The lights are on
A lot of great games lead to shouts of joy and adoration, but I had so much fun playing GoldenEye 007 that I got the cops called on me.
Like many in my graduating class, the summer of 1997 was spent bunkered in my parent's basement with a stockpile of mountain dew and frozen pizza as I Klobbed three of my friends to death in GoldenEye 007’s multiplayer. Our friendly rounds of deathmatch eventually turned into not-entirely-friendly rounds of deathmatch, which became so excited that it devolved into outright roughhousing that resulted in a broken table and a call to the cops from our neighbors who were worried about domestic abuse. In short, GoldenEye 007 was a lot of fun.
Few games have inspired that level of passion among my friends and I, but during the mid-‘90s, one company seemed more adept at developing roughhouse-worthy games than any other. That company was Rare.
Rare started as a small UK development house founded by two brothers (Tim and Chris Stamper) who just loved making video games. The brothers had spent years grinding away, programming dozens of arcade games for other companies, so when they finally split off to form their own company, they were able to churn out a wealth of NES titles. Games like R.C. Pro-Am and Wizards & Warriors weren’t bad, but Battletoads – with its ridiculous characters and tough as nails gameplay – really stood out. Rare produced nearly sixty games for the NES and Game Boy in less than five years. This early output helped stir the company's creative vision, and by the time that the SNES and N64 rolled into town, Rare had became one of the most trusted development houses in the industry. The company went on a blitz, producing an impressive run of some of the most memorable games of the '90s: the Donkey Kong Country series, Killer Instinct, Blast Corps, Diddy Kong Racing, GoldenEye 007, Banjo-Kazooie 1 & 2, and Perfect Dark, just to name a few.
Conker's Bad Fur Day for N64
Rare capped off this impressive run with something truely remarkable: the crass but lovable Conker's Bad Fur Day. Conker was a cartoonish platformer similar to the many popular titles of the day like Super Mario Bros. 64 and Banjo Kazooie – the major exception being that Conker was rated M. Inspired by the humor of South Park, the game started with Conker working off a hangover, and eventually led to a giant singing poo monster boss battle and a D-day inspired beach invasion. When other companies zigged, it seemed like Rare was willing to zag and deliver something that was entirely unexpected. Conker's Bad Fur Day wasn't just a hilarious platformer that pushed against the social conventions of the day, it was also a lot of fun.
Sadly, every dynasty comes to an end. Even though Rare is still around, it's creative output doesn't live up to the icons of its glory days. In 2002, Microsoft bought the company, and many of it's most creative and talented developers (including the Stampers) slowly filed out the door. Now, Rare is best know as the designer of Microsoft's Avatar persona as well as the Kinect Sports series. Like a chicken with a ten foot neck, I keep waiting for Rare to get the axe and close down for good, but that hasn't happened. Who knows, maybe someday Rare will regain its creative spark and start producing fresh new games that outshine it's previous work. If I've learn one thing from being a fan of the company, its that you rarely know what to expect next.
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