Who are Rareware? Oh, you poorly-read fools! Rareware happen to be the greatest second-party video games company of all time. Their first notable series of games came in the 1990’s when they helped Nintendo on the N64, creating several of the best games for the system, as well as a few which many claim to be ‘the’ best. After Nintendo moved on from their brilliant, underappreciated console and moved to the Gamecube, Rare were bought out by Microsoft and moved to the X-Box, where they’ve stayed in hiding for many years, releasing barely anything. The games that have come out from the Rare umbrella have traditionally been poor in comparison to their golden run on the N64, with only Perfect Dark Zero standing out at all to anyone. Their most anticipated title, Banjo-Kazooie 3, has not been seen by anyone since a short trailer released a few years ago, and generally it is accepted that Rare have gone downhill a little. Their Glory Years live on, though, and as I have a lot of love for the Twycross-based company I’ve decided to celebrate them for the ingenious, hilarious company that they were (and could be again!) Here, then, are the five games which represent the best of what Rare have given to the World. These are the top five Rareware games of all time (although only games from their period with the N64 are mentioned, because Battletoads was godawful).
5: Jet Force Gemini
Jet Force Gemini was a third-person shooting game where you took control of either Juno, his sister Vela, or their yellow space dog Lupus and went around killing giant bugs who had terrorised a planet inhabited by cute teddy bears. The fun comes not just from the ludicrous levels of gunge that spurts everywhere when you kill the baddies, but also from the easy gameplay, the brilliant weapons that were on display – including homing rocket launchers, machine guns, and (oh yes) cluster grenades – and the fact that if you wanted to, you could screw the “kill the bad guys” ideal and shoot the teddy bears instead. Rare seemed to anticipate that gamers would want to kill the teddies, as they were animated to have many more different death sequences than the giant space ants that made up the majority of the baddies. You could kneecap them, decapitate them, blow them into bloody chunks… it was fun. You just don’t get that sort of violence nowadays, and I think that’s an almighty shame.
4: Goldeneye 64
Known by many as the greatest first-person shooter of all time, in Goldeneye 64 you got to BE James Bond, running through scenarios similar to the film of the same name as you fought to kill off Sean Bean before he did something dastardly but ill-explained. The gamer was given the option for the first time, really, of choosing either to run through the level shooting everything, or instead holding back and using stealth to progress through the game, which slowly became more and more essential as you advanced through levels. The fun is from the weapons and baddies, again – this was one of the first games where you could shoot humans that looked vaguely realistic, and again Rare answered our more sadistic instincts with throwing knives, explosives, and a tank. Oh boy, the tank. You got to drive round St Petersburg in a tank! Genius. The multiplayer too, thrown in as an afterthought by the designers, has been the single greatest influence on shooting games ever since. It’s yet to be beaten, really.
3: Donkey Kong 64
Nintendo had a history of lending out their Donkey Kong license to rare, which resulted first in the good but tremendously irritating Diddy Kong Racing, which featured almost every annoying Nintendo character ever created in one game (Slippy Toad from Starfox was absent, thankfully), and then this. Donkey Kong 64, a superb, visually stunning platformer that picked up from where Mario 64 left off and was one of the few games to come close to matching it. No game ever will though, of course. With Donkey Kong 64 you took on all five of the characters above as they fought against the evil King K. Rool (the plot was mostly played for laughs, a characteristic of many of Rare’s games) whose giant weapon of destruction had broken down. To fix it, he stole all the bananas from Donkey Kong’s island home, thus motivating a truly bizarre plot which culminates, I kid you not, in a boxing match. So much is packed into this mammoth game, including but not limited to: jetpacks, guns, swordfish, rapping, ghosts, and a fairy. How could anyone not love it?
2: Perfect Dark
Superior to Goldeneye, the sequel to one of the most beloved games of all time managed to prove itself even in the face of staggering expectations. Perfect Dark is, quite simply, the best first person shooting game of all time, taking you on an extraterrestrial adventure that starts off on Earth and ends on a far-off planet populated by lizard aliens. The Goldeneye gameplay engine returned, but was vastly advanced, creating more baddies and weapons, hoverbikes, blood, and conversation. This enhanced the need for stealth, because if you got caught by a guard he would invariably run off and tell his mates where you were. Perfect Dark took everything that was good about Goldeneye, and everything that the public demanded it have, and put it together in a game that feels as fresh and entertaining now as it did when it was first put out. And in the process, it helped men across the World access their feminine side – your character is called Joanna. Also, you have a boss with a Scottish accent. Brilliant.
1: Banjo Kazooie
A left-field choice for the best Rare game of all time, Banjo Kazooie squeezes more creativity and fantastical humour into the opening scenes than most games can muster in the whole of their existence. A witheringly sarcastic bird and a dumb, lazy bear team up when the bear’s sister is stolen by an evil witch (who only talks in rhymes). They’ve aided in their mission by a wise mole who has an intense hatred for Kazooie, the bird, and a shaman called Mumbo Jumbo, who’d rather be sleeping, really. In the course of their journey the heroic duo fight giant ants and crabs, steal oranges from a monkey, visit a haunted house whilst disguised as a pumpkin, and free a giant mechanical shark from his job as a recycling machine. Through every step of the journey, Rare punctuate things with irony and sarcasm, usually from Kazooie, and deliver gameplay that equals that of Mario 64. You get to fly, and actually fight a boss whilst doing so. The enemies are varied and brilliant, making fun of you even as you kill them, and towards the end the game gets seriously difficult, but never too hard for it’s own good. The music and visuals complement proceedings perfectly, the background music changing slightly as you run through the level select area (a castle) depending on where you are. As you visit the entrance to the beach level, for example, the music turns into a hula, whilst an accordion plays the tune as a sea shanty when you reach Rusty Bucket Bay. Everything about Banjo Kazooie is entertaining, and it more than earns it’s place as Rare’s greatest achievement… thus far.