Rare's Legacy; Part 2

As the 16-bit era role's in, we see just how Rare push's it's programming knowledge.
May 23, 2011
Picking up from Part 1 we know that Rare, had come out with many successful title's during most of the 80's. However they had yet to make a move so great that it would forever embed them in the history of retro gaming. As the 90's draw in we look at some of the games they'd bring out to help establish there position as a brand to remember.

Now as the 90's drew in so did the 16-bit console wars, Sega already had a lead with the genesis, and the SNES was also on the way in 1991, however Rare was not quite ready to jump onboard nintendo's new and more powerful hardware just yet, as they'd continue to make many games in the NES for awhile, one such game released the same year as the SNES was a little known beat 'em up called Battletoads.

To begin it was obvious that Battletoads was trying to be the next Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but unlike most imitators Battletoads was actually very solid, and had the potential to be a strong franchise, though it faded away with the early 90's.

Now if there's one thing everyone remembers about Battletoads, is that it was very, very, hard. Probably one of the hardest games for the NES library. Aside from some very challenging beat ‘em up stages. There were also other heart stomping challenge's and design choice's to keep the variety fresh and the intensity high. There were racing stages, decants on bungee cord's, pipe maze's with rolling traps, a stage where you had to climb onto moving snakes or fall to your death, and even a stage where you had to ride around on the walls and ceiling to outrun an energy orb of death. This was really a game that pushed your skills as a gamer to its limit.

Though on a positive note this was probably one of the best looking games on the NES, as Rare was really pushing the hardware to its limits in its final years. Also you could play with a friend, but be warned as you could cause damage to your partner, and if one of you died you'd both have to start the level over again.

Battletoads also had a sequel on the SNES (which wasn't considered as good as the original NES game) a cross over with double dragon, a cartoon pilot, and even an arcade game that was also loads of fun in its own right. Battletoads is of course not a game for everyone, as the difficulty and learning curve will probably send most casual gamers running home crying. Though if you're a fan of challenging oldschool games or beat ‘em ups in general, Battletoads is a must have for your collection.


Now for a couple years they still remained a third party developer, releasing games for the NES, and porting a few of there older games, like R.C Pro-Am, and Battletoads to the Genesis. Though in 1994 probably one of the biggest changes for the company occurred when Rare's progress with SGI graphics caught some interest with Nintendo.

Nintendo then purchased 49% of the company making Rare a second party developer for Nintendo. At this time Rare's name was upgraded to Rareware, and they received a shiny gold emblem which for a time reflected the quality of there games.

This became anew era for the company as with Nintendo's financial backing Rare had everything they needed to further extend there creativity into new and exiting fields, With one of there biggest projects using the far superior SNES hardware being a platformer using a character from one of Nintendo's old arcade classic's, Donkey Kong.

(I actually have a lot to talk about when it comes to Donkey Kong Country, but since it might take to long, ill save most of it for another article in the near future.)

Released in 1994 for the SNES, Donkey Kong Country was considered a breakthrough not just in visuals, but also in challenging platforming and creative level designs. Why there were stages where you'd ride around in minecarts, blast around in barrels, and swim through some of the best underwater stages in gaming.

You controlled Donkey Kong (whos often hinted as the son of the original, who also appears as an old retired man called Cranky Kong) and his partner Diddy Kong on a quest across DK Island to stop King K Rule and his army of Kremlings. It also had some very challenging level designs, such as mine cart levels, barrels that blasted you in crazy directions, and some of the best underwater levels in any game.

You could also ride animal buddies like a Rhino, a swordfish, a frog, and an ostrich. There weren't too many differences between Donkey and Diddy, donkey could damage larger enemies while Diddy was more agile. Though you'd mostly use the other Kong as an extra life since both Kongs could die with one hit. The game also had two really fun two player challenge's. Two player contest where you were red donkey and diddy kong, and your friend played yellow donkey and diddy kong to see who could beat the game first, and two player team where one person was Donkey and the other was Diddy.

If you like 2D platformers and you haven't played it already then you really owe it to yourself to go out and track this game down, but do not get the GBA port as it is just ugly compared the far superior SNES version.

(About a month earlier Rare with the assistance of Midway released an arcade game with an intro that said, coming in 1995 to the Nintento Ultra 64.)

Obviously Killer Instinct was made to cash in on the fighting game trend of the 90's caused by Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Though in many ways it forged its own identity and established itself with many of its own unique twists that even today make it stand out from the crowd.

For one you had a very unique roster of characters (that stands out from most fighting games at the time, and even now) Heck one of the characters, Sabrewulf was even a reference to Rare's Spectrum game from all those years ago.

Though what set it apart from the competition was its gameplay, rather then just setting in a button command for one special move you could string together combo moves to deliver tones of damage at once, there were also combo breaker moves to even things out. Also each character also had two energy bars so you would not have to wait between rounds.

But probably one of the most interesting aspects were Ultra Combo's which were long strings of damage you performed at the end of the battle (kinda like a fatality) to rank up more points. They were also fun to watch to see how you could flail the other player's corpse all over the screen.

While the original Killer instinct was never ported the N64 (though its sequel Killer Instinct 2 would be as Killer Instinct Gold) it was later the following year brought to the SNES, and while the SNES and N64 versions dont hold a candle to there supperior arcade counterparts, there still for what there worth very good ways to play these games at home.

Almost a year after Donkey Kong Country came out, we were introduced to its sequel, Donkey Kong Country 2; Diddy's Kong Quest. In this game Diddy kong was the star as he would have to travel with his new companion Dixie Kong to Reptile Island to rescue Donkey Kong from the clutch's of Kaptain K Rule.

Just about everything that made Donkey Kong Country 1 good, was made better, the levels were better, the challenge was higher, the bonus levels were more engaging, and of course the co-op between the two Kong's was much more improved. As the Kongs could now be piggy backed to reach higher ledges, and Dixie with her pony tail had the ability to glide a short distance.

The stage's were also bigger and even had secret areas to discover. Animal buddy's were also back and they were better then ever, not to mention there were trivia bonus challenges, DK coins to find, and the lost world which could only be unlocked by finding bonus coins, not to mention better boss battles.

I could go on and on but there's no denying that Donkey Kong Country 2, stands as a testament not only as how to make a good sequel, but how to make a tough challenging 2D platformer in general. It's without a doubt one of (if not the) greatest 2D platformers ever made, and you'd be a complete idiot not to check it out. But as I said stay away from the GBA port, and stick to the SNES version.


(Released afew months after the N64, Donkey Kong Country 3 is often not as well talked about as the other two, though in truth its actually a very good game, and one of the last great platformers if the 16-bit era.)

This time around Dixie Kong was the star, and your new companion was Kiddy Kong, as this time you were on a quest to find Donkey, and Diddy Kong who had both gone missing after going on a picnic in the Northern Kremisphere.

For one thing the overworld was very different feeling as it is a northern evergreen climate instead of a tropical climate like the first two games. It also felt very alive, as you walked or swimmed around, since the overworlds from the other games were pre-rendered images. You also had to upgrade your boat to reach new areas in the overworld after finding the parts Funky Kong needed. The Music was also very natural and fitted the calmness of the atmosphere.

also alot of the things that made the last game fun are also hear, bonus stages, huge levels with secrets, DK coins, animal buddies. There was even a lost world to discover. Plus there were also some sidequests you could receive by talking to the many bear brothers scattered throughout the world, and Banana Birds to discover either hidden in secret caves or given by certain bear brothers. You didn't need to find them to beat the game but doing so revealed a hidden ending.

Some might go into how this game sucks because it's not as epic as the first two games, though if you ask me it's actually very good. It's different, but different doesn't have to be a bad thing. When playing this game growing up I just loved trying to find all the secrets there were to find. It took me years to find everything but it was a very good feeling when I finally did.

Id say if you liked the other two games give this one a shot. It might not seem as epic as the other two but for what it's worth it's a really good 2D platformer. Like I said before stay away from the GBA port and get the SNES version.

in conclusion

After the success of the Donkey Kong Country trilogy and Killer Instinct Rare was on a role, and it would all be uphill from there, and with the N64 over the horizon Rare would move into the grounds of 3D gaming and many exiting new ideas.

(In Part 3 we move into the N64 era, and cover some of the best remembered classics of there Nintendo venture.)
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