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What Is Rare Up To?

The recent news that developer Rare might be up to something big for the next console generation can either cause excitement or groans, depending on your opinion of the developer for the past decade.

Once the pride of Nintendo, Rare released what many consider some of the best games of all time: Goldeneye 007, Perfect Dark, and yes, even Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Fans have fond memories of these games, and after recently playing both of them, I can say that they’re still fun to play (even if the graphics are painfully dated, and sometimes too repetitive. More on that later).

Enter Microsoft, and their takeover of Rare. What do we get? Grabbed by the Ghoulies. Enough said.

Since then, Rare has been mired in mediocrity, with the exception of the creative Viva Pinata.

In 2008, Rare revived one of their classic Nintendo 64 franchises, Banjo-Kazooie, with the release of Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts. One look at the game, with the colorful characters and environments, and you could tell that it looked like, well, a classic Rare game.

But looks can be deceiving.

Nuts and Bolts received mixed reviews, with critics complaining that it didn’t have the platforming action that the franchise was known for, instead focusing on vehicles, which weren’t really a factor in the previous N64 games, and excessive item-collecting.

This shows that Rare was, and might always be known for their collect-a-thon platformers (Donkey Kong 64, Banjo-Kazooie), for better or worse. But how well would these hold up in 2012?

Playing Rare’s classic N64 platformers today, while still fun and charming (and I love the music), the gameplay is excruciatingly repetitive (collect X amount of bananas to proceed, rinse and repeat).

It was a sign of the times, perhaps.

Grabbed by the Ghoulies, for instance, removed the platforming and instead focused all on the repetitive (defeat X amount of skeletons to proceed).

Repetition is almost never good in a video game, and it was something that Rare has always had a problem with in most of their games.

Because of this, I would argue that the developer was at its best when it released first-person shooters, a la Perfect Dark and Goldeneye 007, mainly for the fact that they aren’t collect-a-thons like Rare’s platformers are. And, quite frankly, they withstand the test of time much better.

Never mind the brain-dead AI in Goldeneye, the environments, atmosphere, weapons, and overall gameplay is enough to still draw me in. The same goes for Perfect Dark.

If rumors are true, Rare could be returning to its FPS roots. Rare’s job listing for a senior product manager calls for someone with “a successful history of releasing exceptional AAA games and these will ideally be in the Action/Adventure or FPS genre.”

Eurogamer reports that Rare might be working on a “mature” title for the Xbox 720, and comments from Rare suggests that they aren’t necessarily pining for the old days of cutesy platformers.

“It’s about creating fun innovative games that can be hugely successful,” Rare boss Craig Duncan told Eurogamer when he was asked about revisiting classic Rare games. “Not necessarily about genre and characters.”

Recently, Rare has been all about Microsoft’s Kinect. Late in 2010, Rare announced that they would be focusing on Kinect, and their first title, Kinect Sports, sold well, even though the game was not spectacular.

A shift to a mature game would harken back to the early 2000s – the days when Rare was considered one of the elite developers with releases like Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Perfect Dark. Could a mature game from the “new” Rare capture that magic? Or would what they “learned” (or didn’t learn) over the past decade become a problem? Only time will tell.

But would Rare really make a mature “mature” game, such as a Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto? It would seem entirely out of character, Goldeneye aside.

My guess? Rare’s “mature” game will star a cute fluffy character in a colorful world. It’s happened before (and please make it happen again, but leave the collect-a-thon out of it!).

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