpack Refuelled knocking around in shiny HD, and Ninty fanboys will recall a certain unlockable in Cranky's lab from Donkey Kong 64, but it all started on the Spectrum in 1983, back when the Stampers were still releasing under the moniker 'Ultimate Play The Game'. A treasure for retro fans, Jetpac had you flitting around picking up components for your spacecraft and attempting to refuel it whilst fending off alien baddies and, later on, other rockets. Simple, classic and highly influential.
5. RC Pro-Am (NES - 1988)
We've talked about Rare borrowing ideas for inspiration, but they did trend-setting as well. Mario Kart, Twisted Metal, Rock & Roll Racing, Carmageddon...these games might never have existed had it not been for a little NES title called RC Pro-Am. Eschewing a driver's perspective for an external isometric view, this was one of the first racing games to ever incorporate vehicular combat and speed boost strips. Now being in second had it's perks: you had a target for all of the missiles and bombs you'd managed to pick up whilst racing and you could literally blow up your opponents, albeit temporarily. If only it had come with multiplayer.
4. Donkey Kong Country (SNES - 1994)
This isn't the best selling non-bundled SNES game of all time for no reason. Although Rare would go on to make the fantastic 3D Donkey Kong 64 which remains one of the finest platformers ever, this is where everything started. A 2D side-scrolling platformer, you guided DK and Diddy through 39 unique levels, dodging Kremlings here, swinging from vines there or just pulling an Indy and racing around in minecarts to get your stolen bananas back. Of course, there were K-O-N-G letters to collect, balloons to find, secret pathways to uncover and bonus level coins to track down and it all just came together in one glorious package. I still have the Game Boy port, and I still play it to this day.
3. Viva Piñata (X360 - 2006)
Rare took a little time to find their feet on the Xbox 360 and, let's face it, it's been 8 years and they've still never really gotten into gear. But they did squeeze out one absolute peach of a game, although it was hard to tell anyone else a. What the hell it was and b. Why it was so damn good. Coming across a little as The Sims meets Animal Crossing, I'd say that the closest resemblance to Viva Piñata might be found in the old Bullfrog 'Theme' games. An open-ended garden simulator, you were tasked with maintaining a plot of land with an eye towards attracting a wide assortment of piñata-based critters and encouraging the garden to flourish. One of those games that could suck you in for a whole day without you really noticing, Viva Pinata's childish looks belied a truly brilliant game of deep complexity and striking originality.
2. Conker's Bad Fur Day (N64 - 2001)
Banjo-Kazooie gave us Rare's take on the platforming action-adventure but, with the release of N64 swansong title Conker's Bad Fur Day, they really went for broke with the comedy. Today we have a dearth of games that take themselves far too seriously, in fact gaming itself has had a bit of a problem when it comes to tackling emotions other than rage and destruction and power fantasies. But with Conker, much like Tim Schafer's pioneering adventure work of the late 20th century, Rare managed to craft a game that wasn't just fantastically fun, it was also fantastically funny. To this date, no game has made me laugh more than this: it's often childish whilst being thoroughly inappropriate for children, it's quintessentially, hilariously British in many ways, it has more movie references in it than an Empire mag, it pushed the N64 to near-breaking point, it farts in the face of family-friendliness and it remains resolutely one of my favourite games of all time.
1. GoldenEye 007 (N64 - 1997)
I made a decision at the start of this list that I'd only be able to put one of Rare's two sublime shooters in here and it was nearly always going to be this one. For myself and for so many of my peers, GoldenEye is where it all began to get serious. A singleplayer experience to die for with varied objectives, an emphasis in many cases on stealth, it pioneered hitlocations - shoot someone in the leg and they'd hop around cursing you Then, of course, there was a local multiplayer haven of infinite hours of gameplay with some superb weaponry (everyone always races for the RCP-90), some fantastic game modes and a token cheap winners character in Captain Kneeslap himself, Oddjob.
GoldenEye was the subject of the first gaming party I ever went to - a geeky way of saying a bunch of mates round someone's house with a fridge full of Panda Pops and a freezer full of pizzas - it became an after-school favourite, it set the bar for every console, and in many cases PC, FPS to follow and it gave the N64 an absolutely barnstorming killer app. Of course, this was the game that started the fracturing that would lead to Rare's downfall, with lots of talent jumping ship soon after its release. But even if Rare hadn't gone on to capitalise on the success of this title with games such as Perfect Dark, Jet Force Gemini, Star Fox Adventures and had simply left this as the last chapter in their legacy, it is telling that we'd still be sat here gushing over the studio as visionaries of their era.
That blue and gold logo has introduced us to a plethora of fantastic titles and, even in these worrying ties ahead, it's important to remember that there's a reason why we revere Rare, why present disappointment weighs so heavily and exactly why this very public change of logo, of outlook and of focus will rile some people so very much...it's because once upon a time the name Rare was synonymous with quality.