Why I Love and Hate Rare Ltd.
I found myself asking these questions this semester as I approached my Nintendo 64 collection. I was determined to defeat every unfinished game from my childhood as a sort of tribute to the console’s fifteenth anniversary.
I laid out the cartridges. Diddy Kong Racing, Donkey Kong 64, Banjo-Kazooie, and Banjo-Tooie stared at me from my carpeted floor. They weren’t terribly intimidating until I noticed something eerily similar about them.
The logo for Rareware was branded on each one.
For those who don’t know, Rareware (or Rare Ltd. as it is known now) was a company working under Nintendo. It is responsible for most of the Donkey Kong games on home consoles.
In my particular collection, it was accountable for every game I had never beaten. Even Goldeneye 64, a game my father bought for me two years ago that I also had not finished, had the symbol.
I was stunned; Rareware was singlehandedly responsible for my childhood frustration.
I tried to remember this was only a problem of my past. I was older now. I could easily beat these games. All I had to do was sit down, grab a soda, and get to work.
I started with Diddy Kong Racing. The game is every kid’s dream. Happy, fun animals drive cars and fly planes across the game’s opening title. I sighed in relief. This was going to an easy, fun time.
I was wrong. Terribly wrong.
I spent over an hour trying to finish one task. I had left the game years ago on some of the hardest challenges ever conceived by man. Quick! It told me. Fly your crazy little plane through these hoops and win this race while collecting all ten of these silver coins hidden in the most random, inexplicable locations. Oh yeah, and your other animal friends are going to be shooting rockets at you while all this is happening. Good luck!
I felt like my head was going to explode in surprise and horror.
I quickly turned the game off and proceeded to the next title. I recalled I had left Donkey Kong 64 not terribly far from the end of the game.
Comparing the difficulty of Donkey Kong 64 to Diddy Kong Racing is akin to comparing a Dr. Seuss book to Atlas Shrugged. I was relieved to play something easier.
But then I got to the final boss. In one part, I had to fly around in a jetpack with some of the worst controls imaginable, all while trying to hit tiny targets and dodging fireballs.
I shut my console down after nearly a dozen attempts. The Rareware symbol glared at me as I ripped out the yellow cartridge of Donkey Kong 64. I bore my teeth at it and proceeded to the next challenge.
Banjo-Kazooie was hard like Diddy Kong Racing but not nearly as difficult. There were individual, frustrating parts to it but most of the difficulty revolved around time consuming tasks. I had to collect musical notes in each level to advance to the final boss. This took me nearly seven hours to complete because of one horrible aspect.
The notes cannot be stored. If you go into a level and collect 99 notes and die, you can’t just go back and collect the final one. No, in order to get the one you missed you must first collect all 99 again. It is an awful, terrible thing. Rareware even realized this. In the Xbox Live version of Banjo-Kazooie, notes are permanently collected. They figured out their mistake and fixed it later. I like to believe the company regretted the pain it brought upon its players and did this to try and reimburse them.
After I finally went through many horrifying trials to collect these notes and other objects, I came face to face with the evil witch of a final boss. It was extremely difficult but not as impossible as the Donkey Kong 64 boss. I tried five times and finally beat her on the sixth.
I put down my controller and watched the credits roll. Something rose in my heart in that moment. I felt an emotion I had not experienced with video games in the longest time.
It was pure bliss. In those fleeting moments, I felt powerful happiness. But I had beaten several games in recent times. Why was I feeling this way about this particular one, especially for a game I didn’t necessarily like?
The probable reason is games are not as hard as they used to be and therefore not as rewarding. Even non-Rareware Nintendo 64 games are arguably more difficult than most of my Xbox and PC games. One could say 8-bit and 16-bit console games were even harder. It is not that games are becoming worse, but rather they are appealing to a different market.
People no longer want a mind numbing challenge. They want an interactive story or a multiplayer shooter. They want games that don’t entice players to throw their controllers around in fits of rage. These new games are fun and entertaining but in an attempt to gain a bigger audience than simply hardcore gamers, their difficulty has been decreased.
Even in “Hard” difficulty settings, one can usually still save at any point. Granted, there are exceptions to the rule but I am sure most would agree things have gotten easier. Whether this is good or bad is really up to the gamer to decide.
I know I’ll be yearning for modern gaming when I plug in the atrociously complicated Banjo-Tooie but I’ll be eager to feel that, dare I say, rare feeling of bliss again.
I wish I could thank Rare Ltd. for challenging me, to thank it for giving me a reason to go back to my Nintendo 64. It’s still stinking hard and I will never forgive it for the eternal frustration it has given me but it has reminded me of why I enjoy video games in the first place: the satisfaction of finishing a challenge you never thought you could beat before.