Back in the ’90s, Rare was a real powerhouse developer for Nintendo platforms. As one of the earliest western studios to support the NES, it produced a string of titles and would later throw its weight behind the Game Boy and SNES – culminating in the groundbreaking Donkey Kong Country. During the N64 era, the firm took things to the next level with the likes of Blast Corps, GoldenEye 007, Diddy Kong Racing, Banjo-Kazooie and Jet Force Gemini.
It’s little wonder, then, that when there was talk of the company being put up for sale, Microsoft got out its chequebook and made a considerable offer (why Nintendo didn’t do the same is something that puzzles Rare co-founder Tim Stamper to this very day).
While idly flicking through a copy of GameFan magazine from the late ’90s, we spotted a rumour which suggested that, a few years prior to the 2002 sale to Microsoft, Rare was looking into creating games for the PlayStation – which, at the time, was easily the most popular gaming system, massively outselling the Sega Saturn and N64. Nintendo apparently got wind of this and offered Rare a cool $50 million and the right to self-publish titles on Nintendo systems.
While the report is clearly listed as a rumour – and was printed in a section of the magazine devoted to totally unconfirmed industry gossip – it really put some doubt in our minds. Rare was, at the time, still an independent entity; Nintendo’s share was 49 percent but it crucially didn’t own the entire company. Did serious discussions actually take place about Rare making games for Sony’s machine?
We put the question to one of Rare’s longest-serving employees, Gregg Mayles. Mayles is still with the studio today and has served as creative director on Sea of Thieves, Rare’s popular pirate-based online action title. He joined the company in 1989 and was a key figure in the development of Battletoads, Donkey Kong Country and Banjo-Kazooie, and as such, would almost certainly have been privy to any internal chatter regarding developing for non-Nintendo platforms.
His verdict? The rumour doesn’t hold any water:
The ‘drunk Rare executives’ I can certainly believe, but the bit about the Playstation doesn’t seem right to me. Our belief was that we could make better games if we focused on one hardware platform.
There may well have been some talk amongst Rare staff about working on the PlayStation – after all, it was the machine that offered the largest potential audience – but as Mayles says, Rare’s strength was that it could push the N64 hardware to new limits and its titles sold very well on that console as a result. While shifting focus to PlayStation might have made sense on one level, the competition on that console could well have drowned out Rare’s games – and there would have been the additional issue of the developers having to quickly get to grips with a new platform.
As we all know, Rare’s games would never appear on a Sony system, but instead would transition over to that of Sony’s American rival Microsoft and its Xbox platform. The rest is history, but we’re still hopeful that one day, Rare and Nintendo will find a way to work together on releasing some of its older games on Switch – we’ve had Banjo and Kazooie in Smash Bros. Ultimate, so why not?