Pouring One Out For Banjo

 Today is a day that will probably strike a giant, crushing blow to the hearts of gamers everywhere. I know, on a very personal level, it certainly affects me. It was announced this morning that around 20 staffers were laid off from Rare Ltd, due to a "methodology change." And despite the fact that anybody losing their job for such an arbitrary reason is horrible to begin with, one of the losses was especially telling and tragic. Chris Sutherland, head programmer for Donkey Kong Country and Banjo Kazooie, not to mention the voices of Banjo and Kazooie among many other things, was a casualty of these layoffs.

When he was let go, however, it didn't come as a big shock to me. Because Rare today is a joke. A bad one-liner that even Conker would be ashamed to utter.

I've been playing Banjo Kazooie for the first time over the last few days, along with Tooie, Jet Force Gemini and Diddy Kong Racing. Now, I've been a fan of Rare for quite some time due to personal favorites like Donkey Kong Country and Battletoads, but to many, their N64 stuff was the best. And now, I understand why. Both Banjo games are some of the most fun I've ever had with a game, and having played Nuts and Bolts and hated it, I feel an even deeper ire for it now. It was a game that took everything people loved about the series and dashed it against the rocks, mocking the pedigree and the effort put into the old games. Jokes were made at the expense of the beloved characters, the incredibly fun gameplay that still holds up, and at just about every other thing people liked about the old games. Honestly, it came across as incredibly mean-spirited and unfun. Oh, yeah, and the gameplay was pretty garbage too.

The same can be said for virtually everything else Rare produced after the Microsoft buyout, minus their admittedly good GBA games. They were purchased by corporate suits who thought they owned Donkey Kong because they bought the Country developer. People who didn't give a fuck about games, and only cared about profiting from big names (some Grunty-quality rhyming, no?) Everything went downhill. The founders even left after the oppressive environment became too much, and Chris Seavor, creator and voice of Conker, bailed a while after. And after the release of disappointments like Kameo, Perfect Dark Zero, and Nuts and Bolts (I refuse to put the words "Banjo" and "Kazooie" before that phrase,) they've become an empty husk of their former selves, trotting out awful Kinect games and outsourcing a reboot of Killer Instinct to Double Helix.

So the loss of Chris Sutherland is not shocking, but nevertheless saddening. He was a man who helped make Rare into who they were before Microsoft fucked them over, and gave a voice to two of the most beloved characters in their expansive gameography. A talented individual who got royally screwed over by people who didn't care about him or his legacy. Once a prominent face, he got absorbed into a nameless mass of programmers working on games that lacked passion or enthusiasm. It's sad, but true. As somebody who is now understanding why people love Rare so damn much, this is a huge disappointment.

I would write more about Nuts and Bolts and why I hate it, but JonTron already said it better than I ever will, and honestly, this isn't the time for that. This is a time to think about Sutherland and his legacy, and to celebrate his work. At the same time, we also need to remember what Rare has become and remind ourselves that the Rare we used to know and love would have never, ever fired Banjo. Never.


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