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Rare - A history lesson

The goose that laid the GoldenEye

Rare didn't come fully formed into this world with the release of Donkey Kong Country. Before their spectacularly good run on SNES and N64, the company had already developed nearly 100 games for the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad, MSX, BBC Micro and, oh yes, the NES.

You'll probably be aware of some of their early stuff already - Battletoads, Jetpac - but there are a great number of surprises stuffed in their extensive back catalogue, and more than a few hidden gems.

MEDIUM RARE
Brothers Tim and Chris Stamper founded the company back in 1982, but it wasn't until years later that they would become the Rare we knew and loved.

As Ultimate Play The Game they released a number of titles for primordial computers such as the ZX Spectrum, including arcade shooter Jetpac (recently remade for Xbox 360), Sabre Wulf, Underwurlde and Blackwyche.

Although their games shared a tendency to put 'E's on the end of words for no good reason, Rare's early output covers an impressive range of genres, from shoot-'em-ups to platformers to proto-adventure game Dragon Skulle.

Despite the relative absence of foulmouthed squirrels or nappy-wearing simians, it's easy to ID them as Rare games.

Their first NES title was 1987 skiing game Slalom. It was followed in the same year by Wizards & Warriors, a title that studio head Mark Betteridge remembered in an interview with Edge magazine as having "the worst jump animation ever".

Videogame versions of Wheel Of Fortune and Jeopardy! didn't do a lot to make up for it, but their NES port of California Games is responsible for some of our fondest memories of 8-bit gaming.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, meanwhile, offered another mixture of platforming and adventure gaming, but it could easily have just been a non-interactive gallery of Jessica Rabbit pictures, and nobody would have minded.2

It was their first foray into the oft-troubled waters of games based on movies, but as GoldenEye 007 would illustrate eight years later, Rare could be trusted on that front more than any other developer.

But it was 1990's Battletoads that would come to be their most memorable NES title - yes, even more memorable than Super Glove Ball.

As it was released late in the console's lifespan, they were now old hands with the NES and the amphibious beat-'em-up pushed the console to its very limits.

Numerous ports followed, but also a few sequels - Battletoads & Double Dragon, Battletoads In Battlemaniacs and Battletoads Vs Predator. Okay, we made that last one up. Battletoads was Rare's biggest franchise before Nintendo entrusted them with the keys to Donkey Kong.

RARES AND GRACES
Looking back at the SNES and N64, it's surprising just how many of their biggest and best games were developed by Rare. From 1994 to 2002 they were essentially a first-party company, crafting titles with the polish, invention and charm of Nintendo, but with more western sensibilities and a defiantly British sense of humour.

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