For the past 15 years (holy shit has it been that long), the Marvel Cinematic Universe™ has dominated cinemas worldwide. Seeing characters from one property cross over into another seems to cause audiences’ brains to fire off some kind of positive dopamine response. Up until recently, video games rarely capitalized on this idea, outside of a couple very notable exceptions.
Nintendo made the video game crossover mainstream with Super Smash Bros. back in 1999, letting gamers Falcon Punch Jigglypuff in the head for the very first time. More recently, titles like Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, MultiVersus, and Fraymakers have further cashed in on the idea of the wacky crossover with the whole characters-who-shouldn’t-be-in-a-fighting-game-but-are kind of idea. But what about the original video game crossover event that shook the world to its absolute core?
It’s time to ditch the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and bring back the Rare Gaming Universe. I don’t believe that’s copyrighted (yet!), but I’ve capitalized all the words purely out of respect. Back in the day, it was a complete mindfuck to see a character from one game appear in another. Mario as the referee in Punch-Out? A Yoshi doll in Link’s Awakening? …Kirby in Link’s Awakening? Crossovers were limited to brief easter eggs– mere crumbs, for those of us who desired a world with more. But in 1997, Rare released Diddy Kong Racing.
Diddy Kong Racing is a “racing adventure” game set in the Donkey Kong universe that doesn’t feature Donkey Kong. Groundbreaking. Rare saw this break from the norm as an opportunity to promote some of their upcoming titles: Banjo-Kazooie, and Twelve Tales: Conker 64. There were “rumors” that Tiptup the turtle would also receive his own game, but these were just jokes perpetuated from within Rareware during the early days of the internet. Cheeky blokes.
Obviously the cutesy Conker we see in this game was before Rare got sick of churning out mascot platformers and decided to lampoon them instead in a brave act of self-parody, pivoting Conker to more “M-Rated” shenanigans with Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Regardless, I remember getting Diddy Kong Racing when it came out, and I also remember the insane hype peddled in the pages of Nintendo Power for the upcoming Banjo-Kazooie. Not only was this a racing game that promised to build on Mario Kart 64 (and in some ways it did) but it was also a taste of what could have been.
Rare is no stranger to playing around with their intellectual properties, much like random toys from a toy box. We all remember turning on “DK Mode” in GoldenEye 007. Or running into our old friend Tiptup in Bubblegloop Swamp once we finally got our hands on Banjo-Kazooie. Or finding out that Cranky Kong is a big fan of Killer Instinct in Donkey Kong Country 2. Even though their games weren’t always tonally consistent, Rare’s gaming lineup felt like a unique ecosystem of its own. They had a lot of fun including references, easter eggs, or full-on crossovers in their games, and I don’t know why we don’t see more of that in general with shared cinematic universes being all the rage these days.
As mentioned before, we obviously have our fair share of “Smash-likes” at this point, but it’s not often that we see characters crossover outside of those, save for a fighting game guest appearance here and there. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, as our friend Banjo made a cameo in Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing for… some reason. At the same time, maybe it’s best we don’t open up Pandora’s box, seeing how movies are now dominated almost entirely by shared universes. At the end of the day, I only would trust Rare to do it right.
Ever since Rare got bought out by Microsoft in the early 2000’s, Microsoft apprently instituted a no-fun mandate. And a no-good-game mandate (shots fired). Much of the charm has been lost, or maybe the times, they were a-changing? Mascot platformers fell out of vogue once the 2000’s hit, and Halo perfected the FPS genre. Regardless, it’s hard not to wonder what could have been. Donkey Kong hanging out with Joanna Dark? Conker having a beer with Kazooie? An open-world Tiptup game? In the meantime, at least Sea of Thieves has Jack Sparrow? They really shit the bed there.