Rare Limited produced some of the best games of the 1990s for Nintendo consoles. The British games company instilled a unique sense of humor into already-established characters like Donkey Kong, and they imagined entirely new worlds like the fantastical universe of Banjo-Kazooie. When Microsoft purchased Rare in the early 2000s, the Xbox became the new home for Rare properties, but it feels like their best work remains firmly in the retro side of gaming. Whether you love a modern classic like Sea of Thieves, or older gems of childhood, check out the 22 Rare games everyone should play right now!
1. Banjo-Kazooie (1998) Rare Games
Firing up Banjo-Kazooie instantly transports players to a world of wonky joy and obscure jokes. Plenty of video games feature anthropomorphic animals, but the duo at the heart of this adventure stands out. Banjo and Kazooie make a perfect juxtaposition of personalities and abilities, pairing dry humor and cluelessness with acrobatic move sets in their quest to defeat the evil Gruntilda. Grant Kirkhope's iconic soundtrack conjures butterflies in the stomach and whimsy in the hearts of gamers worldwide!
2. Goldeneye 007 (1997)
The pioneering greatness of GoldenEye 007 proved Rare's ability to develop games outside of the platforming genre. A first-person shooter based on the James Bond characters from the same movie, this game condensed every vital element from PC shooters into a console-ready display. GoldenEye 007 immersed people into the world of Bond in new ways, and the game is one of the best adaptations of film to video game ever.
3. Donkey Kong 64 (1999)
The only 3D platformer starring Donkey Kong on the Nintendo 64 took many of the collection elements from Banjo-Kazooie, and expanded on them with new items and characters Nintendo fans had already come to know and love. Donkey Kong 64 made the world of Donkey Kong feel truly alive. The sheer number of golden bananas and mini-games required to win them over was just icing on the cake.
4. Perfect Dark (2000)
If GoldenEye 007 proved Rare capable of producing great first-person shooters, Perfect Dark flexed the company's muscle in the genre. This game is one of the final releases for the Nintendo 64 before the arrival of the GameCube, and the technological complexities of the title were impressive. Some fun dystopian/sci-fi elements made the game feel “adult,” a rarity for a Nintendo console game.
5. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (1995)
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest is Rare's best 2D platforming experience by a good margin. The sequel to Donkey Kong Country evolved to include more atmospheric elements and platforming skills, like Dixie Kong's ponytail spin. The pirate backdrop meshes with Donkey Kong's characters in an oddly satisfying way.
6. Banjo-Tooie (2000)
The sequel to Banjo-Kazooie creates not only larger individual levels to explore but also a massive hub world you can easily get lost. Not every fan enjoyed this grand experience as much as the first game, but nobody can deny Rare understood what made this franchise its best. Side characters like Jamjars and memorable bosses like Lord Woo Fak Fak highlight Rare's creativity.
7. Donkey Kong Country (1994)
Donkey Kong Country showed the world a different type of 2D platformer back in the 1990s. Today, it radiates nostalgia. Mario brought energy, Sonic brought speed, but Donkey Kong brought precision to the genre. Climbing, swinging, and riding other animals incorporated physicality that wasn't present in DK's peer's games.
8. Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble! (1996)
Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble! remains the outlier of the series. A more interactive world map signaled a series move into the next generation, but some fans didn't appreciate the inclusion of a brand new Kong (Kiddy) at the expense of Donkey and Diddy. From a purely platforming perspective, this one delivers better than the first two games, though.
9. Conker's Bad Fur Day (2001)
An easy way to think of Conker's Bad Fur Day is Banjo-Kazooie for a mature gamer. Many of the zany character designs are reminiscent of Banjo's world, but beer, violence, and drugs inundate the childlike graphical landscape of the game. The dichotomy of the content compared to the tone of the game can only be pulled off by a company with Rare's pedigree and unique brand of stylistic flare and confidence.
10. Diddy Kong Racing (1997)
Diddy Kong Racing was a natural evolution of Donkey Kong's world in the late 1990s. The ape started to outgrow his solo outings in the jungle. Therefore, a racing game with many of the extraneous characters and items from previous DK games made sense. Diddy Kong Racing cemented Diddy as one of Rare's best sidekick characters.
11. Viva Piñata (2006)
Viva Piñata beautifies Rare's youthful exuberance for a new-age audience. Microsoft's purchase of the company felt odd because Xbox had a reputation for violent, adult affairs. Allowing Rare to develop a life simulator set in the world of piñatas seems ill-fated, but instead, it was a stroke of genius. The game brought some of the old magic from Rare's Nintendo days back into the fold, and Microsoft fans will have gratitude forever.
12. Star Fox Adventures (2002)
Fun fact about this game: it began life as a game called Dinosaur Planet, and didn't feature Fox and his friends. Nintendo's insistence on shamelessly applying one of their properties to second and third-party releases even when it didn't make any sense gave birth to this mashup of genres and styles. Star Fox Adventures made for a surprisingly fun Zelda-lite third-person exploit.
13. Battletoads (1991)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have made a comeback, and Rare's Amphibious franchise offers equally fun action! Battletoads features classic sidescrolling arcade fighting at breakneck difficulty. The franchise garnered plenty of diehard gamers on Nintendo consoles in the 1990s and has seen sequels for Xbox One as recently as 2020.
14. Sea of Thieves (2018)
Rare returned to the sea of pirates for this massive adventure on the Xbox One and PC. Sea of Thieves executes its setting and feel quite well, but it might not satisfy those who are more used to the company's other genre offerings. Multiplayer fans will get the most out of the game, as interacting with other pirates and islands brings the best parts of the best to light.
15. Grabbed by The Ghoulies (2003)
Grabbed by the Ghoulies stands out as one of the biggest “what-ifs” in Rare's library. Rare developed the game under Nintendo's leadership but finished it after Microsoft bought the company. Rare translated the spooky adventure into an Xbox title, eliminating some of the signature Nintendo charm that would have existed on the GameCube. It still serves as a fun little experience in which players control a boy who traverses the many dangers of a haunted mansion.
16. Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge (2003)
Banjo-Kazooie always seemed like a perfect fit for a handheld console, and Rare gave fans what they asked for with this GBA title. Grunty's Revenge doesn't add much to the original Banjo-Kazooie formula, instead choosing to keep the critical platforming and collection elements intact and downsizing them for the portability of the GameBoy.
17. Jet Force Gemini (1999)
Rare Games' influx of shooter games turned to the third-person genre in 1999's Jet Force Gemini. A little more light-hearted than the dark world of GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark, Jet Force Gemini gives players a classic cinematic feel to hunting insect monsters and the like. Rare incorporates a lot of their platforming elements to the gameplay with gamers able to maneuver large areas rather than just kill enemies with guns and other weapons.
18. Jetpac (1984)
Jetpac is Rare Games' first game! We include it here not just for its novelty, but also because it holds up just as well as any other eight-bit romp from the 1980s. The frantic shooter gameplay controls a little wobbly, but this adds to the retro feel you get from the title. Donkey Kong 64 fans will remember this game's cameo in Frantic Factory.
19. Kameo: Elements of Power (2005)
Another game caught in the crosshairs of Rare's Microsoft acquisition, Kameo: Elements of Power falls back on the company's tried and true adventure tactics while introducing more puzzle-filled slants and humanistic sprites rather than anthropomorphic ones. The typical fantastical backdrop of Rare's games is present through the protagonist's magical powers and morphing into monsters.
20. Killer Instinct (1994)
Killer Instinct is a more serious engagement with the fighting genre than Battletoads, but it loses that beloved Rare playfulness from the mid-1990s. The game uses sharp controls and tight gameplay in the 2D arcade setting to provide ample fighting options for Nintendo 64 gamers. A reboot for the Xbox 360 in 2013 is better suited for the Microsoft gaming audience, but this classic, where it all started, deserves a spot on the list.
21. R.C. Pro-Am (1988)
In the 1980s, due to the limited capacity of the graphics engines in the NES and its competitors, game publishers had a hard time developing racing games. R.C. Pro-Am kept things simple with an isometric angle of the racing track, eliminating some of the poorly conceived controls and displays of other racers during the olden days.
22. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (2008)
Calling it “risky” to transform Banjo-Kazooie into a vehicle-building open-world adventure would be an understatement, but it was something Rare felt they had to initiate if they were ever going to break away from Nintendo and garner fan interest for these characters on the Xbox. Grant Kirkhope's toe-tapping tunes and modern 3D graphics maintained the look and feel of the world from the Nintendo 64, even if the core of the gameplay was better suited to a new set of characters.