Rare is easily the most historic Xbox Game Studio. Founded in 1985, Rare may have begun life churning out middling titles for Nintendo, but in the ’90s Rare became a juggernaut within the games industry. They released classic after classic in quick succession and the most impressive part was the variety in titles. Beat ’em ups, kart racers, platformers, first-person shooters, third-person action games; Rare did it all.
They might have stumbled a bit during the early 2000s, but the studio made a notable comeback this generation. In 2013 they collaborated with Double Helix to bring back Killer Instinct. In 2015 they celebrated their 30th anniversary with the delightful Rare Replay. In 2018 they released Sea of Thieves, which is has now become a sizeable hit for the studio. A reboot of their brutally hard series, Battletoads, is planned for 2020 and a new IP, Everwild, has also just been announced. So with that in mind let’s put on our nostalgia goggles and wish some more comebacks into existence.
This entry was inevitable. Rare’s crowning achievement and their most enduring game is undoubtably 1998’s Banjo-Kazooie. While many would consider BK to be a great game based off of Mario 64’s formula, I’d argue that Banjo-Kazooie is the best 3D platformer of its era, including the prolific plumber’s outing. For one, its camera and controls still hold up 20 years later; something that not every platformer can claim – even ones out in 2019.
But it’s not just technically superior against many of its contemporaries – there’s so much soul to the game. Banjo and Kazooie individually have so much personality and their relationship is hilarious. The game’s integration of collectibles is addictive but still manageable and every collectible item has its use in-game. And, of course, its level design deserves endless praise. While it does take several tropes from the genre: the ice level, the lava level, the desert level etc., Rare still found a way to innovate and subvert expectations at every turn. There’s always something interesting to find in these worlds, always a juicy puzzle to discover and there’s always notable landmarks around the map to catch your attention. Banjo-Kazooie is Rare’s masterpiece, 90s nostalgia is so hot right now and since Smash Bros. has given them a surge of publicity there hasn’t been a better time for the beloved bird and bear to take their throne.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day
In many ways, 2001’s foul mouthed squirrel was a response to the ‘cutesy’ 3D platformers that had defined the N64 generation. Mario, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Ape Escape and, of course, Rare’s very own Banjo-Kazooie somewhat dominated the generation. So at the tail end of the console’s life, Rare made an anti-mascot platformer. Conker has all the trappings of a classic 3D platformer but it couldn’t be more different.
Though Conker features a host of seemingly cute talking animals, the game is actually chock full of gore, sex and swearing. Conker’s titular bad day even starts with him hungover and it only gets worse over time. Of course the game used this incredible freedom to create comedic magic. Conker didn’t just satirise the genre, it spoofed everything from Terminator and Matrix to Saving Private Ryan and it was delicious. Conker was one of the few games to nail comedy and now the rodent has 20 years of pop culture to spoof and satirise, from the rise of micro-transactions, the internet in general and even superheroes. I’d quite literally do anything to see Conker dressed as Iron Man using his urine as a weapon like the good old days.
A stark contrast from Conker’s chaos, Viva Piñata is one of the most relaxing games, period. It’s essentially a mix of Stardew Valley and Pokémon as you tend to a garden of living, adorable piñatas. Catching them, nurturing them, breeding them and eventually selling the rare ones for a ton of cash is more addictive than it seems.
Viva Piñata always had steady progression, intuitive controls and amazing animal designs. With some contemporary additions, Viva Piñata can make a massive comeback. Bring in different seasons that change fauna and piñata types, more mini-games like fishing, and the quirky, hilarious characters that Rare are known for and Xbox will have itself a winner.
With Xbox’s recent push for Game Pass and their upcoming streaming service Viva Piñata is in the best position for a comeback. A garden that you can gradually grow sounds like a great way to keep players subscribed to Game Pass. And the bitesized tasks that Viva Piñata offered also makes it perfect for on-the-go play with streaming.
Despite the fact that Perfect Dark Zero was universally panned, Joanna Dark’s legacy remains strong. The original Perfect Dark retains a 97 on Metacritic, making it one of the best reviewed games of all time. While it might not have aged perfectly, the classic’s influence on console shooters is immeasurable.
Even though the original was a defining first-person shooter, there’s no reason why Joanna can’t infiltrate her way into another genre. At its core Perfect Dark was a (very British) spy thriller. Of course, it had all the campiness of a ’90s video game, including warring alien factions and outlandish conspiracy twists. But these plot lines can be re-engineered into something a lot more mature for a modern audience.
We have a severe lack of political espionage thrillers in gaming and with this narrative turn it makes sense for Perfect Dark to shed its FPS trappings. There’s a major black hole in the market for the next big stealth franchise as Splinter Cell, Metal Gear Solid and Dishonoured are M.I.A.. Perfect Dark can either make the jump to third person and take Splinter Cell’s place or keep its first-person perspective and become more of an immersive sim stealth game like that seen in the Deus Ex games. Either way, the floor is wide open for Ms Dark’s return.
Kameo isn’t a classic like some of the other entries here, but as a series Kameo has limitless potential. It originally released as a launch title for the Xbox 360 to lukewarm reactions. No one hated Kameo – in fact the game had a ton of fun ideas. It’s set in a whimsical, highly fantastical world where our titular hero can morph into a number of wild and wonderful beasts. An ant carrying meteors on its shoulders? A weed with boxing gloves? An ugly, weird, fat octopus-monster thing? Kameo had fantastic monster designs, each with their own cool mechanics and uses. The game also had an endearing fairytale world but that doesn’t mean it was without its problems.
The game became repetitious over time and many of the transformations were only useful for one area. There wasn’t a lot of improvisation when it came to Kameo’s combat, platforming or puzzles. However, the extras for Rare Replay reveal that the team pitched a much darker, mature sequel. The sequel was set to keep the fantasy setting but give it a much more twisted aesthetic and story. It was also supposedly going to include an open world that we could traverse with our monster transformations. With the over saturation of open world titles, a Kameo sequel would be a welcome addition, and somewhat of a departure from the typical nature of the genre.
But what Rare games are you missing? Which do you think need a full-on comeback? Let us know down in that comments section.