Every year, Microsoft pokes its finger into my wounds. Ever since it purchased Rare almost a decade ago, I've been hoping that my favorite developer would regain its rightful place among the industry elite, and every year, I have to suffer the indignity of sitting through press conferences where the company's name isn't even mentioned. Last year, Rare made a small splash by releasing Kinect Sports. It was a predictable response to Nintendo's uberpopular Wii Sports, but the lack of creativity didn't hurt the game's retail sales. To date, it's the highest selling Kinect game of all time and Rare's first breakout hit this century.
I naively thought that this would be a chance for Rare to return to prominence. Developers gain a measure of respect when they churn out a hit, and I've been itching to see what it's capable of when its shackles are removed. I watched this year's conference, wondering if we'd finally see a long-rumored Rare project like Killer Instinct 3. Would we see Rare build on the criminally underselling Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts with a sequel? Or maybe it would unleash a new IP that would make people swoon with joy.
No such luck. In fact, when Kinect Sports Season Two was revealed, it wasn't even a representative from Rare who took the stage. Rather, it was a spokesman from Big Park--the studio codeveloping the game with Rare--which sounds downright insulting when you think about it. The people who once made Blast Corps and Perfect Dark are relegated to part-time duty on a fairly big game. Oh, the inhumanity of it all!
During the show, when I assumed Rare had been ignored entirely in favor of Big Park, I was pretty angry. What happened to my favorite developer and how come it didn't have any games? But now that I know the truth...that it has been given partial duties on a sequel, I'm even more upset. Has it really fallen so low that it can't even be trusted to release a compilation of six sports in a year? Of course, we don't know the full story behind Rare's situation or its workload, but it's still incredibly sad and perhaps the most telling that one of the world's most prominent developers is but a shadow of its former self.
What's most baffling is that, given Microsoft's first-party lineup, this seems like the perfect time to use Rare's talents. Lionhead is good for a Fable game every year or two. 343 Industries holds the reins for the Halo franchise and has two games on the slate (albeit one of them is a remake). And, of course, Turn 10 has the next Forza in the pipe, but other than that, there aren't many other developers in the first-party Xbox 360 stable. Microsoft let Bungie walk to Activision's happy umbrella and the now defunct Bizarre Creations before that. The company also disbanded Ensemble and FASA.
Microsoft needs more first-party support and yet, curiously, Rare seems of little use to it in that regard. At some point, a person with power has to reorganize Rare to ensure it actually makes games again. If it's a Kinect developer, it should be showing off Kinect games, right? If that's not working, maybe it could borrow Double Fine's model and focus on Xbox Live Arcade. Still not working? How about updating its classic games in HD? A developer needs to make games.
In my dream scenario (no matter how unlikely), Microsoft lets Rare walk away. It would team up with Nintendo once more, or maybe form an independent studio, and cater to people who love what it used to do. Given its heritage, Rare deserves a better hand than it has been dealt. I've been pining for a resurrection for years, and I'm not beaten down yet. But I'm coming pretty close.