Battletoads. Donkey Kong Country. Killer Instinct. Blast Corps. GoldenEye 007. Banjo-Kazooie. Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Viva Piñata.
Those are only a few of the games that Rare brought into our lives over the last 30 years. Whether it’s slamming Andre the Giant in WWF Wrestlemania or refusing to sleep until all the evil drones in Jet Force Gemini are destroyed, multiple generations fell in love with video games because of Rare. The company has one of the most prolific and varied catalogues in the medium, and that consistent drive for new gaming experiences is admirable.
Because of those accomplishments, there’s plenty of reason to be excited about the upcoming Sea of Thieves. The nautical-themed multiplayer game turns gamers into pirates, touting teamwork as the only way to sink opposing ships. That means coordinating with crew mates to raise sails, steer the boat, fire cannons, and take swigs of delicious ale (OK, that last one you might be able to do on your own).
Yet despite the company’s accolades, there seems to be a lack of faith in the swashbuckling adventure, and in Rare more generally. There have been many iterations of the company since it was founded in 1985. Co-founders Tim and Chris Stamper left in 2007, while designer Martin Hollis and composers Grant Kirkhope and David Wise have all moved on to other endeavours. Some argue that the change in personnel – as well as the company’s buyout by Microsoft in 2002 – have led to a decline in quality, which might explain the lack of interest in Sea of Thieves.
However, a few bumps in the road (Kinect Sports Rivals) should not eliminate people’s faith in a proven entity. Regardless of the individual employees, Rare has developed quality titles for over three decades. The Xbox One exclusive Rare Replay showcases 30 of those relics, presenting the rich history of the company in a neat and comprehensible manner. Most of the titles hold up to today’s standards, and the company’s cultural influence becomes more undeniable as you revisit each one.
New footage of Seas of Thieves was shown off at E3 2016, and it unquestionably looks like a Rare project (with a few less googly eyes). The game has the iconic cartoon art style of many of Rare’s biggest hits, yet the environments and character models are significantly more detailed than they’ve ever been. Based solely on the visuals, Sea of Thieves would be the developer’s best game yet.
Of course, that’s not how video games work. Graphics are an important aspect of the experience, but gripping gameplay offers more substance. Throughout its history, Rare has consistently reinvented itself and proven that its longevity is directly tied to its willingness to explore uncharted territory. That was most evident during Rare’s golden era with the Nintendo 64, with a string of hits that included Killer Instinct Gold, Perfect Dark, Diddy Kong Racing, and GoldenEye.
Contrary to popular opinion, that inventiveness didn’t stop after Microsoft’s purchase. Games such as the Tetris-like It’s Mr. Pants (2004) and the garden builder Viva Piñata (2006) introduced new types of gameplay to the company’s repertoire, while Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts shook up the formula of an iconic series as recently as 2008. Some gamers unfairly scorned the game, but Nuts & Bolts was critically well received and showed how Rare continually challenges consumers’ expectations.
The studio has been saddled with the Kinect Sports franchise since 2010, but it was one of the teams that worked on the reboot of Killer Instinct in 2013 and there’s nothing to suggest that the company can’t achieve renewed success with Sea of Thieves. There still isn’t much footage to go off of, but the latest trailer does highlight concepts, such as robust boating mechanics and realistic water physics, that demonstrate its commitment to innovation.
The demo also features reactions from real players. Their enthusiasm for the title is perceptible, and according to the developer in a recent podcast, none of the players knew they were being filmed. Anyone who has played a Rare game can empathize with that enthusiasm. It’s the same reaction many of us experienced with past releases.
Sea of Thieves does not deserve the apprehension. If Rare’s past is any indication of future quality, all doubts need to be thrown overboard.