15 – Mr. Pants
Rare’s off-beat mascot, Mr. Pants didn’t just cameo in several of the games Rare developed, but he also starred in his very own, including a traditional puzzle game for the Game Boy Advance. The overweight stick man never became a household name and his Tetris-like GBA title isn’t very good, but the little dude has personality. Sporting a black bowlers hat, red underpants, and a 90’s porn mustache, Mr. Pants can be seen creeping about such hits as Banjo Kazooie and hanging out in Pantsland with his pal Stoned Pants, his son Toby, Socks the Dog, Max the Mouse and his arch nemesis, Crayon Snake.
14 – Private First Class Rodent
Despite all the insults, sexual allusions, its violence and crude humor, Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a game populated with some truly memorable characters. Among them is Conker’s old war buddy, Private First Class Rodent. Loyal to the death, the young squirrel would do anything for his buddy Conker who saved him when tied to a post with a Tediz firing squad ready to put him down. At the end of the story Rodent’s current whereabouts are left a mystery as he does not make an appearance in the multiplayer mode of Live and Reloaded. We can only hope he’s doing fine and staying out of trouble.
13 – Kuros
Wizards & Warriors pits the story’s hero Kuros, the metal-clad protagonist of the Books of Excalibur, against the main antagonist, the evil wizard Malkil. Kuros is considered one of the greatest wizards in the land, such that Merlin was one of his students. However, the aging Malkil has gone mad and has started using his magic for evil. Despite its generic premise, Wizards & Warriors is actually a great game, with a great atmospheric soundtrack, and an even greater hero. Even decades after his debut, Kuros still weaves a spell capable of ensorcelling fans of fantasy adventure.
12 – Dark Queen
From the 8-bit music composed by David Wise, which ranges from all genres of rock (including the awesome song that plays when you pause the game) to the bright colors to the short but sweet cut-scenes, Battletoads is every bit as good today as it was in 1991. Much like every game Rare developed, Battletoads features a colorful cast that makes the journey well worth your time. Among the many beloved characters featured in Battletoads is, the Dark Queen, a sexy and mysterious master of black magic and the supreme commander of a space army of anthropomorphic pigs and rats bent on galactic conquest. The character has received considerable attention due to her sex appeal as well as for being one of the first major female villains in video games. But it isn’t her sex appeal that makes her stand out, but rather her ability to transform herself into a tornado or a massive flame. In addition, the Dark Queen can instantly teleport and throw deadly fireballs at her enemies. What more could you want from an 8-bit boss?
11 – Mumbo Jumbo
Remember when Banjo-Kazooie was first released and a lot of people were writing it off as a Super Mario 64 clone? Sure Mario 64 was a revolutionary game but in my opinion, Banjo-Kazooie has far more interesting characters and whole lot more personality than the great Mario platformer. One of the many memorable characters is none other than Mumbo Jumbo, a skull-faced shaman who was originally the teacher of the game’s antagonist Gruntilda who betrayed and cursed him, preventing him from continuing to use magic and forcing him to wear a mask which he couldn’t take off until her defeat. In Banjo-Kazooie, Mumbo simply aides his companions Banjo and Kazooie by offering them his magic abilities, but later in the series, he plays a much bigger role in the adventures.
10 – Greg the Grim Reaper
Greg “The Grim Reaper” Scarpa was a Mafia hitman with ties to the Profaci crime family. After a bust for hijacking, he betrayed his oath to the Mafia and became an FBI informant. But that isn’t the Greg the Grim Reaper featured on this list. Rare’s Grim Reaper is a short fella who begrudgingly assists Conker in Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Conker: Live and Reloaded. When Conker dies for the first time in Game Mode, he wakes up in the Underworld, where Gregg is there to give him a second chance. He then leads Conker out of the underworld and returns only if Conker needs his help again. Gregg is mostly known for his hatred of cats, his hostility towards the undead, and his dark humor. Given that he saves Conker over and over, he’s the most useful character in the series.
9 – Robo Manus
Dark Queen may be the first female antagonist in video games but that doesn’t make her the best boss that you’ll face off with in Battletoads. That honor goes to Robo-Manus, a truly bizarre cybernetic mutant who appears in practically every Battletoads game. Half-man, half-machine and armed with a potent array of weapons, Robo Manus is to Battletoads what Ridley is to Metroid.
8 – Jago
Killer Instinct originally appeared in the arcades and was lauded for its full motion video, fantastic soundtrack, and advanced graphics, but it is the Super NES version that really put the series on the map. Although not as popular, nor as good as Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct’s computer-generated characters, and environments were a step up from digitized graphics used in those games. As with all fighting games, Killer Instinct also features a roster of various characters with their own unique fighting style to choose from, and like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, the game boasts one of the most amazing and varied cast of characters ever to grace a fighting game. It’s hard to choose which of the characters is the best but when I was younger, my go-to fighter was Jago, a mysterious warrior monk from a remote region of Tibet. The best thing about Killer Instinct is the combo system, and Jago’s move set was always the most fun to use.
At first glance, Jet Force Gemini seems to incorporate the best elements from several successful franchises: The free-roaming nature of Nintendo’s Super Mario 64 influenced the scale and the openness of some of the backgrounds and settings, and the collecting and upgrading of weapons were inspired by Super Metroid. Add in Banjo-Kazooie’s gameplay, GoldenEye’s shooting style – and music, characters, and visuals inspired by Star Wars, Aliens, Dune and Stargate – and you get an idea of what to expect. But despite all of these influences, Jet Force feels like no other game released at the time and as with most games developed by Rare, the story behind the making of the game is just as interesting as the game itself. Development of Jet Force Gemini began in 1997 by Rare’s Blast Corps team, with lead programmer Paul Mountain, who had previously worked on Diddy Kong Racing. Much like Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Jet Force Gemini’s character designs underwent significant changes during development. When the game was first shown at E3, the protagonists, Juno and Vela were portrayed as children. This elicited a negative response from fans and critics, and thankfully the characters were changed to more mature looking heroes. Of the two, Juno is the standout and she remains one of my favourite characters of any of the N64 games.
6 – Banjo
Banjo Kazooie stars a big, goofy honey bear named Banjo who carries around a red-crested breegull named Kazooie in his backpack. The bear-and-bird duo is perhaps the most famous set of characters to ever appear in any of the games developed by Rare, and they couldn’t be any more opposite. Kazooie is rude and foul-mouthed, always insulting others, and starting fights, whereas Banjo is easygoing, friendly and polite, always trying to solve problems diplomatically and staying out of trouble. Of the two, Banjo is the easiest to like with his big smile, dopey attitude, and musical talents, but that doesn’t make him cooler than his feathered sidekick. More on that next…
In Banjo Kazooie, Banjo is considered the main star thus explaining why he gets top billing, but the real star of the show is his trusty sidekick Kazooie. Without Kazooie, I doubt Banjo could get past Mumob’s Mountain. He relies on her for just about everything and while she may be stuffed into his backpack for most of the game, Kazooie can do many things Banjo cannot including, fly, climb steep slopes, shoot eggs out of her beak and backside, become invulnerable for a limited time, attack enemies with her wings and hatch large eggs when alone. And in Banjo-Tooie, if the Mega Glowbo is given to Humba Wumba, Kazooie is able to transform into a Dragon. Meanwhile, the bear can play the banjo. Enough said.
4 – The Battletoads
In 1991, Rare developers Tim and Chris Stamper created Battletoads, a game that became infamous for its difficulty and praised for its gameplay, its personality and its sense of humor. The game stars a trio of anthropomorphic, mutant toad warriors fighting against the wicked Dark Queen and her forces. The toads known as Rash, Zitz and Pimple became so famous they landed a few sequels, their own cartoon and a few comic strips published in Nintendo Power and GamePro. It’s hard to decide which of the three I like best so I’ve chosen to bundle them together on this list. While they might look alike, each has a distinct personality. Rash is known as the smart ass and wears his trademark sunglasses and spiked black kneepads while Zitz is the leader and a tactical genius, preferring fighting methods that allow him to conserve his strength. And finally, there is Pimple, the muscle of the group who punches first and asks questions later. Pimple was actually out of action in both the original Battletoads game and Battletoads for the Game Boy, having been kidnapped prior to the start of both games. His first appearance as a playable character was in Battletoads in Battlemaniacs.
3. The Great Mighty Poo
For better or worse, Nintendo has earned the reputation as the Disney of the video game industry, but that doesn’t mean that every game available on a Nintendo console is family friendly. In 2001, Rare published the most boundary-pushing piece of software ever to hit a Nintendo console, Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Conker is littered with graphic cartoon violence, alcohol use, tobacco use, profanity, dark humor and many pop culture references, including several film parodies. It also boasts one of the most unforgettable boss battles of all time – an opera-singing pile of crap, named The Great Mighty Poo who’s voice by the great Chris Marlow.
2- Joanna Dark
Joanna Dark is no ordinary lady – she’s a highly skilled marksman, a lethal hand-to-hand combat fighter, an expert pilot and an eager bounty hunter with a wicked sense of humor. According to Martin Hollis, Joanna’s design was “influenced by a number of fictional heroines, including the seductive spy Agent X-27 in the 1930s film Dishonored, FBI agent Dana Scully from television series The X-Files, and the eponymous femme fatale of the film Nikita, whom Hollis describes as “iconic, heroic, independent, vulnerable and very damaged.” And of course, her name was taken from the French pronunciation of Joan of Arc as “Jeanne d’Arc”. Although other famous heroines such as Samus Aran and Lara Croft came first, Joanna Dark was well ahead of the curve when it came to women warriors as modern shoot-’em-up stars. Before Perfect Dark spawned a cornucopia of video game knock-offs, Rare’s stylized 2000 sci-fi thriller set a new standard for the girl-with-a-gun video game trope.
1 – Conker the Squirrel
Who doesn’t love Conker’s Bad Fur Day? Rare’s final Nintendo 64 game is the console’s most visually impressive and it stars one of the most charismatic video game characters of all time. The game contains almost two hours of in-game cut-scenes with top-of-the-line character facial expressions and lip-synched voice acting. At the center of it all is Conker the Squirrel, a foul-mouthed troublemaker who spends most of his free time getting drunk and causing trouble. But while Conker drinks, commits lewd conduct, and is very greedy, he also has a heart of gold. Without getting into spoilers, by the time the last act of Conker’s Bad Fur Day rolls around, you’ll come to grips with just how fully fleshed out his character is. And when Conker loses the most important person in his life, you’ll be surprised with just how much you care. Rare did a stellar job in animating the limitless facial expressions which accurately convey the rodent’s feelings on the fly. Conker’s journey does not end well, and it might be the first tragic video game ending in the history of the medium.
This article is part of our month-long spotlight on Rare Studios.