We are now entering the most famous and successful era of Rare/Nintendo’s partnership, but also the end of this amazing and influential team up as well as the end of the century.
But before we get back into Nintendo territory, Rare released an arcade game featuring one of their more successful series.
Battletoads-Arcade: AKA Super Battletoads, relased in 1994 for the arcade. The only Battletoads game where all three toads can fight on screen at the same time, also this one is much more violent, darker and bloody than any other in the series. The game was never relased for any home console, though a SNES version was planned, it was ultimately cancelled.
The toads are back, bigger, bloodier, badder and even cruder than ever before.
Our heroes; Zitz, Pimple and Rash are aboard their ship, The Vulture on a quest to hunt down The Dark Queen’s most villainous henchmen. As they search the galaxy hunting down these henchmen, they discover cyborg Robo-Manus has a new body and a new scheme to end the Battletoads once and for all.
This one is simple enough, its another button smashing, scrolling beat em’ up. But without the restraints of the home consoles and the added power of the arcade. The Battle toads are more violent than ever before.
Each one of the toads is unique in some ways; for example, Zitz’s attacks are wider in range and can take out more enemies at once, Pimple’s attacks are slower deal more damage while Rash attacks are faster, but his attacks do less damage.
The game is split into six varying stages that cover all sorts of terrain from space ships, ice worlds a mansion along with others. Plus there is plenty of variety along the way with bonus stages, a jetpack inspired stage and the last stage takes on more of a shoot em’ up style.
The game was very well received by critics at the time. With many commenting on the more adult and harder content along with the crude humour. In 2013, it was ranked as the 11th top beat ’em up video game of all time by Heavy.com. Retro Gamer said “its bombastic, colourful, well-designed and unmistakably Rare” and “easily as good as anything coming from the stables of Konami and Sega at the time” that it “had personality, great combat, and plenty of funny moments and incredibly” gory” They also said “in our opinion, the best game in the series.”
So we leave the world of the arcade and Battletoads to see what Rare have been up to with Nintendo on the N64.
Killer Instinct Gold: Released in 1996 for the N64 console by Rare. This is the 3rd game in the series after Killer Instinct and Killer Instinct 2. Killer Instinct Gold is essentially a port of the arcade version of Killer Instinct 2 but with a few tweaks and improvements.
A classic one on one tournament fighter in the same vein as Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat. With the player controlling one of several various characters on a 2D plane, though the graphics of the character are also in 2D the backgrounds are in 3D and are even interactive.
Killer Instinct became infamous for it’s brutal combos and finisher moves. The game offers several game-play modes including, Arcade, Team, Team Elimination, Tournament, Practise, Training and Focused Training.
There were only a handful of character and many missing form the original and arcade version; Orchid, Fulgore, Gargo, Glacius, Jago, Kim Wu, Maya, Riptor, Spinal, T.J. Combo, Tusk…oh and Sabrewulf…yes that Sabrewulf.
Killer Instinct Gold met with varying reviews. GameSpot wrote that “Gold was decent, the best entry in the series thus far”, and a “good offering”. GamePro readers voted the game the second best of 1996 after Tekken 2. CVG ultimately thought the game had little “flow”. IGN complained about the game’s “shallow emphasis on archaic” combo sequence memorization rather than creative extempore.” They also said “there were too few characters and that the game’s closeness to its arcade version made it appear dated.”
IGN reported in 2010 that Killer Instinct Gold had upset series fans by changing the combo move sets and omitting “fan favourite” characters from the original.
After the 1996 Killer Instinct Gold did not sell as well as the Super Nintendo original, the series went dormant. However, Microsoft and Rare revived the series for the Xbox One in 2013.
The mixed bag that was Killer Instinct Gold is brushed aside for one of the most overlooked Rare/N64 games.
Blast Corps: Exploding onto the N64 in 1997 from Rare. Is this often forgotten about classic and was Rare’s first original IP for the N64 console.
A simple, enough game with a simple enough goal. All you had to do was destroy buildings and clear a path for a runaway nuclear missile carrier. Using a variety of vehicles such as; a basic bulldozer rams, a dump truck that would drift, a super lightweight buggy which crashes from higher ground, a tricycle which can shoots missiles, a truck which pushed outwards from its sides, and robot-mechs that tumble and stomp from the land and the air. As well as a few secret and hidden vehicles.
The game was made up of 57 levels, all with the same basic goal of clearing a path. But each level offered different challenges and puzzles to solve, dependent on which of the vehicles you were using. You may need to move explosive crates or fills gaps and creates bridges, along with many other simple but tricky puzzle solving. You could even transfer between vehicles mid-level to operate other machinery.
Once a level had been completed, you could return to explore without having to worry about the runaway nuclear missile carrier and explore the level. then you may find secrets and hidden extras throughout the levels. There are also secret levels and bonus rounds hidden throughout the game.
The game had very positive reviews when it was originally relased. Blast Corps was selected as Electronic Gaming Monthly ’s May 1997 Game of the Month and an IGN Editors’ Choice. Electronic Gaming Monthly was struck by the intense premise of Blast Corps. Its best feature, they wrote was “the palpable sense of suspense as the carrier advanced on resistant buildings.”
The destructive, and addictive world of Blast Corps is left behind for a more “Mario-esque” game.
Banjo-Kazooie: 1998 saw the release of this game from Rare, an entry into the 3D platformer genre made popular by Mario 64. The first in the Banjo-Kazooie series.
Set in the Spiral Mountain and tells the story of Banjo, a brown honey bear as well as his friend, Kazooie, a red bird that is kept in Banjo’s backpack. When a foul-tempered witch named Gruntilda learns from that Tooty, Banjo’s sister, is a beautiful young girl. The jealous Gruntilda creates a machine which can transfer a person’s level of beauty to another. Gruntilda abducts Tooty from Banjo’s house while he is sleeping with the intention to use her beauty stealing machine on Tooty. Kazooie wakes Banjo up and the two set out to rescue her.
It’s basic “rescue the princess” stuff, but done with that Rare charm and style.
The game is split into nine open levels where the player must gather musical notes and jigsaw pieces (Jiggies) to progress. With you controlling our heroes Banjo and Kazooie as they set out to save Tooty from Gruntilda.
The levels are composed of a several challenges that involve solving puzzles, basic platforming, gathering specific objects, and defeating enemies. Also featured are some light elements of action-adventure games, where You’ll often have to speak with NPCs and then figure out a way to help them.
A world full of characters, fun and exploration.
Banjo-Kazooie was a big hit and met with critical and commercial success. GamePro described Banjo-Kazooie as a “more complex, more fluid, and more attractive game than its plumber predecessor, Mario 64.” IGN, awarded the game a rating of 9.6 out of 10, stating that the game “is the best 3D platformer [the reviewer] ever played, and a more than worthy successor to Mario 64.” GameSpot wrote: “graphically, Banjo-Kazooie takes it to another level. The game maintains the look and feel of Mario 64, but instead of flat, shaded polygons, BK uses a lot of textures”.
In 1999, Banjo-Kazooie received two awards from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences: Console Action Game of the Year and Outstanding Achievement in Art/Graphics. Similarly, IGN awarded the game Overall Best Graphics of 1998, Best Texture Design of 1998, and Best Music of 1998.
In 2000, the game was ranked number seven on IGN’s list of The Top 25 N64 Games of All Time.
We leave Banjo & Kazooie, if only for a while. While we see out the end of the century that is the space year of 1999.
Jet Force Gemini: Relased just as the year 1999 was coming to an end, this Sci-Fi inspired game from Rare for the N64 became a frim fan favourite.
Jet Force Gemini is composed of three main characters: Juno, a taciturn human male whose parents were killed by space pirates that invaded his home station; Vela, Juno’s feisty twin sister; and Lupus, Jet Force Gemini’s War-dog mascot.
As the game begins the three characters are in orbit around the planet Goldwood after just barely escaping the destruction of the entire Jet Force fleet at the hands of Mizar. Their cruiser has been badly damaged, leaving them completely defenceless and unable to escape the system. It is not too long before the team witnesses Mizar’s attack on Goldwood and their ship is attacked by a large craft of Mizar’s. Boarded by drones, the three decide to abandon the ship and go off on their own separate paths to stop the invasion.
This is a third-person shooter game with platforming/action-adventure elements and features a single-player campaign where the player must explore a galaxy and save a large number of Tribals, a group of survivors who have been enslaved and prisoned by Mizar. Along with a a multi-player deathmatch for two to four players as well as a co-op mode.
Jet Force Gemini received positive reviews from video game critics. GameSpot awarded the game a rating of 8.8 out of 10, commenting: “Nintendo 64 fans should pick up this title without delay and hope that Rareware’s team of top-notch talent will continue to churn out even more games like this one for years to come”. IGN praised Rare for exploring new mechanics and concluded his review by saying that “this is still one of Nintendo 64’s most original games and it has much more good going for it than it does bad”.
The multi-player mode received a mixed reaction. IGN called it “slow and clunky”, while Gaming Age observed that the third-person view “takes up far too much of the “already tiny split screen and the complex control system does not help make it a game to pick-up-and-play”.
In 2000, Jet Force Gemini was ranked by IGN at number 20 in their list of The Top 25 N64 Games of All Time. In 2009, Official Nintendo Magazine ranked it the 93rd best game available on Nintendo platforms.
Here endith part IV, we’ll pick up in part V as the year 2000 rolls around and one of the very best and most “perfect” N64 games is finally unleashed after several delays.