There are few developers that exemplify quality Nintendo exclusives like Rareware in their heyday. The British studio began as a scrappy upstart; essentially just another NES developer amongst a crowded space of peers. Yet, they possessed an excellent work ethic and a knack for creating a wide range of colorful and appealing titles that catered to a wide demographic. These qualities helped them rise to prominence, peaking during what many point to as Rare's "Golden Age" of the mid to late 90s.
Eventually, Rare had cranked out so many smash hits on the N64 that they basically dominated the lineup alongside the Big N themselves. If you owned an N64, chances are you had at least one title from this second party studio. Still, their track record has come with its share of ups and downs, like a chaotic roller coaster ride at Krazy Kremland. The 90s were a high watermark, to be sure. Yet, their more inexperienced years of the 80s, along with the Microsoft buyout in 2002 - and the migration of employees that followed - produced mixed results.
With that said, let's take a barrel blast to the past and examine Rare's 5 best (and worst) games ever made.
10 Worst: Nightmare On Elm Street (NES)
While publisher LJN was notorious for cranking plenty of mediocre games based on movie licenses, gamers might be surprised to learn that one of these efforts came from the future developer of classics like Perfect Dark. The game in question is the archaic maze of a "platformer" based off the far more memorable movie, A Nightmare on Elmstreet.
They certainly got part of the title right - this NES game can be a nightmare to play. Navigation alone is often a headache with the flat and ambiguous layout of Elm Street. When you're not wandering around mindlessly, you'll be facing the amusingly stock horror-themed baddies, and clashing with the annoying Freddy, who always seems to pop up when you're least prepared. You'll also undertake painstaking chores like collecting Freddy's bones. This game is horrifyingly bad.
9 Best: Diddy Kong Racing
This charmingly distinct Rare racer tends to get overshadowed by the likes of Mario Kart 64. This is a shame, because in many ways, it actually excels beyond it, and may be one of the best racers of the 90s. The game immerses you in a majestically colorful world full of tracks that are varied and memorable - from winter wonderlands to imaginative sci-fi landscapes.
Diddy Kong Racing provides you with a plethora of amusing characters you may recognize in other major Rare games, and a trio of distinct vehicles they can pilot. You've got your more traditional cars, but you've also got the unique hovercraft, and - perhaps the most thrilling - airplanes! You've even got a story mode that's impressively fleshed out for an arcade-style racer, complete with varied tasks and even boss showdowns.
8 Worst: Kinect Sports: Season 2
This shallow party "sports" game is essentially an even worse version of its 2010 predecessor - which is itself a pale imitation of Wii Sports. So it shouldn't be all too surprising that this lame glorified demo makes our list as one of Rare's lowest points. Like much of the Kinect software, this feels more akin to a cheap attempt to sell Microsoft's motion camera than a fully realized game.
While Wii Sports was seemingly quite basic, it rode the line between accessibility, and the more nuanced, precise motion controls of the Wiimote. Kinect, on the other hand, demands you flail your body around to input basic motion commands. This provides a shaky foundation for tepid sporting "simulations" like Slalom Skiing and a laughably watered down version of Football.
7 Best: Banjo Kazooie
Banjo Kazooie is one of those unique experiences that leaves an impression on most who play it. Just hearing that instantly recognizable banjo music dowses gamers with a soothing dose of 90s nostalgia. Though the gameplay and colorful graphics have managed to hold up well too, cementing Banjo and his bird pal Kazooie as iconic characters. There's a reason they were hyped up as new Smash Bros Ultimate fighters.
The depth, the variance of activities, and the rich, unique nature of Banjo's environments make for a truly memorable journey. At the same time, there's a level of charming simplicity to the experience. Much like Mario 64, Banjo Kazooie immerses you into a whimsical fantasy world, without going overboard with massive levels or an anxiety-inducing amount of collectibles (looking at you, Starfox Adventures).
6 Worst: Grabbed By The Ghoulies
This game - which is as lame as its title indicates - is basically the moment it was clear Rare wasn't what they once were. Considering this was the first highly anticipated Xbox effort by the British developers, following the Microsoft buyout, this basic action romp feels supremely underwhelming. After playing this stinker, the lukewarm Star Fox Adventure, which released only one year prior, suddenly didn't look so bad...
The aesthetics are cheesily cartoony, and the basic beat-em-up gameplay gets repetitive real quick. It's hard to believe this cheap-feeling dud was made by the same guys who crafted gems like Donkey Kong Country and Perfect Dark.
5 Best: Conker's Bad Fur Day
Nintendo fans were taken aback when word came out that Rare - the devs behind adorable games like Diddy Kong Racing - were going to feature their cute squirrel Conker in an M-rated game rife with toilet humor and foul-mouthed dialogue. This marvelous N64 swan song is a bit like Banjo-meets-South Park with its darker themes and off-color gags. It's full-blown wacky British insanity - in the best way possible.
But the game isn't just a gimmick to throw raunchy themes over a kiddie exterior. Yes, the giant talking poo bosses and drunken shenanigans are amusing. But Conker's Bad Fur Day is, in fact, a well-crafted 3D platformer too, with amusing homage-paying environments and clever writing.
4 Worst: Viva Pinata: Party Animals
While Conker was Rare trying to reach out to a new demographic of teens and young adults, the Viva Pinata series seems to be the devs going the complete opposite direction and catering to young kids on 360.
Though the first Viva Pinata title proved decent enough - if overtly colorful, cutesy sims are your thing - this spin-off marks a huge departure in style, and in quality. The game plays like a stripped down, board game-less version of Mario Party, with annoying voice-overs, and dull minigames that often feel more based on luck than skill. This is one party you'll want to leave early.
3 Best: Goldeneye
You knew it was coming - this revolutionary FPS changed the game as we know it, establishing a new gold standard of competitive multiplayer shooters that shook up the gaming scene like a Bond-style Martini.
It was a tough choice to leave off the more polished and fleshed-out spiritual successor, Perfect Dark, in favor of this. But at the end of the day, Goldeneye contains an iconic status; a cachet that PD doesn't quite measure up to.
It also helps that Goldeneye offers that perfect balance of simplicity and depth. At the same time, it draws on the essence of the cool environments and engaging narrative of the film, and makes you feel like you're 007 himself. Thanks to some appealing gameplay, amusing unlockables (big heads, anyone?), and a robust multiplayer, it's still a ton of fun to play, especially crowded around the TV with friends.
2 Worst: Roger Rabbit (NES)
Sure, NES was home to many of awkward, archaic, and primitively designed games, though this '89 release by Rare has to be near the top (or I suppose the bottom?) of the list. The controls are stiff and clunky - even for NES standards - and the nauseating driving controls are especially God-awful.
Your bland "adventure" through LA as detective Eddie Valiant is chock full of frustrating ambiguities, cheap deaths, and lame "riddles". Whoever it was that framed Roger Rabbit, chances are you just won't care after fumbling through this mess for several minutes.
1 Best: Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest
There's certainly no such thing as a perfect game, but Donkey Kong Country 2 comes about as close to a flawless 2D platformer as you can get. This sequel to the breakout '94 hit has just about everything.
The gameplay draws from the charming aspects of the first DKC, while fleshing it out to perfection, with more creatively designed stages, new animal buddies, and plentiful collectibles. The graphics are even prettier, and the environments, which range from eerie graveyards to thrilling amusement parks, are rich, imaginative, and memorable. Its gameplay is an endlessly enjoyable trip, and held up by a foundation of super solid mechanics.