Uncommon Ways: A Subjective Look At Rare’s Ventures On The Xbox 360

I got myself an Xbox 360 last Christmas. It was purely coincidential (or was it?) that I found the premium edition along with Perfect Dark Zero and NFS: Carbon for only 120 euros new. If it wasn’t for that super bargain I may not had been writing these lines about one of my most liked developers: Rare.

Up till then, I had been chiefly a Nintendo gamer; as such I had played and loved most Rare games after Donkey Kong Country, even the more obscure ones like Jet Force Gemini or Blast Corps. Classics like Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong Country 3 and GoldenEye all enjoy the view from the top of my favourite game list. Obviously, I was full of anticipation when the GameCube was just getting released, sure that Rare’s slew of great games would continue on Nintendo’s latest console. The announcement of Microsoft buying and Nintendo selling hit me hard. I knew I wouldn’t be playing Perfect Dark Zero or Donkey Kong Racing any time soon, if at all.

Things didn’t change much during last gen since Rare wasn’t all that active during that period. I didn’t even try Star Fox Adventures (though I’d like to try it now)… Games Rare designed for the original Xbox seemed heretical to my preteen eyes, as anything they made could only be associated with Nintendo in my book.

When I got that Xbox 360 with Perfect Dark Zero, again I didn’t expect much from the game. I remembered hearing a lot of criticism during X360’s launch… How the game had little to do with the original and how Rare had dropped the ball for its first major release since the buyout. Sceptical, I tried it for a few hours and indeed, the game was a total disappointment. I couldn’t understand how they could mess it up so much. But the worst had still to come.

Let’s have a look at Kameo: a new IP in Rare’s arsenal, Kameo was first shown along with Donkey Kong Racing as the games they were working on for GameCube’s launch window. When within that same window fell the company’s trade of hands Kameo was moved to Xbox and Donkey Kong Racing was, of course, cancelled. The former reappeared after a second delay as a launch title for Microsoft’s new console hand-in-hand with Perfect Dark Zero, heralding Rare’s supposed revival. Supposed… A friend of mine got me the game for Christmas shortly after I got the Xbox so I had the chance to play it only shortly after the mess that was Perfect Dark. What can I say about this game?

It wasn’t a TOTAL disaster. For instance, the graphics and sound production were of high quality all around, nicely showing off 360’s initial capabilities. The gameplay was fine too: transforming into different creatures and killing stuff with combos? Sounds great! And it did play decently. But as I progressed, more and more did I feel like something was wrong. Every time Kameo uttered so much as a word my face transformed into a mask of disgust, every time I had to play the SAME boss to gain a new Elemental Warrior I slowly shook my head, every time I flip-kicked a boulder using Kameo I’d wonder why it wouldn’t budge when just running into it would make it roll around as if it was a giant titanium ball filled with helium. Yes, every time I played the game I’d find more and more cringe-worthy characteristics: the story (ouch!), the characters (yuck!), the presentation (ewww!), how Kameo’s horse would be too scared to go anywhere near buildings but it’d run head first into huge crowds of identically modelled and animated trolls (what?? trolls are like orcs now?), how the game tried to be fantastically epic but failed so miserably it hurt. OK, as I said the gameplay was fun and enjoyable but picture this: it took me over 2 months of on and off play to get to the last boss of this weekend-filler game and I still haven’t defeated him. Even the respective (high scoring) achievement wasn’t enough of an incentive… To sum up, Kameo played kinda like a Rare game, that is unrivaled when it comes to fun and fulfilling gameplay, but it fell flat on its face concerning the other aspect that make Rare games great: the personality, the humour, the flair and vibrance that make them unique. Kameo felt like it was just trying to be all of these, trying to mimic something long lost… As if it was another company that made the game. Thankfully (?), there was something that reminded me who made this piece of perfumed crap: there’s a hidden radio somewhere within it that plays the Banjo theme remixed in metal! Oh joy! An island of hope in this sea of mediocrity…

That track proved to be much more than what met my eye at first. I liked it so much I looked all over the net to download (still haven’t found it). Meanwhile, I did some research and discovered that it was none other than Grant Kirkhope himself, composer of Banjo-Kazooie music (among many other Rare classics, not least GoldenEye and Perfect Dark) who was behind this remix, a heavy rocker himself. I found his profile on MySpace and asked him about his projects himself, while commenting on his work (add him guys and gals, he’s an open and down to earth guy!) Then I found out that he had made the music to Viva Piñata. Something clicked. Add to that I’d heard good words about it, and next thing I knew was that it had come to my posession for a mere €30.

It didn’t take me more than an hour to realise just why everybody was so hooked with the game: I was hooked myself! Several tens of hours later, more than a LVL50 of mad gardening skillz, 5 gardens filled with little, colourful and oh so childish piñatas and an intense addiction with the game that has thankfully relaxed recently — how else was I going to touch Lost Odyssey? — I can say with certainty that Rare has neither lost their talent nor their soul (although Microsoft may state otherwise). In fact, all the crappy games may have been an unfortunate break for the rest of the great games to come. Viva Piñata was the first game of theirs that I really enjoyed after almost 8 years and that’s 8 decades when it comes to the entertainment industry. Brilliant music, just as expected from Mr. Kirkhope, beautiful graphics and wacky artstyle, addictive-as-crack gameplay and more of our beloved Rare flair with just enough Microsoft casual undertones and direction to make it bearable and suitable for the kids but not without the innuendos that only we “adults” would understand. Definitely not without its flaws — why do I have to whack the entire garden every freaking time, and I’m-fine-thank-you-Miss-Costalot-yes-yes-bright-eyed-bushy-tailed-GET-ON-WITH-IT! AND STOP PUSHING THAT DAMN SLOT MACHINE LIKE A RETARD ALL THE TIME! Eat my melting chocolate coins. — and annoying moments, thankfully they’re not enought to deeply spoil the otherwise satisfying gameplay.

So details for the new Banjo were announced just a few days ago, with Grant Kirkhope perfecting that early metal remix that had appeared in Kameo. Most fans of the old games don’t like the direction of Nuts & Bolts and have erupted into riots about how Rare sucks now and how they’re ruled my M$, how they’re constantly taking wrong decisions and the like. I know that a good chunk of them are still Nintendo devotees like I would have been had I not got my Xbox 360 by the strange twists and turns of luck and may not have had the chance to play some recent Rare games. Viva Piñata is a good indication that the old Twycross chaps haven’t lost it all, even with all the staff changes that they have endured recently and before they became part of Microsoft. I have trust in the new Banjo game’s ambition and scope, how creativity is such a big part of it. I welcome the fact that they’re changing the feel of the series and are taking it to another, more personalised style of platforming. Some things may seem strange at first, like the removal of Kazooie’s moves, but that will only make her bitch and complain about it and how the game would have been better off with them, in-game! The guys know what they’re doing and the crew that is behind this is mostly the same as it was back in 1998, which wasn’t the case with Perfect Dark Zero. I’m now eagerly awaiting what looks like not another great Banjo game, but also another great, groundbreaking Rare game… The kind of groundbreaking and reinventing we had almost forgot they could manage and systematically deliver.

Rare managed within this generation alone to virtually burn its already dying self to ashes with its X360 launch games. Viva Piñata was the little baby phoenix that was born out of the ashes. It’s my belief that with Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts and to a lesser extent Viva Piñata 2 they will revive themselves into one of gaming’s great, brilliant phoenixes. And the gamers will be happy once again.



Roughly 10 days after Alex left Mytilini (she stayed for a week, Alex you’re wonderful), things are mostly quiet. I play Bioshock, games on the Xbox Live Arcade (mostly Geometry Wars, Every Extend Extra Extreme and Castlevania) and watch Heroes. I’m also having my winter exams! YAY! Nay. I’ve sat for 2 subjects (perfect scores I believe), skipped another 2, and study very little. I honestly don’t know how I manage… But I do. The more interesting subjects are yet to come. I’ll gladly study History of Art, especially with the really interesting — unlike the lectures themselves — book we’ve been given. Times of hungry have come and gone, I lost my wallet AND my mobile phone last week but found them both in the end. I think I’m having fun, I think it’s all cool. Taking it nice and slow, relaxed, having teapots of Earl Grey or this strange but delicious rose and ibiscus concoction Alex left me two bagfulls of daily. But still not studying at all nor doing any German, which is truly regrettable… Next week the action returns to homecity Athens!

Oh, check out my freshly written Who is Cubilone? section. I’d like anyone who’s up for it to help me fill it up by commenting. I’ll then take their comment and fix the main post. How do you feel about me? How would you describe me? What have I omitted (there’s loads, I know) that you’d like to chuck in? 🙂


First of all, happy new year everybody. Most people who read this have already received personal wishes from me, but it’s nice keeping a continuity in my posts. Today I returned to Mytilini… I came by a slow and boring ship got me here and a smelly, dirty and totally untidy home was here to greet me. I brought it even more stuff for it to cherish its stuffy existence with, namely parts for my brand new PC I bought in Athens (and will start connecting and building very soon), the Xbox 360 and the various networking I had to do to make it play on Live (yes! I’m on Xbox Live as of today! My gamertag is Cubilone, look for it) plus all the other experimenting I’m doing right now with my room makes for a really messy place. Anyway, soon, when I get to building the PC and putting everything where it should be (which doesn’t automatically mean the place is going to be tidy afterwards, mind you) and along the way make the whole apartment slightly more generally inhabitable. Today I put up a few posters, two I had got in Athens and a surprise Mario Galaxy one that came with January’s EDGE. I like them all!

So what have I been doing recently? It’s really difficult for me to think of anything apart from one person and everything I’ve been doing with her, which is what I was doing mostly for the last few days : Alexandra. We got together on January 5th, which ended my 730-day period of singleness. What’s so important about that number? It’s 365×2. I had been single for exactly 2 years. Not one day less or more. There must be some kind of signifcance within this number… I should research it more. Anyhow, what is much more important is not that I’m no longer single; it is that I’m now with such a wonderful person. And it all came completely out of the blue… I didn’t even know her a month ago! We’ve only been together for a week (wow, it’s a WEEK already?) but the time we spent in eachother’s company even during this short period of time was ouf of this world. Everything seems too good to be true… Apart from a single, hard-hitting fact: we don’t live in the same town. Now, under different circumstances this would be a problem and sure, it still is. But I know I’m dedicated to keep this relationship no matter the cost. Suddenly, to me, the distance doesn’t seem all that great and the trip to Athens and back sounds short enough. I think that both I and Alex can and will make this work just the way we want to, to all feasible extent of course. Going out every night with her sure was good but it dramatically reduced the time I thought I’d have to spend in Athens. A whole week with her felt like little more than a couple of days… Mindblowing. I couldn’t see all the people I originally wanted to see, but the price was fair. It’s OK though for I can safely tell that my trips to Athens will be much more frequent now. Would you imagine that… I was planning to spend at least 2 and a half months here without going back to my homecity. But I have no complaints, on the contrary. 😀

Me and Alexandra

I just made myself some tea using the new set my dad gave me for Christmas. It really is a fine gift…

Apart from last week, I don’t have much to say. I’ve been acting like a big spender to get everything right for my new PC and Xbox — I just downloaded Castlevania: Symphony of the Night from Live Arcade. Last week George persuaded me to buy Blue Dragon for just 20 euros brand new. Whether this purchase will be worth it remains to be seen. Oh yes, Gears of War is an awesome game but Hexic still holds the top spot for most playtime on my Xbox… Remember what I said about simple games and innovative ideas?

Apart from all this, there’s also uni to think about… But I wouldn’t worry about it too much for the time being, apart for the Javascript thingie I have to have complete by Jan. 17th… Duur! Why can’t I just sit back and relax with my techie, geeky stuff? Oh yeah, the project is just as geeky… What have I got myself into. 😛

All I want for Christmas is a time machine

Well well, here I am in Athens, finally finding a tiny bit of time to update my Dimension. The last few days have been hectic but in a good way. I’ve been out with friends, window shopping every single day (although I did already buy some parts for my new PC, namely mobo, CPU and a CPU fan) I’m also buying presents for my close ones. Thing is, most I’ve bought through net still haven’t arrived and I’m getting kind of worried. Anywho…

On my first day here and after a good sleep, Mario called me and told me they were selling Game Boy Micros in Electroworld for only 15 euros! I called George and together we went there for me to get one. And there, we saw it… That moment changed our gaming lives once and for all! 4 Premium Xbox360s with Perfect Dark Zero and NFS: Carbon for only 120 euros. 120 euros. 120. We were both like: “WTF IS HAPPENING HERE? IS THIS FOR REAL?”, looking at eachother and hardly believing what our eyes told us. We asked around and found out that they were the original XBoxes that came out 2 years ago, which also means noisier and more problematic (?) hardware. Still, you can’t beat THAT kind of a discount, I mean we bought 2 of them at less than the price of a Wii with no games. Yes, we bought them. George had been looking for a Xbox 360 and I always thought it would be a good purchase but only when the price was right. Well, the price was right there and then. Couldn’t let it go, even if it meant that I had to cut down on my new PC budget. And I also walked away with a GB micro, as planned. ^^. What a single call can bring…

Of what I’ve played so far, it’s an exceptional console. I even think it’s a better package overall than Wii at this point. More games that are good, better hardware, better online system. It’s a gamer’s system, unlike Wii which is an everybody’s system. Still, “everybody” includes gamers so it’s all good but I think that this little console has a lot going for it. Only problem: it is much too expensive to buy games for. Wii has much cheaper games. Anywho, I hope rentals will do the trick…

Hexic is addictive.

Apart from that piece of news, I have to say that going to huge shops like the ones in The Mall or Public has a certain effect on your psychology. You see all these books, all these games, all these music CDs… And you think that you don’t own remotely enough. Especially with books, they remind you how little you know and how little you’re going to read and/or learn. I wonder if it’s a trick they use so they can get you to buy more. If that’s the case it has the reverse effect on me: I’m so purely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of products that I end up buying nothing!

Yesterday Mordread® visited us here in Athens. Him, me, George, Maria and Evi, we all went to Furin-Kazan, a good but expensive japanese restaurant where we had some sushi, sake and yakisoba, and later went for some milkshakes, right in the middle of winter! Go us! Ice cream with soda is good. Yes it is. Mordread missed his train so he stayed at my place. I toured him around Nea Smyrni and even though it was a surprise visit we had good fun.

So Christmas is almost here. I’m sorry to note that I haven’t uploaded part 3 of my tribute to N64, I was planning to have it all complete by tomorrow, which is the true 10th anniversary. Since I’m evidently missing my deadline, I’ll post updates as soon as internet speed (I’m on 56k here. Noooo!) and personal interest allow me to. So, have a merry christmas everybody and remember: Santa Claus is not Agios Vasilis.