Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Top Ten Rare-Developed Games

Rare was one of my favorite developers around. The keyword there is "was." A couple of years ago they are completely restructured by Microsoft and turned into one of their many Kinect studios. For people who have fond memories of Rare's games, this made them very upset. But Kinect Sports and its sequel are capable Wii Sports clones, and rumor is that Rare is making a serious title for the next Xbox. While we wait to read and/or hear news of their project (Rare is known for their copious amounts of secrecy), I have a list of my top ten games developed by Rare. The company was at their heyday on the Nintendo 64, but those games aren't the only ones on this list. Let's kick it off with number ten.

10) Perfect Dark Zero (360)


Following up the original Perfect Dark with something capable is no easy task. In fact, it's almost impossible. While Perfect Dark Zero should not be said in the same sentence as its N64 predecessor, this imperfect game is still a fun-filled first-person shooter. It followed the N64 game's mission structure of having multiple objectives in a given mission to complete. Instead of just three difficulty settings, an all-new Dark Agent mode was added, offering the highest amount of blistering challenge. Turning Joanna Dark into a bratty American girl was a questionable decision, and the story was campy at best, but the actual missions were an enjoyable experience. The creme de le creme for me, however, was the robust multiplayer modes, featuring vehicles like tanks and jetpacks. The huge sprawling maps were filled with places to hide as well as camp, and taking on bots (a must for any console shooter) was a blast. Perfect Dark Zero might just be my favorite multiplayer Xbox 360 game.

9) Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise (360)


The sequel to the underrated Viva Pinata, Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise was a sequel that I didn't see coming. The original did not set sales charts on fire, even with a kids animated cartoon show as marketing. Regardless, the goal of the game was the same: create a garden and use different methods to lure various pinata varieties to your happy healthy home and coax them into becoming residents. Of course, there were numerous stipulations that needed to be addressed in order to get them to move in. Some pinata types simply don't get along, so having to create the perfect balance of pinata groups was paramount. New to this installment of the series-- alongside the several new species of pinata-- are two unique vistas-- a polar landscape and a desert landscape. I greatly like the Viva Pinata series because it sort of channels the old Rare when they had unadulterated charm and enchantment in their titles.

8) Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (360)


Originally teased as the third fully 3D platforming adventure in the series, Banjo fans had the excitement drained out of them when the final project was shown. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts had all of the humor and personality of previous entries in the franchise. The only change-- and it was a big one-- was that instead of mostly earning Jiggies (the Super Mario 64 power stars equivalent of the Banjo-Kazooie games) through platforming challenges, Banjo needed to complete missions by the Lord of Games (or LOG). Through picking up vehicle parts strewn about Showdown Town, the game's hub world, and purchasing them in Mumbo's Garage, players could build impressive and original vehicles to the limits of their imagination. Each mission had its own objective, but the way to accomplish them was up to the player. Why push soccer balls one by one into a goal when you can place multiple balls into a vehicle sporting a huge cart and drive it into the net? That saves both time and frustration! Perhaps if the game didn't have the Banjo license plastered on it fans would have been more open to the game. As it stands, the title was yet another flop for Microsoft's Rare in sales.

7) Jet Force Gemini (N64)


Some call the controls clunky, but I found them fully functioning. Jet Force Gemini was the action science fiction adventure starring the Jet Force Gemini trio of Juno, Vela, and their precocious pooch Lupus in a quest to defend the galaxy from an alien bug threat led by the sinister Mizar. At the start of the game you choose between the three characters, each starting on different corners of the galaxy, and playing through three unique planets before reaching Mizar's Palace. Once all three have reached the palace, the battle with Mizar begins. What follows is something detractors of the game say bored and annoyed them to points of unbridled venting-- the need to go back to previous levels and enter once unreachable areas as other characters and gather all of the tribal creatures. While this can appear as unnecessary padding to some, I didn't mind this and welcomed being able to go onto past planets and explore them with the other characters. The presentation is top notch, sporting what I had listed prior as one of the Nintendo 64's best soundtracks period. And who doesn't love splattering the walls with the blood of your enemies? Does that make me disturbed?

6) GoldenEye 007 (N64)


Despite its impact on console FPS games, GoldenEye 007 still only makes number six on this list. Why? Well, number two on this list, a better FPS, is why. That doesn't mitigate the importance of GoldenEye at all. Coming out a year or so after the actual movie came out and being made for a system that the developers didn't even know the final specs of, GoldenEye made objective-based missions, limb and extremity damage, gun zooming, stealth elements, and multiplayer death matches on consoles popular for the first-person shooter genre. Many games prior to GoldenEye mimicked games like Doom and Quake, but suddenly the genre was turned onto its head. Who knew that a game that was originally devised as an on-rails shooter like Virtua Cop and had a poor showing at the E3 prior to its release would be such a revolutionary game? My main gripe with GoldenEye 007 is the lack of bots, which at the time was almost impossible to achieve with the constraints the development team had. That said, it's a reason why number two is number two and GoldenEye 007 is number six.

5) Banjo-Tooie (N64, XBLA)


Banjo-Tooie took everything that was special about the original Banjo-Kazooie and made it even bigger. Did that mean it was necessarily better? Well, that depends on who you speak to. One on hand, the worlds were interconnected this time around with multiple connections to other worlds without even having to reenter the hub. On the other hand, the game was so colossal in scope that it was sometimes incredibly overwhelming, especially when you had to bring characters from one world to another via Chunky the train. Banjo-Tooie brought back a revenge-seeking skeleton of a witch, Gruntilda, and her two sisters sporting their first and only appearance in the series. The witch destroyed Banjo's home, killing Bottles in the process. Thus, the journey to seek vengeance for Bottles was made by Banjo, Kazooie, and newly playable character Mumbo Jumbo (his Banjo-Kazooie role in Banjo-Tooie was taken by Humba Wumba). In Banjo-Tooie, Banjo and Kazooie could be separated from one another, and oftentimes this was necessary to nab otherwise inaccessible areas, Jiggies, and musical notes. The game also added a multiplayer part with various mini-games and a FPS-like mode. Overall, Banjo-Tooie was filled to the brim with things to do, maybe too much so.

4) Diddy Kong Racing (N64)


The ultimate kart racing experience, Diddy Kong Racing effortlessly outdid Mario Kart 64 in multiplayer fun, mayhem, and options. While Mario Kart had four cups with four difficulties, a battle mode, and time trials, Diddy Kong Racing showed off a brand-new concept, an adventure mode, in addition to its grand prix, battle modes, and time trials. The adventure mode was fresh as it took players across the 20+ tracks in different locales like windmill-laden plains, dinosaur-rich valleys, sun-soaked beaches, snowy wonderlands, and a futuristic planet with goal of scoring first place in all of them. Boss races were added as well as challenges where players needed to gun for first as they collected eight precariously placed silver coins. All of this led to two showdowns with the oinker of a sorcerer, Wizpig. This story-like formula would be the inspiration for another excellent kart racer, Crash Team Racing on the PlayStation. The changes to the standard kart racing genre didn't end with an adventure mode either as Rare brought in two unique types of vehicles into the mix: hovercrafts and airplanes. The items were much more balanced than Mario Kart, too. Finally, Diddy Kong Racing introduced the world to two new characters: a then little pleasant-tempered squirrel named Conker and a bird-less Banjo. A port of DKR would make it to the DS, but the forced touch screen controls simply ruined the game for many including myself. Stick with the superior original, gang.

3) Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong-Quest (SNES)


The oldest game on this list from Rare (I never did get into their NES and earlier creations), Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong-Quest is one of the best platformers on the Super Nintendo, just getting beat by both Super Mario World games and Mega Man X. The game had players controlling Diddy Kong from the previous Donkey Kong Country and newcomer Dixie Kong, who was great for beginner players as she could whirl her hair around like a helicopter to slowly descend across gaps. Like Donkey Kong Country before it, Diddy's Kong-Quest kept acquainting players with new gimmicks-- and I mean gimmicks in the good way. Not the "I don't like change so I call everything that tries something new a gimmick" gimmick. I'm talking about constant new challenges and obstacles for Diddy and Dixie to overcome on their adventure to save the captured Donkey Kong from the villainous Kaptain K. Rool. One level you'll be racing on a roller coaster, trying to reach first place in time, while another you'll be inside a submerged pirate ship, hitting a sea otter to constantly cool down the "otter"-wise scalding water. Each level consistently offers something novel to the gameplay and level design. The secrets are many and well hidden, and the presentation is some of the Super Nintendo's best. It is simply remarkable how rich the worlds come off as with the stellar backgrounds and ambient music and sound effects, water swishing and iron striking iron, for example. DKC2 is without a doubt a classic that no fan of 2D platformers should go without playing.

2) Perfect Dark (N64, XBLA)


I said number two on this list beat out GoldenEye 007 for several reasons. Well, now that you're here, why don't I shed some light on what I mean by that? Originally a game that would take light and darkness into account within the gameplay, that idea was shelved and development continued, despite the project leader leaving Rare. Many delays were had with Perfect Dark, but the end result was something that was nearly... well, perfect. Like GoldenEye 007, the mission structure was open-ended, allowing players to freely take on the various objectives (with more objectives to do being added on higher difficulties) in the order they saw fit. The story involved a conspiracy between a powerful corporation and an ancient alien race with Joanna Dark and the Carrington Institute, her employer, being smack dab in the middle of the action. It was all the foundation for the excellently designed levels and fast paced, intense action. By far the most desirable part of Perfect Dark is the immense amount of multiplayer functionality to be found in the game's Combat Simulator. The multiplayer maps were huge, filled with large areas to explore, places to hide, places to get a jump on your opponents, and areas to be wowed by. Bots were finally here, and they were available to be customized with various personalities. Some could attack you with only their fists, some would only go after the person who killed them last, and some loved explosives a little too much. The AI was also sensationally smart, too. You could easily design your own match types with enough modifications that no two types might ever be the same. Perfect Dark is my personal favorite first-person shooter of all time. Ms. Dark, you've certainly hit the mark.

1) Banjo-Kazooie (N64, XBLA)


This game was highly anticipated from Rare by owners of the Nintendo 64 and fans of platformers alike. Super Mario 64 laid the framework for how platformers should work in three dimensions, and Banjo-Kazooie took that framework, ran with it, and created an even better game. Starring a friendly but sometimes bickering bear and bird, Banjo and Kazooie start off on an adventure to reclaim Banjo's bear-napped sister who the nefarious witch Gruntilda wishes to steal her good looks from. I'm thankful old Grunty nabbed Banjo's sister or else I wouldn't have an excuse to enjoy the finely crafted, colorful, and wide open worlds of the game! The bear-bird duo learned a myriad of moves like the steep slope-climbing Talon Trot, the ability to shoot eggs from the front or (ew) the rear, and the power to fly. A supporting cast member by the name of Mumbo Jumbo could turn the pair into a multitude of animal and object creations (for a price, of course). From termites to flighty bees, Mumbo's magic allowed Banjo and Kazooie to access conditionally inaccessible areas. The Xbox Live Arcade version of the game is what I consider to be the definitive version. The N64 game had a caveat that if you perished and hadn't collected all 100 musical notes, it would only record your highest note total prior to your death and put back all of the notes in the level. In the 360 version, if you die, you do not have to recollect notes, and you can just start collecting the notes you missed (instead of having to collect ALL of them). Banjo-Kazooie is the epitome of genius Rare philosophy in level variety, design, and quality; colorful presentation and tremendous music; and terrific humor and charm.

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What are your personal favorite games developed by Rare? Do you lament the company not being as sharp as they once were? What are your most cherished memories playing games by Rare, or do they not have as much as an impact on you as they did me? Feel free to let your thoughts flow in the comments section.

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