20 Years On From Microsoft’s Acquisition Of Rare, What’s Come Of It All?

Two days and 20 years ago, British developer Rare was acquired by Microsoft for $US375 million. But what’s happened since then? Just the other day, a tweet from Xbox News posted about the 20th anniversary of Rare becoming a first-party studio under Microsoft’s rule.

This was, of course, a pretty big deal at the time considering all of Rare’s biggest hits were on Nintendo consoles, such as Banjo-Kazooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Donkey Kong Country, Perfect Dark and Jet Force Gemini. Ever since then, we’ve seen most of their titles appear exclusively on Xbox consoles, with the obvious exceptions of any OG Donkey Kong Country games re-released on the Game Boy Advance. Considering this, I thought it would be fun to go through some (not all) of the games developed and released by Rare since the Microsoft acquisition to celebrate the occasion.

Grabbed by the Ghoulies (2003)

MFW I’m grabbed by the ghoulies. (Image: Xbox Game Studios)

Grabbed by the Ghoulies was originally supposed to be a GameCube game, but ended up being the first Rare game released after the Microsoft acquisition and therefore becoming an Xbox exclusive. First released on the original Xbox, it was later made available as a digital download on Xbox 360, and then was remastered for Rare Replay years later (we’ll get on Rare Replay later). It’s all about Cooper, a fella who ventures into a haunted mansion to save his girlfriend but finds himself being grabbed by ghoulies. Taking into account that this is a game made by UK-based developers, the name is very funny to me. Unfortunately, it was not a slay upon release, receiving mixed reviews that praised the graphics and animation but scorned the gameplay. However, Grabbed by the Ghoulies is considered a goolie-grabber by its fans.

Conker: Live & Reloaded (2005)

All hail the king! (Image: Xbox Game Studios)

Conker: Live & Reloaded was a fresh coat of paint on the 2001 title Conker’s Bad Fur Day. It was exclusively released for the original Xbox and is currently available to buy for about $15 on Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S. The single-player mode is a complete remaster of the original, while the new multiplayer mode that included Capture the Flag and Deathmatch game modes is exclusive to the Xbox version. This was an almost monumental win for Rare. Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a cult classic and Conker: Live & Reloaded was a beautiful remaster that satisfied critics and fans alike. The only hitch was that while originally planned as a fully-uncensored single-player experience, later in development it was decided that more cuss words would be censored than in the original Nintendo 64 version. Nonetheless, it did very well.

Kameo: Elements of Power (2005)

Honestly? Work. (Image: Xbox Game Studios)

Kameo: Elements of Power was one of two games made by Rare that was a launch title for the Xbox 360. It originally started development before the Microsoft acquisition and was planned as a Pokémon-esque title about capturing and nurturing monsters. However, the mood changed after the acquisition and led to Kameo having darker themes. It’s also another title remastered for the Rare Replay collection. Kameo was always one of those games that I always wanted to get and play, but never did. Considering it took a while to come out with many twists and turns in its development, the reviews are all sorts of mixed. While high praise was aimed at its breathtaking visuals for the time and beautiful soundtrack, it was another title that reviewers criticised the gameplay of.

Perfect Dark Zero (2005)

Rocking that manic panic psychedelic sunset dye. (Image: Xbox Game Studios)

Perfect Dark Zero was the other Rare game that launched with the Xbox 360 in 2005. It’s also the first new Rare-made Xbox exclusive that is a continuation of a series that began on the Nintendo 64. The game was a prequel to the N64’s Perfect Dark and follows Joanna Dark’s humble beginnings as an agent of the Carrington Institute agency. It is yet another title included in Rare Replay (I promise I’ll get to it, there’s still a bit to go). Perfect Dark Zero was a big winner, especially compared to Kameo. I guess that’s the reality of dropping a completely new IP next to a long-awaited addition to an already well-established series. It sold over a million copies worldwide upon release and was generally loved by critics and fans. Alas, it did fall victim to the classic argument of not meeting expectations for a new entry in the series.

Viva Piñata (2006) & Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise (2008)

Can you believe these games are terrifying looks at nature’s food pyramid? (Image: Xbox Game Studios)

The Viva Piñata series on Xbox consists of the original, released in 2006, and the sequel Trouble in Paradise, released in 2008. The sequel, while improving on some aspects of the original, is considered to be more of an expansion of the first rather than its own game. Both titles consist of you tending to a Piñata garden and watching in horror as the Piñata creatures that you care for and bring into the garden eat each other, all the while fending off other little buggers that also want to eat your Piñatas. While the children’s TV show that came along with the games would make one think that the game is obnoxious and annoying, I would argue that the Viva Piñata games go hard as hell. Critics and fans alike would agree, as both games received favourable reviews upon their release. The graphics are colourful and bright, there are all sorts of Piñatas to collect. Also unexpectedly dark, which makes it all the more hilarious. We love the Viva Piñata games.

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (2008)

Hmmmmmm I dunnoooo. (Image: Xbox Game Studios)

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts was Rare’s return to the Nintendo 64 series that many fans knew them well for. It was the first time that people would be seeing the bear and bird duo on a home console since 2000, with two handheld games being released for the Game Boy Advance in 2003 and 2005. This game, as well as the N64 games, also appeared in the Rare Replay collection (we’re almost there folks, we’re so close). I was one of those people that refused to touch Nuts & Bolts with a 10-foot pole. I loved the original games and then saw the core mechanics of this one and went, “No thank you!” Despite this, Nuts & Bolts actually did quite well, receiving generally favourable reviews from critics and even being mentioned in the book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die. There’s definitely a possibility I will play this before I die, but there’s still something about it that gives me the ick.

The Kinect Sports Era (2010, 2011, and 2014)

We will never financially recover from this. (Image: Xbox Game Studios)

Kinect Sports and Kinect Sports: Season Two were released on the Xbox 360 as two of the big games for the Xbox Kinect, which was Xbox’s attempt at competing with the meteoric rise of the Nintendo Wii. Then there was Kinect Sports: Rivals, which was released on Xbox One for the newer rendition of the Xbox Kinect. If there’s anything Microsoft had during these points, it was an unfathomable dedication to the Kinect. They really went for it. Not much to say about these ones other than they were definitely made to compete with Wii Sports. Rare’s work on a Kameo sequel was also canned because of the focus needed for the Kinect Sports (as well as poor sales), so you must consider these games to be the spiritual successors to Kameo (note: this is a goof). The first Kinect Sports game did pretty well in terms of reviews, while Season Two did a little worse, and then Rivals did worse than that. All that being said, they’re definitely fun to play with family or friends if you wanted to flail your body around. Ultimately, these games didn’t really feel like Rare games. But they were!

Rare Replay (2015)

YEAH BABY YEAH WOOO! (Image: Xbox Game Studios)

We’re here, folks! We made it! We made it to the one that we couldn’t stop referencing, the real juicy stuff right here! Rare Replay is a 30-game compilation for the Xbox One that consisted of a good amount of Rare’s back catalogue, including titles from their Ultimate Play the Game era as well. While not including any of the Donkey Kong titles or Goldeneye, the collection was still pretty girthy, including hits like Banjo-Kazooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Jet Force Gemini and a remaster of Perfect Dark. There was a lot of great content in Rare Replay outside of its games, including archival game content and developer interviews that give a deeper look into Rare’s history, and critics praised the inclusion of “rewind” and Snapshot features added to the collection. Let me tell ya, as somebody who was working at a video game retail store when this came out, it felt good being able to tell people that jokingly asked for Battletoads that we did in fact have Battletoads.

Sea of Thieves (2018 – Present)

Be still, me hearty. (Image: Xbox Game Studios)

Sea of Thieves is Rare’s most recent game and is an ongoing multiplayer action-adventure game for the Xbox One and PC, with an enhanced version hitting the Xbox Series X/S in 2020. Rare started development in 2014 and they explored making a multiplayer game like Rust or DayZ with dinosaurs and vampires, before eventually settling on pirates inspired by Pirates of the Caribbean and The Goonies. Sea of Thieves has proved to be one of those games that aged like a fine wine. While receiving mixed reviews on launch, continuous updates to the game over time resulted in its overall reception continuing to rise. Although I haven’t played the game myself, I know that it’s a game that has enveloped David’s life. As much as he is the captain of the Kotaku Australia ship, it seems like Sea of Thieves has a special, salty place in his heart.

At this point, Rare continues to support Sea of Thieves through regular updates and events, and then there’s the long-awaited and finally revealed Goldeneye remaster coming to Game Pass at some point. Oh, and they’re still working on Everwild, but that’s not coming until 2024 and we also have no idea what it’s about. Personally, I miss the goofiness of Rare. Games like Banjo-Kazooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day and even Viva Piñata were what I consider to be games that have that kooky Rare touch that you couldn’t find elsewhere. At the same time, I’m happy that David gets to be a pirate, which I believe to be a lifelong dream of his.

The post 20 Years On From Microsoft’s Acquisition Of Rare, What’s Come Of It All? appeared first on Kotaku Australia.


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