If you’re a bit older, you may remember a little magical company called Rare. Rare achieved fame and fortune making some pretty amazing games for Nintendo platforms. Those brits were truly magical, as they could pretty much pick any genre they wanted to and make a masterpiece for that genre, be it fighting (Killer Instinct), puzzle (Blast Corps), third-person shooter (Jet Force Gemini), and more impressively, FPSs (Goldeneye and Perfect Dark) and platformers (Banjo-Kazooie). Sadly, Rare’s honeymoon with Nintendo ended in the early 2000s, and the company was then bought by Microsoft.
Their first years with Microsoft were, well, okay, I suppose. Grabbed by the Ghoulies was okay at best but it had its charm, and Conker Live and Reloaded had a pretty good online multiplayer and incredible visuals. Not long after the latter, Microsoft announced its new flagship console, the Xbox 360, and with it Rare saw the opportunity of bringing back two of its most famous franchises.
The results? Oh boy…
Perfect Dark Zero was a launch title for the 360, and it was marketed as the console’s initial “killer app”, the flagship title for early Xbox 360 adopters (including yours truly here). The entire development cycle of the game took five years to complete and spanned three consoles: the GameCube, the Xbox and the Xbox 360.
Being the successor to one of the best games of the Nintendo 64, fans had high expectations. What we ended up getting in the end was a game that was, for non-fans of the franchise, an okay FPS at best, and for fans of the franchise, a tremendous disappointment.
Technically speaking, Perfect Dark Zero isn’t exactly a bad game. It features okay graphics for the time (it was the best looking thing in the console until Gears of War came out), it controlled okay and its online multiplayer, well, worked. Its main issue was simple: it wasn’t Perfect Dark, at all.
Gone was the sexy British femme fatale secret agent Joanna Dark. What we got instead was, well, Avril Lavigne. Our new “Joanna” was a young American punk-rockish teenager with a star tattoo on her neck. I have no idea of why was there a need to reboot a perfectly fine character, but oh well. Daniel Carrington, the “M” of the franchise, went from a normal middle-aged man with (literally) Robin Williams’ face to a cartoonish Scottish bloke, kilt and everything.
Gone were the aliens using human factions as puppets, in was a Shang Tsung lookalike as a (very cheesy) main villain. Gone were the dozens of varied weapons, in were just a few uninteresting leftovers (no Farsight, no Slayer, no Reaper, no Phoenix). Gone was the super customizable combat simulator, in was the by-the-numbers multiplayer with an over-the-top narrator. Gone was the unlimited arsenal size, in was a frustrating system which only allowed you to hold a maximum of three weapons at a time (I get, realism, but was that really necessary??).
To sum it up, gone was what made Perfect Dark special, leaving behind nothing more than a very generic and forgettable FPS, which had zero charm or charisma, something that was constantly present with the N64 original. Why Rare decided to go this way is beyond anyone’s comprehension, guess they didn’t listen to the good old “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” saying. Well, either Rare or, maybe, whoever else told them to “innovate”.
But if you think PDZ was the only severe disappointment for Rare-loving Xbox 360 fans, you’re so so wrong…
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts came out in 2008 and was, for a lot of people, even more disappointing than Perfect Dark Zero. The reason is simple: while Perfect Dark Zero had nearly nothing to do with the original game, it was still a first-person shooter. Nuts & Bolts decided to ignore (and even diss) the series’ main genre in favor of something new “in order to broaden the demographic”: building Lego cars. Because that SCREAMS Banjo-Kazooie!
Nuts & Bolts wasn’t just shocking for long-time fans of the series, it was offensive at times. The game would constantly dismiss its former glory at being the best 3D platforming franchise out there, claiming “nobody wants to play this nowadays” and that the genre was all about “collecting as many pointless objects as possible”. What we got instead was a nonsensical hybrid of an open 3D platformer (in which platforming was possible, but useless) with Diddy Kong Racing‘s adventure mode. While it sounds decent on paper (and it is probably okay for those who didn’t grow up with Banjo), it was a severe kick with a pointy shoe in the gonads for long-time fans of the series.
Not to mention the amount of tutorials in the beginning of the game. How I love this!
What is even more infuriating is that Nuts & Bolts clearly looked like it was actually going to be a true sequel to Banjo-Tooie, by the looks of Banjo’s on-foot gameplay and the game’s first trailer. Banjo controls brilliantly, and the platforming is actually pretty great, though it’s virtually useless (you get all Jiggies with car-based missions). The graphics are among the best in the console, and the soundtrack, while not as good as the first two Banjo games, is still alright.
What we got, in the end, was a game that felt completely nonsensical. Why would you change the game’s core mechanics and keep the old games’ level design? Why??? Why are the levels so barren? Why does every single place look so dead? Why are there so many unskippable tutorials in the beginning? Why is this a Banjo-Kazooie game?
You know what could have saved this game from being so hated from everyone else? Get any other animal character from Diddy Kong Racing, aside from Banjo and Conker, slap the sucker into the game, and call it a day. It would even make sense, given that whoever would be chosen was created for a car-based game in the first place! But hey, what do I know, right?
Both Nuts & Bolts and Zero are both perfect examples of how actually decent games, technically-wise, can be experiences as disappointing and infuriating as playing a game like Ben-Hur or Pimp My Ride. What made Rare choose the path they chose for those games is beyond me, be it their own wacky decisions, Microsoft forcing them to do so, or any other outside factor. Maybe we’ll never know. For now, all I can do is hope for Sea of Thiever and Yooka-Laylee to turn out decent, as I have zero hopes for new good iterations of those old Rare IPs nowadays, or at least as long as the company is still under Microsoft’s control…
Guys, remember: fan feedback, above all.
And while we’re at it, please, no more Kinect Sports. And don’t you ever dare to make a game with “Young Conker”.