What Went Wrong? A look back at Rare.


Chances are if you're a gamer, Rare has had a hand in something you've played. The long-running developer has had such a rich history over the years to the point where their logo was considered a mark of excellence on any box. So what happened to them and what, if anything, can they do to rise up to their former glory? We're here to investigate that right now!

Chances are if you’re a gamer, Rare has had a hand in something you’ve played. The long-running developer has had such a rich history over the years to the point where their logo was considered a mark of excellence on any box. So what happened to them and what, if anything, can they do to rise up to their former glory? We’re here to investigate that right now!

Established in 1985, Rare was founded by English game designers†Tim and Chris Stamper. These brothers had originally founded the company Ultimate Play The Game, a successful home computer developer, before moving away from it and focusing on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Under their new name, they released a slew of popular titles including R.C. Pro-Am, Wizards & Warriors, Captain Skyhawk, and Battletoads (pictured below).

The next generation of consoles came around and Rare was rolling in dough after releasing over 40 titles on the NES. Instead of pushing out even more titles for the SNES, however, the company decided to invest in Silicon Graphics workstations. This move effectively made Rare the most technologically advanced developer in the United Kingdom. Only a few Battletoads games were released by the company for the SNES during this time.

Nintendo, impressed by the company’s advancements, bought a 49% stake in Rare turning them into a second-party developer. They were now a subsidiary and considered the “favored son” to the Big N. After a slight change in name (Rareware) and upgrading their logo, the Stamper brothers’ company was offered to develop titles for anyone among the Nintendo library of characters. Donkey Kong was picked and with that came the second best-selling SNES game of all time, Donkey Kong Country. This was followed by a successful arcade fighting game called Killer Instinct. Rare had both figuratively and literally reached their “Golden Age” but the gravy train didn’t stop there.

Proving that it can do no wrong, Rare did the impossible and made a quality movie-based video game. Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64 is considered the birth of first-person shooters on consoles. Before this time, the FPS genre was considered only possible on PC.

Now lets soak that in for a moment. A game tied down to a movie license was not only good but literally sparked the fuse to the dynamite that was the console shooter market. We may have not seen major franchises like Halo or Call of Duty come into fruition if not for James Bond himself.

Upon receiving multiple awards including the BAFTA for “Best UK Developer”, the company released their answer to Super Mario 64 with Banjo-Kazooie. This along with Perfect Dark, a spiritual sequel to Goldeneye 007, cemented defining franchises for Rare. The future looked bright.

Banjo-Tooie and Conker’s Bad Fur Day marked the end of the N64 era for Rare. A couple of years after this in 2002, Nintendo made an unprecedented move by selling their share to Microsoft. The American corporation, hoping to get proven talent on board for their debut system, bought 100% of Rare for $375 million. Fans of the famed developer were eager to see what they will create on the new Xbox console.

Following the acquisition, Rare still made games for Nintendo handheld systems. Microsoft allowed this since they were not in the portable gaming market. The first game the company developed for Xbox ended up being a lackluster 3D beat-’em-up called Grabbed by the Ghoulies. This was then followed by a remake of Conker’s Bad Fur Day with upgraded graphics and sound titled Conker: Live & Reloaded. To say their Xbox run left much to be desired would be an understatement.

The Xbox 360 shined a glimmer of hope though. Two of the system’s launch titles, Perfect Dark Zero and Kameo: Elements of Power, were developed by Rare. This met with the very well received Viva Pinata the following year which earned the company another BAFTA for “Artistic Achievement”.

January 2007 saw the Stamper brothers leave Rare in order to “pursue other opportunities” as they were quoted in saying. They haven’t worked in the gaming industry since their departure.

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, released in 2008, was the first title released after the founders’ exit from the company. It met with positive reviews but had lower than estimated sales. This forced Microsoft to restructure the company and reconsider their plans for Rare going forward.

In 2010, Rare went through a major change as Microsoft focused resources on their Kinect motion sensor peripheral. The company’s logo also reflected this shift with the old logo’s silhouette floating above as a reminder of past success. Scott Henson, a developer who was promoted to studio manager, had this to say on their new priorities.

“Kinect will be the main focus for Rare going forward as it’s a very rich canvas. This is just the beginning of an experience that will touch millions of people.”

Kinect Sports marked the beginning of this era for Rare with middling reception but much better sales than before. This saw a sequel the following year called Kinect Sports: Season Two. The company has also been responsible for the development of the Xbox 360 Avatars.

Looking back on all this history brings back a lot of great memories. We have those recollections of collecting as many bananas as possible in Donkey Kong Country, playing against our friends in Goldeneye 007, and executing a combo breaker for the first time in Killer Instinct. That was all thanks to the magic of Rare. Is it possible we’ll see this once untouchable studio return to glory?

One thing is for certain, they need to have another chance. As long as Rare is relegated to being an Avatar and motion controls factory for Microsoft, there’s no chance for this to happen. If there was someone from within the company who recognizes this rich history of quality games and has the stones to push for greatness once again then it could happen.

I believe the first line of action is to remember the properties that Rare owns. Who wouldn’t want to see the next evolution of Battletoads? Why shouldn’t there be more foul-mouthed potty humor from the likes of Conker the Squirrel (The Great Mighty Poo)? With the resurgence of fighting games lately, there has never been a better time to see a new entry in the Killer Instinct series. Fulgore in HD? Yes, please! It would be a shame to see these great IPs rust away behind closed doors. Please Rare, don’t let that happen.

One Comment

  • bigglou bigglou says:

    Good article about the one greating gaming company. Was this article made before the news about an Ex-Rare worker explained how Microsoft changed Rare so much to cancel games we wanted?

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