Tag Archives: Rare Ltd

A Toadaly Awesome Battletoads Retrospective

Back in the late eighties and early nineties, those pesky Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were everywhere. Comic books, cartoons, action figures, games and even movies. Those four deadly weapon wielding reptiles were hugely popular and still kind of are today, I guess. I lost interest in them pretty quickly to be honest. The whole TMNT phenomenon didn’t really grab me. I watched some of the cartoon, played a couple of the games and somewhat enjoyed the first film… and then got bored and moved on pretty quickly. By the time 1991 rolled around, I had pretty much forgotten all about Leo, Mikey, Don and the other one, Bob I think.

TMNT

Part of the reason why TMNT had slipped away from me in 1991 was due to something similar, but with a bit more of an edge. I mean, I was fifteen/sixteen at the time, growing up, leaving school and preparing to enter the real world. Watching kids cartoons, playing kids games and so on just didn’t interest mid-teenage me then (yes I was an idiot). It was the summer of 1991 when I was first introduced to Battletoads, a more ‘grown up’ parody of TMNT. I say ‘grown up’, using that as loosely as I can, because we all know now just how puerile Battletoads was.

The brainchild of Rare founders, Tim and Chris Stamper (read my book), Battletoads was unleashed onto the public in June, 1991. Seeing as a new game is released today, I thought I’d do a retrospective on the entire Battletoads franchise starting with that first game, up to the latest today and everything in-between, warts and all.

Battletoads

As previously mentioned, this is where it all started. It was June, 1991 when the first Battletoads game was released for the NES. Developed by Rare and published by Tradewest, Battletoads is a mix of scrolling beat ’em up/platformer and even a little vehicle action thrown in too. The plot of the game is that Professor T. Bird and the titular Battletoads, Rash, Zitz, and Pimple, are on a mission to escort Princess Angelica home on their spaceship. However, Pimple and Angelica take a detour on Pimple’s flying space-car when they are kidnapped by the Dark Queen and taken to a planet called Ragnarok. Professor T. Bird receives a call from the Dark Queen, daring Rash and Zitz to come and save their friend and Princess Angelica.

BATTLETOADS NES

And so the game kicks off proper as a one or two-player affair with you controlling either Rash or Zitz of the titular toads. Battletoads is typical scrolling beat ’em up stuff. Simple enough controls with a jump and attack, various weapons to pick up so you can beat the bad guys with and so on. If you ever played Double Dragon, Golden Axe, Final Fight, etc, then you know what to expect here. But what separated Battletoads from other titles of its ilk back then was its humour and variety. Given the name of the heroes, you can be assured this game does not take itself seriously at all. It’s silly, puerile and yet utterly charming at the same time. There’s a real cartoony feel, not just with the overall presentation but also with the fighting itself. Knocking down bad guys with a huge boot, smashing into them with ram horns and so on. But then, each level feels different and fresh, there’s typical side scrolling action, abseiling down a canyon, even vehicle based levels (just say the words ‘turbo tunnel’ to a Battletoads fan and watch them break out in a cold sweat) to platforming sections. Battletoads really throws a lot into the mix… and it works very well too in all honesty.

Often thought of as one of the finest games in the NES library, Battletoads was and still is very much loved among gamers. But as much loved and respected Battletoads is, it’s also known for it’s punishing difficulty. If you could finish the game on the NES, original, no emulation, no save states, then you could easily be considered a gaming legend. Then if you could do it in two-player… which was even harder, then you were a God. The game still holds up very well today too, if you can get past it’s difficulty, there’s a genuinely great title here. One that is easy to pick up, but very hard to play and master.

The original game eventually saw ports to all sorts of machines over the years including the Mega Drive/Genesis, Game Boy, Game Gear and the Amiga and Amiga CD32. The various ports have their good and bad points, for example the Amiga CD32 version has some really great cut-scenes… but it pays terribly. Of all the versions, the NES original is still the best.

BATTLETOADS GAME BOY

1991 also saw the release of Battletoads the LCD game from Tiger. I don’t really need to go into details over this one do I? You all remember those terrible Tiger LCD games with pretty much zero gameplay. If you really, really want to see what it was like, then here’s a YouTube clip you can watch. Then just to finish, the Game Boy port was released in 1993 with a slight title change. Battletoads in Ragnarok’s World, aside from it’s obvious monochrome colour palette, single-player only mode, smaller screen and stripped down levels, it’s actually a pretty damn good port of the original.

Battletoads

So, things get a little complicated here as in 1991 there was another game called Battletoads for the Game Boy… only it wasn’t a port of the previous NES version, this was a whole new game. This is why the Game Boy port of the NES version from 1993 had a different title, because this completely different and exclusive game for the Game Boy was released first in 1991. See, it all makes perfect sense… I think? So the plot is that Rash, Zitz, and Pimple are taking a break from their adventures. An exotic dancer entertains them, but the dancer is actually the Dark Queen, she and her henchmen ambush the toads and a fight ensues. Both Rash and Pimple are taken away, leaving only Zitz to rescue his toady partners.

BATTLETOADS GAME BOY 2

Again, this is Battletoads and very much like the original game, but with an all new story and levels. It’s still that mix of scrolling beat ’em up/platformer and vehicle action. It plays just like the original too and yes, it’s still bloody hard as nails difficult. The limitations of the Game Boy do show here though as the game is very short and can be completed in less than twenty minutes, plus each level is restrictive and can be finished in a minute or two. What is here is a good Battletoads game, but compared to the latter and previously mentioned Battletoads in Ragnarok’s World, the port of the NES original, it just feels like it’s lacking somewhat.

Battletoads

No, the titles are not changing very much so far are they? But the medium is, as this is not a game. In 1992 and after the success of the game(s), the idea was to try and TMNT the franchise with a cartoon. So production company DiC (Inspector Gadget, M.A.S.K., The Real Ghostbusters, to name a few) secured the rights to make an all new Battletoads animated TV show. The story of the show was to be a prequel to the game(s) and followed three high-school students who are given the power to transform into anthropomorphic toads with superhuman strength and abilities by Professor T. Bird. The trio of toads are tasked with protecting Princess Angelica from the Dark Queen.

BATTLETOADS CARTOON

Unlike the TMNT attempt of breaking into animation, Battletoads failed. Only one episode was ever made, a pilot. The pilot was aired on Thanksgiving weekend, 1992, but the show was never picked up to make a full series. You can actually watch the pilot on YouTube as it was officially released. You can see it’s a bit rough, the animation isn’t great, even for the time and it just feels very flat. DiC made some great animated shows back in the eighties and nineties, Battletoads wasn’t one of them. It just felt too ‘kiddy’, I know Battletoads was silly and puerile, but it still had a bit more of an edge to it. The animated show completely missed that and tried to market itself to ten and twelve year-olds, when it should’ve been aimed towards mid-teens. It just wasn’t Battletoads, it was a poor quality Saturday morning cartoon that really miss the style and tone of its source material.

Battletoads in Battlemaniacs

1993 saw the latest title in the franchise hit the shelves. Originally released on the SNES before seeing a port to the Master System. So this time, the toads are invited to the Gyachung-La fortress in northern Tibet. Professor T. Bird shows them T.R.I.P.S (Total Reality Integrated Playing System), a new virtual reality game system made by the Psicone Corporation. While demonstrating the system’s digital world, a dragon riding pig leaps out kidnaps the daughter of the Psicone Corporation’s CEO, Michiko Tashoku. Zitz steps forward to defend her, but is knocked out and taken into the virtual world, along with Michiko. Of course, the Dark Queen appears and has teamed up with new villain, Silas Volkmire in a plan to turn the real word into the virtual world in the VR system. So it’s up to Rash and Pimple to enter the game to stop the Dark Queen and Silas Volkmire, as well as save Michiko Tashoku and their friend, Zitz.

BATTLETOADS BATLLEMANIACS

Battletoads in Battlemaniacs is pretty much more of the same as the previous titles… which isn’t a bad thing. The obvious graphic upgrade form the NES to the SNES is really quite impressive. The Battletoads themselves are far better animated and bring a lot of humour to the game. The levels are bigger, more colourful and varied than ever before. As with the previous games, Battletoads in Battlemaniacs offers a lot of variation for each level, yes there is the classic scrolling beat ’em up stuff, more vehicle action and platforming too. It really is typical Battletoads, in many ways, this feels more like a remake or reworking of the original game over an all new title. Many of the levels are the same, just with slight variations on the NES game. And yes, in typical Rare style, the game is harder than a male porn star on Viagra. It also featured two different endings.

Interesting little tit-bit to finish up on. The Master System version was heavily advertised and even reviewed in gaming magazines at the time here in Europe… but ultimately, it was never officially released. For some unknown reason, the European version was scrapped at the last minute. The Master System port did eventually see a release in 1996… in Brazil. It was released unfinished too with several glitches and other notable issues. You can watch a play through of the Master System version right here.

Battletoads/Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team

I really was a bit of a Battletoads fan in that early-mid nineties era. You know what else I loved? Double Dragon, in fact Double Dragon was the first arcade game I ever finished in the eighties, and I became obsessed with the game since. So when this crossover was released in 1993, seventeen year-old me was beyond excited. You got to chose from five playable characters, any of the three Battletoads and Billy and Jimmy Lee from Double Dragon. The story this time has the Dark Queen team up with the Shadow Warriors gang from Double Dragon to take over the universe. So, of course, the toads step up to stop them along with help from the Lee twins.

BATTLETOADS DOUBLE DRAGON

This one is a brilliant mixing of the two franchises. Both series are represented fairly with in-jokes and references a-plenty. Plus from a gameplay perspective, both Battletoads and Double Dragon get treated with respect. There is the variety of levels from the toad’s games, vehicle stuff and abseiling, etc, but there’s a bigger focus on the beat ’em up action too that feels more Double Dragon. Battletoads/Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team is one of the best titles in both of the respective franchises and still well worth playing today too. It’s worth noting that this was the first time all three Battletoads could be selected in a game. If you hadn’t noticed, all the previous games, one (or more) of the toads was always knocked out/kidnapped and needed saving within the story.

Battletoads Arcade

For me personally, Battletoads didn’t get any better then this. Released in 1994, Battletoads Arcade was… wait for it… and arcade game. The first time the toads had seen a game not released on consoles (not counting the Rare Replay version). I’m not even sure of there’s a story this time around. I know the Dark Queen is back and you have to stop her… but I’m not exactly sure what you are stopping her from doing to be honest. It’s an arcade game and they rarely had stories, they were about eating up as many coins from punters as they could and Battletoads Arcade was no different.

BATTLETOADS ARCADE

Being an arcade game over a console one meant that developers, Rare, were able to push the boundaries a bit more. Battletoads Arcade is far more bombastic and visceral than any of the other games. The graphics are bigger and bolder than ever before, there’s blood and gore, the humour is pushed further and so on. There’s even some cleverly hidden in plain sight swearing using puns. Then from a gameplay perspective, this is balls to the wall action. There’s still a hint of the trademark Battletoads variety with the levels, but the emphasis here is most definitely on the fisticuffs more so than ever before. Battletoads Arcade is stupidly ridiculous, loud and brash, fabulously over the top… and I adore it. It also features some really great graphics and ideas using sprite-scaling and perspective. Even now, Battletoads Arcade is a very attractive, good looking game. If there is one negative, then it is that you never fight the Dark Queen, the toads main adversary, nor does she make an appearance (aside from a small cameo on the third level). She’s mentioned in the game, she’s even said to have been defeated in the ending… but you never see or directly fight her. Why was there no Dark Queen? Still, this is Battletoads as its finest. If they ever want to try and make another Battletoads cartoon (I can dream), then this game is where they should draw their influence from. 

And that was it for the Battletoads, they had no more games for twenty-six years… until…

Battletoads

All of which brings up right up to date with this latest game in the franchise. After two and a half decades, Rash, Zitz, Pimple and the Dark Queen are back! Now, before I get into this one, I just want to address something. There’s been some harsh fan-backlash over the art style of this new game. Just to be perfectly  clear… I really don’t like it either. It just doesn’t feel or look like a Battletoads game. You know what it looks like? A bad Saturday morning kids cartoon… and we know how that turned out for Battletoads (see above). Nope, I really, really do not like the art style of this game. But, there is more to a game than how it looks, and its gameplay is what’s important here. So, the game it quite literally just a few hours old. I stayed up late to give it a play at midnight this morning and I put in a few more hours while finishing this article and did manage to complete the game.

Well, I guess the big question is, was it worth the twenty-six year wait? One of those years being a delay as the game was originally planned for a 2019 release. It’s also worth noting that this is the first Battletoads game not developed by series creator, Rare. Instead, the IP was outsourced to Dlala Studios

BATTLETOADS 2020

Was it worth the wait? No. This game is terrible. It’s not even a proper Battletoads game. One of the things I’ve always praised the series for is its variety, but at heart, the franchise is still a scrolling beat ’em up. Here, the main action and draw of the franchise takes a back seat, don’t let the carefully edited trailers fool you as there is very little beat ’em up action here. What Battletoads is, is a collection of very poor mini-games. In fact, most of the game is everything except beat ’em up action that the franchise is famed for.

Yes the game starts out with classic Battletoads action, but it soon just becomes the kind of shallow flash games you used to find on Newgrounds.com. You’ll be playing a dull twin-stick shooter, a platformer with a hippy-like character, then there’s even a mini-game that has several mini-games within one mini-game… the part when your ship breaks down and it needs to be rebooted. Trust me, when you play it, you’ll know just how tedious it is. Oh and there’s even a bit where you take photos with a phone. There’s annoying button pressing/QTE games, press switches to make a circuit connections and more mediocrity. This is not Battletoads! Rock, paper, scissors… there’s a rock, paper, scissors mini-game… more than once. Even Alex Kid is shaking his head in disbelief at that.

BATTLETOADS 2020 FIGHT

But even if you can make it through the utterly boring mini-games and do stick it out for the beat ’em up action (what little there is), even that is horrendous thanks to some really obnoxious controls. Some buttons have to do double duty… but neither of the shoulder buttons are used at all. That makes no sense, you’ve got two perfectly good buttons not doing anything, but then force multiple button presses to do something that should take only one button. That’s bad game design. The toads also control really sluggish too, the way they walk is as if they’re knee deep in treacle. There is a run button and when that is used, that’s a much more playable speed… but you have to keep the run button pressed and on top of the other buttons you need to press (as mentioned, some having to do double duty), the control scheme of the beat ’em up section is just so backward and counter-intuitive. I’ve not played a game with such a convoluted and awkward control scheme since Red Dead Redemption II.

I know I said before I didn’t like the art style, and I don’t. But here, it’s more then just not looking nice, it ruins the game when the action does kick off. The screen just becomes this blur of garish colours and it’s really hard to make out what is going on. I mean…

BATTLETOADS 2020 MESSY

… what is going on up there there? Who is doing what to who? How many enemies are there? It just looks like a three year-old has eaten too much sugar and thrown up on the screen. 

You want to know how slow the game is? Remember the infamous turbo tunnel section in the original? That fast-paced, action packed, heart-pumping level that gets the pulse racing and the sweat pouring? Well it’s back here… only it’s really, really, really slow. Now given a third person view, you can see the obstacles coming from half a mile away and it moves along at a snail pace. Don’t believe me? Let me put it this way, the target time to finish the level is over eight minutes…. eight fucking minutes to play turbo tunnel? I was falling asleep trying to get to the end.

BATTLETOADS 2020 TURBO TUNNEL

Battletoads is a sluggish, dull, convoluted, disjointed, disappointment. A confusing mess of a game where the developers clearly had no idea what kind of game to make, so just threw everything in… and it’s a mess  It’s a very average flash game, the kind of thing you’d d’load for free on your phone and delete it after ten minutes of play. How/Why this was delayed I don’t know, it could’ve been knocked up in Flash in three months.

I pushed my way though to the end and uninstalled the game, quickly loaded up Rare Reply so I could cleanse my soul with some Battletoads Arcade. The game is ‘free’ on Game Pass and if curiously really gets the better of you, I guess you can give it a go. But to pay hard earned cash for this is an insult. By far the worse Battletoads game made so far… okay, so it’s not as bad as the LCD thing, but for a ‘proper’ console game, this is terrible.

You want to know how to do a classic beat ’em up revival? Go play Streets of Rage 4. I don’t even like the Streets of Rage franchise at all and I am very much a Battletoads fan, but I have to admit that Streets of Rage 4 got right what Battletoads go so very wrong. I’d rather watch that awful animated pilot again then play this game, that’s how bad it is. 

Other Battletoads Bits

A Battletoads game was in development for the Game Boy Advance sometime in the early two-thousands, but the title was ultimately cancelled. Very little is known about the game, whether it was going to be a sequel or an remake of the original, or even an all new title is anyone’s guess. But, a ROM for the unfinished version was leaked onto the interwebs and some gameplay can bee seen right here.

The toads have made several cameos elsewhere too. The 8-bit homage action/platformer Shovel Knight features Rash, Zitz and Pimple as a boss fight, but only for the Xbox and PC versions of the game. It’s actually a great and quite lengthy fight that pays respects and offers many references to the original game. Check out a play-through of the fight right here.

Rash became a playable character in Rare’s popular fighter Killer Instinct, well in the 2013 reboot anyway. Rash also appears as a landmark in action figure form in the new survival game on the Xbox, Grounded. Of course, the original and the arcade games were both included in the amazing Rare Replay collection from 2015.

RASH GROUNED

Overall, Battletoads has been a solid franchise…. until this new game. The original NES game still holds up almost thirty years later. That Double Dragon crossover was and still is brilliant. It’s a shame that licencing issues prevent it being re-released. This new game is an atrocity to gaming. It’s a shame they messed up this badly, took what was a good franchise and screwed over the fans like that to create a flash mini-game instead. I was hoping that the new Battletoads could be a revival for the series, but it’s a nail in the coffin. We fans will never see a Battletoads Arcade 2 now.

Rare Replay Part II

So here we are in part II of my Rare Replay/Ultimate/Rare retrospective.
We left off with Sabreman in his second adventure, Underwurlde and we rejoin Sabreman again for his next adventure.

KL

Knight Lore: Released by Ultimate Play The Game in 1984. The game is the third in the Sabreman series. Knight Lore was regarded as a revolutionary game at the time as it was among the first of the “isometric adventure” genre and displayed a detailed 3D world using an isometric perspective. This style was extensively copied by other publishers for years.

Sabreman is back, this time tasked to find the wizard Melkhior and search Knight Lore castle to retrieve the objects successively requested by his cauldron. Which objects are at which locations in the castle varies each time you play the game.
Sabreman can carry up to three objects at a time and once collected, the objects must be returned to Melkhior and dropped into his waiting cauldron. Successfully following all of the cauldron’s requests within a forty (in game) day period frees Sabreman from the curse of lycanthropy cast upon him by the Wulf encountered in Sabre Wulf.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Sabreman is a werewolf…or werewulf.
The curse even plays an important role in game-play. Sabreman will periodically be transformed into a werewulf as day turns into night. Certain enemies will only attack if you are Sabreman or the werewulf. Plus some of the rooms and puzzles can only be solved depending on whether you are Sabreman or the werewulf.
There is plenty of platform hoping, hazards and enemies to avoid along the way as you gather the items needed to break the lycanthropic curse.

Amstrad Action described Knight Lore as a “stunningly original concept” and praised its addictive game-play. Your Sinclair magazine called it “one of the most important (and best) games ever written for the Speccy”.
Knight Lore still has a favourable and strong reputation even today, Edge described it as representing “the greatest single advance in the history of computer games”.

KL

So far, every Ultimate game has been pure fired gold. But can their next game live up to the standards as we leave Sabreman behind.

GF

Gunfright: Developed for the ZX Spectrum by Ultimate Play The Game in 1986. Gunfright uses the same isometric used style used in Knight Lore, only this time instead of screen switching, the view now scrolls.

With you playing as Sheriff Quickdraw, who has been asked to track down and capture a band of outlaws who are terrorising the town of Black Rock.
The game starts with a short mini-game, in which bags of money drop down the screen where you use your cross-hairs to target and shoot to bags to gain cash. The cash can then be used buy ammunition for the main part of the game.

The main action mostly takes place within a scrolling 3D/isometric environment. Streets and buildings are rendered isometrically and the walls of the buildings disappear to outlines when the player enters a building or walks behind a wall so you can see what you are doing.

You, as Sheriff Quickdraw must explore the map to find the wanted outlaws one by one. Once you find the wanted outlaw, you enter a duel mode where the action again shifts to the targeting mini-game from before. This time however, the player must try to shoot the rapidly moving outlaw as quickly as possible. If you successfully shoot and stop the outlaw, a bounty is paid and a new outlaw enters the game world.

During game-play, you’ll often encounter helpful townsfolk who will often point the way to outlaws and where they are hiding. But the player will have to pay a fine if any are shot by the bandits or even the player themselves. Some outlaws will use a horse and you’ll may have to saddle up to pursue them…using a fake horse shell with your feet sticking out the bottom.

There are 20 levels (or outlaws) to complete and feature well known names such as; Buffalo Bill, Billy the Kid, Sundance Kid, Jesse James, Butch Cassidy, Ma Barker and others.

Once again, Gunfright met with positive reviews with CRASH giving the game a 97% score. Not was well received as previous Ultimate games though.

GF

As we let the sunset on the Wild West, time to move onto a chiller climate as Ultimate become Rare Ltd and release their frost game for the NES, which marks the start of one of the moist successful team-ups in gaming history.

Slalom

Slalom: Developed by Rare for the NES in 1987, Slalom was a simple racing game that featured…wait for it…skiing, well slalom to be precise. This was first game released under the Rare label after Tim and Chris Stamper sold the rights to Ultimate: Play The Game to U.S. Gold.

An easy to follow game (unlike most of their previous work) as the game only really involved you skiing down a mountainside against the clock, while you had to avoid obstacles and other skiers.
There was a light slalom element added by skiing through the flag markers would give you a speed boost and going around them would slow you down.
You could also jump off moguls and perform tricks while airborne for extra points, but doing this would slow you down and make you lose valuable time.

There really is not too much to this game at all, it was a simple racer involving skiing.
The game has become somewhat infamous on the interwebs community for the main character’s rather impressive rear end.

The game met with mediocre reviews and reception (for the first time in this retrospective) with many reviewers calling the game a “rush job” and noting the overtly repetitive and uninspired game-play.

Slalom 2

Rare would continue to work with Nintendo for their next game too, but would it be any good?

RC

R.C. Pro-Am: Released in 1987 for the NES by Rare Ltd. Using an isometric viewpoint with you controlling radio controlled (RC) cars around a series of various tracks. This game spawned sequels and remakes over the years.

You control an RC car around a total of 24 tracks against 3 CPU controlled opponents. For every race you complete, you receive a trophy. With larger “High Score Trophies” and even a “Super Trophy” to collect along the way.
Throughout the various tracks you’ll find several bonuses, pick-ups and tune-up items to collect by driving over them; such as turbo acceleration, “hotter engines” for higher top speed, and even “super sticky tires” to improve traction. You can also collect weapons that can temporarily disable other vehicles; missiles will take out the opposing vehicles from the front, while bombs take them out from behind. Roll cages protect cars from crash damage, “bonus letters” give players large point bonuses and the ability to drive an upgraded car if they can spell “NINTENDO”.
There are also various hazards to be avoided; oil slicks which cause cars to spin out, water puddles will slow you down and pop-up barriers which crash cars.
You can even upgrade from a standard RC truck to a faster 4-Wheeler and then to the fastest Off-Roader.

R.C. Pro-Am met with positive reviews with many commenting on the varied game-play and upgrades. Computer Gaming World called it “a compelling, innovating approach to car racing video games”. It’s often fondly remembered as one of the better NES titles, even today.
Game Informer put the game at number 84 on its “Top 100 Games of All Time” list in August 2001. IGN listed the game as the 13th-best NES game of all time.

RC 2

After the disappointing start to the Rare/Nintendo team up that was Slalom, R.C. Pro-Am proved there was a possible future, so what’s next?

CT

Cobra Triangle: 1988 saw the release of Cobra Triangle from Rare Ltd for the NES. Again using that isometric viewpoint, but this time controlling a speedboat through varying missions and tasks.

You control a cannon-equipped speedboat against other opponents through 25 stages of varying objectives; winning races, removing mines, avoiding obstacles and saving swimmers.
Races are pretty self explanatory, reach the finish line before your opponents and before the timer expires. Removing mines is as simple as picking up a mine and taking it to a designated area. Rescuing swimmers tasks you with picking up swimmers before they are abducted by the enemies.
The player can attack other competitors with the cannon, go airborne via ramps, and pick up power-ups that will improve your speed and weapons. In upstream races, you must avoid logs and whirlpools too.
Some levels even ended in boss battles…

Cobra Triangle had high praise upon release, reviewers praised the graphics and varied game-play and diversity of the levels. GamesRadar named Cobra Triangle among the top NES games of all time. Often looked back upon as one of the better and more interesting NES titles.

CT 2

Well, here ends part II with the Rare/Nintendo team up finally paying off and producing some quality and fun games.
Part III will see the Rare/Nintendo joining only get better, as well as the return of some memorable franchises.

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The Ultimate, Rare developer.

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.

U logo

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

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.

Rareware

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.

Rare

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.

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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.

Jetpac (1983)
Atic Atac (1983)
Lunar Jetman (1983)
Sabre Wulf (1984)
Underwurlde (1984)
Knight Lore (1984)
Gunfright (1985)
Slalom (1986)
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)
Battletoads (1991)
R.C. Pro-Am II (1992)
Battletoads Arcade (1994)
Killer Instinct Gold (1996)
Blast Corps (1997)
Banjo-Kazooie (1998)
Jet Force Gemini (1999)
Perfect Dark (2000)
Banjo-Tooie (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.

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