Three-and-a-half decades ago this week, British developer Rare was formed. Formerly known as Ultimate Play the Game, the company was created with the express purpose of creating titles for the Nintendo Entertainment System and from the mid-1980s until the early '00s the Twycross-based team would deliver some of the finest video games on Nintendo platforms.
So impressed was Nintendo with Rare's output that an acquisition or two led to it becoming a second-party developer, and in that period it produced several genre-defining classics on Nintendo's 16 and 64-bit consoles. Microsoft acquired the company in 2002, and recently Rare has been busy swashbuckling sea-farer Sea of Thieves on Xbox. The upcoming Everwild looks to be one of the highlights in the wave of next gen games on the horizon, but while it's been eighteen years since Rare and Nintendo were last partners, their relationship lives on in the minds of fans, many of whom grew up playing the company's catalogue of colourful platformers, masterful multiplayer games and technical marvels. The rapturous reception Banjo and Kazooie got in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate proves that there's still a passionate Nintendo fanbase for the developer and we'd give anything to be able to play the Rareware back catalogue on Switch.
It was hard to whittle down just ten highlights from the Rareware days, but below you'll find some of the very best Rare games on Nintendo systems...
R.C. Pro-Am was a great little racer, whether you played on NES or Game Boy. It's simple by modern standards, but screeching around tracks with a remote-controlled car while racing others and collecting letters remains fun, especially with friends. The Game Boy version is one of the few multiplayer games we played using the link cables, and seeing those little isometric cars always gives us a shot of the feels.
Battletoads got various sequels (we're quite partial to Battletoads & Double Dragon, actually) and there's a new one out on Xbox on 20th August, but it's hard to beat the original. Very hard to beat, in fact - its punishing difficulty is one of the game's defining characteristics. Still, this beat-em-up is loaded with enough of Rareware's childish charm and humour to make it a classic, even if you never got through the bloody Turbo Tunnel.
We've gone with the first in the trilogy thanks to the impact it had, but they're all winners. In its time, Donkey Kong Country's visuals were revelatory for gamers who had never seen anything like its faux-3D characters on a 16-bit console. The look may not have aged as gracefully as other art styles, but the brimming personality and joyous spirit of the DKC series (helped in no small part by David Wise and Eveline Fischer's brilliant music) are the things that keep these games in our hearts.
Nintendo Switch Online subscribers can now play this classic on Switch. What are you waiting for?
Blast Corps involves clearing a path for a slow-moving truck carrying a malfunctioning nuclear missile to a safe detonation zone - a zone which is blocked by buildings and other structures ripe for destruction. As with many 64-bit titles, its early polygonal visuals are arguably looking a little dogged these days, but don't let its looks put you off. This incredibly silly concept makes for one of most fun games on the N64.
A game which gave N64-owning schoolkids the world over ammo for the console wars, the influence of GoldenEye 007 on console first-person shooters continues to be felt to this day. It captured the spirit of James Bond in video game form; the action, the explosions, yes, but also the finesse and precision, and its local four-player death matches became the stuff of legend. Incredibly for a game of this quality and significance, the Nintendo 64 cart remains the only legitimate way to play over 20 years on.
Rare had a habit of taking the ideas and templates of Nintendo's 3D games and expanding on their possibilities with bigger, broader takes on those themes. Mario Kart 64 served as the inspiration here, but Diddy Kong Racing added fully 3D racers, a huge single-player adventure and a bucketload more colour, not to mention hovercraft and planes. It was a thrilling alternative to the plumber's karting efforts and featured some characters who would soon go on to appear in games of their own...
Rareware's attempt to 'out-Mario' Mario, the company very-near pulled it off with Banjo-Kazooie. What it lacked in invention it made up for with colour, verve and humour, all wrapped in a mischievous fairy tale starring a bounding bear and his acerbic bird companion. Grant Kirkhope's soundtrack is sure to brighten even the greyest of days, and few games are so joy-filled without feeling saccharine.
An underrated entry in the Rareware library, Jet Force Gemini coupled cute design with chunky, gungy third-person blasting in a world-hopping quest to defeat insectoid overlord Mizar. Juno, Vela and trusty good boy Lupus' adventure is not without flaws, but JFG is a surprising deep and satisfying one that's worth investigating if you're a Rare fan looking for gems that passed you by around the turn of the millennium.
The colourful worlds and cutesy charm of Rare's character games had always had a cheeky sense of humour, but Conker's Bad Fur Day turned the gag-o-meter up to eleven and garnished the result with a side order of gross-out set pieces that made this an infamous and highly enjoyable dish in Rare's 64-bit buffet. It's a little clunky these days, and the Matrix and Saving Private Ryan gags don't land like they did two decades ago, but once again the charm and brilliant soundtrack (this time from Robin Beanland) help disguise many of its outmoded elements.
The Expansion Pak-fuelled sequel (without the licence, of course) to GoldenEye, Perfect Dark pushed to the N64 to breaking point with a host of technical upgrades over its predecessor that wowed all who played it back in 2000. Earlier in the year we took an in-depth look at the game on its 20th anniversary, speaking with those responsible for this extraordinary FPS.
In many ways it's the quintessential Rare(ware) game: an exercise in boundary-pushing technical achievement with a layer of sophistication and wit that few other developers seemed capable of at the time. Contrary to its name, it's not perfect, but it did live up to the studio's name and heritiage; as with all of the above, Perfect Dark really is a Rare treat.
A lot of N64, eh? As it should be. Which are your favourites from the picks above? Got another highlight you'd like to share - perhaps a non-Nintendo one? Viva Piñata (not the DS one, what with that being a Nintendo platform and all)? Kinect Sports or Kameo, perhaps? Grabbed by the Nuts & Bolts, were you?
Let us know your personal favourite games and moments from three-and-a-half decades of Rare below. We're off to our Rare shrine to try once again to summon Rare Replay to Switch...