Growing up in the 80s and being a gamer, there are many games that instantly spring to mind…
Jetpac, Atic Atac, Lunar Jetman, Sabre Wulf, Underwurlde and Knight Lore are just a handful of games I fondly remember.
Great “old school” games and all made by one specific developer.
Ultimate: Play The Game.
I adored many of these games and this was also probably my first recollection of knowing the developer through their games instead of just knowing the games.
I recall often looking for that Ultimate logo and genuinely getting excited to play their next title.
Ultimate became infamous for their fan friendly approach and would often give away merchandise for free to anyone that wanted it, all they had to do was ask.
Ultimate were unstoppable in the early 80s and would go from strength to strength. But before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s just look back on Ultimate and their influence in the 80s.
Founded in 1982 by brothers Tim and Chris Stamper who were ex-arcade game developers. Most of their games were made for the big computers of the time like the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, BBC Micro, MSX and Commodore 64.
The Ultimate name became synonymous with quality and many of their games were quite revolutionary.
In 1985, the Stamper brothers sold the Ultimate name and back catalogue to game publisher and developer; U.S Gold. This was a darker time for Ultimate as the game’s quality was dropping and they would often overuse the same gaming concepts over and over. The high standard and quality just was not there anymore.
In some of the later Ultimate games, you would often find the name Rare Ltd. appearing in the credits. Rare Ltd. was another company Tim and Chris Stamper had set up to develop for under the Ultimate name, but not be subject to any Ultimate takeover. Meaning that even with the Ultimate name being sold to U.S Gold, the Stamper brothers had another company of their own to fall back on and using the Rare Ltd name, they started one of the most successful partnerships in gaming history…
Rare Ltd began developing games for Nintendo’s NES system and released their first title for the NES, Slalom in 1987. Teaming up with Nintendo proved to be a great success and would span 3 generations of gaming consoles.
Rare Ltd. would continue developing for the NES and even produce Gameboy ports with games like; Wizards & Warriors, R.C. Pro-Am, Captain Skyhawk, Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll and Battletoads.
Then in 1989, Rare Ltd. bought back all the rights previously sold to U.S. Gold.
With the release of Nintendo’s SNES, Rare Ltd. cut back on their development for the machine initially and only produced a few Battletoads games. But they were not busy developing for the SNES as Rare Ltd. invested their profits made from the NES era into purchasing expensive Silicon Graphics (SGI) workstations.
Rare Ltd. impressed Nintendo with their progress of 3D graphics on the SGI systems and in 1994, Nintendo bought a 49% stake in the company which turned Rare Ltd. into a Nintendo second-party developer.
At this time, Rare Ltd. had another alteration.
Now developing under the name Rareware.
By this time, Rareware had such a strong relationship with Nintendo that Nintendo readily offered up any of their existing IPs for Rareware to make a whole new game on. The Stamper brothers asked for Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Country is what we got. The game showcased Rare’s 3D graphics advancements thanks to those SCI workstations and went on to become a huge success, in fact Donkey Kong Country became the second best selling SNES game of all time.
Donkey Kong Country spawned two sequels and various spin offs.
But Rareware did not just stick to Nintendo’s machines and in the late 90’s they developed a CGI based beat em’ up; Killer Instinct for arcades.
Soon after the release of Killer Instinct, Nintendo relased their next home console, the N64.
Rareware would continue the successful partnership with Nintendo on this machine too with; GoldenEye 007, Banjo-Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Blast Corps and even build on their Donkey Kong games with Donkey Kong 64.
Rareware also made a spiritual successor to GoldenEye 007 with Perfect Dark as well as release sequel Banjo-Tooie.
Rareware and the N64 was a perfect match…but it was not to last.
As they year 2000 began, Microsoft visited Rareware and eventually paid $375 million to own 100% of the company which became a first party developer for Microsoft and another new name and logo.
Now just called Rare and releasing their first game for Microsoft’s Xbox in 2003; Grabbed by the Ghoulies. In many fan’s eyes…this was the start of the decline of one of our favorite game developers.
Rare’s relationship with Microsoft just was not as successful as it was with Nintendo previously. Releasing remake; Conker: Live & Reloaded for the Xbox along with launch games for the Xbox 360; Kameo: Elements of Power and Perfect Dark Zero and Viva Piñata relased a year later. These games were just not up to standard and met with fairly low sales.
By the end of 2009, Microsoft “restructured” Rare and they started to develop games for the Xbox 360’s Kinect, with their first game being; Kinect Sports and later the sequel; Kinect Sports Rivals.
Under Microsoft, Rare had been put on the back burner and have become a shadow of their former self.
Nowadays, Rare “rarely” develop games anymore, but they do have a new title called; Sea of Thieves for the Xbox One which has yet to have a release date.
Can this be the game that gets Rare back on form? We will have to wait and see.
But before then, there is something coming from Rare very soon…
August this year sees the release of this.
Rare Replay: A celebration of Ultimate/Rare with a compilation of 30 games from their library. With the exception of obvious licensing issues (007, Nintendo IPs, etc) pretty much every Ultimate/Rare game is included here.
Atic Atac (1983)
Lunar Jetman (1983)
Sabre Wulf (1984)
Knight Lore (1984)
R.C. Pro-Am (1987)
Cobra Triangle (1989)
Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll (1990)
Digger T. Rock: Legend of the Lost City (1990)
Solar Jetman: Hunt for the Golden Warpship (1990)
R.C. Pro-Am II (1992)
Battletoads Arcade (1994)
Killer Instinct Gold (1996)
Blast Corps (1997)
Jet Force Gemini (1999)
Perfect Dark (2000)
Conker’s Bad Fur Day (2001)
Grabbed by the Ghoulies (2003)
Perfect Dark Zero (2005)
Kameo: Elements of Power (2005)
Viva Piñata (2006)
Jetpac Refuelled (2007)
Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise (2008)
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (2008)
Now you may have noticed that I didn’t go into detail on any of the games. Well that is due to the fact I have pre-ordered Rare Reply and I intend on playing each of the 30 games and doing an Ultimate/Rare retrospective, look at the Rare Reply as a whole collection and offer my views of the games to see how/if they have held up today.
This is going to be my celebration of Ultimate/Rare.
So here we go folks. 30 classic Ultimate/Rare games to work my way through in my Rare Replay retrospective.