Recently, James Rolfe added to a series of GameTrailers videos where he drops his “Angry Video Game Nerd” persona and talks candidly about video games he has fond memories of from years ago. His most recent entry (which, unlike his AVGN videos, has little in the way of serious vulgarity) looks back at the fighting game collaboration between Rare, Nintendo, and Midway, Killer Instinct:

It ends on a note fans of the series have been asking for years: Indeed, where is Killer Instinct 3?

As it so happens, that very question also came up recently, and the answer? Well, not only does it paint a poor picture for the fighting game series, but much of Rare’s turnout as well.

Via IGN and Joystiq, notenoughshaders.com has an interview with Donnchadh “Don” Murphy, a 3D modeler and ex-Rare employee who sheds some unfortunate light on what is happening in Twycross these days.

Regarding the change in the company’s output since being purchased by Microsoft, he stated:

The big change in Rare came when the company went up for sale, people were unsure of the future of Rare. When they announced Microsoft was buying, a lot of people were unsure if it was a good or bad thing. For one, MS had deep pockets so financial security seemed assured, but on the other hand they were relatively new to the games market, and complete infants in the console market. Personally I don’t think it was a great mix. At first it seemed that they wouldn’t interfere much, but it was soon clear that they were more interested in using Rare to help aim at a younger market. This stifled a lot of creativity, Rare was renowned for their diverse portfolio, so to not be involved in making Mature games was a real blow.

When the Stampers left it seemed that Microsoft was losing faith in Rare, it was hard to take when all around were incredibly talented people, with massive amounts of experience. There [were] numerous projects that were put forward that I believe would have been huge hits, but MS rejected them one after the other. I remember seeing a couple of prototypes that Chris Seavor had designed and was working on, that looked amazing, but alas they got shelved. It seemed that MS didn’t want to take the risk in Rare doing anything outside the younger demographic, they quickly forgot the company’s heritage. We started to lose a lot of great talent then, people were losing job satisfaction, so they just left.

Obviously Kinect Sports has come along now, and has done really well. So my hope is that MS will start regaining their faith in Rare and let them get their feet back into the wider mainstream market and put Rare’s name back on top.

Asked about any games he would like to see remade in high definition for Xbox Live Arcade, Murphy responded:

Probably the same game every Rare fan wants to see and that’s KI3 (Killer Instinct 3). We all wanted to make KI3, but Microsoft [was] more interested in broadening their demographic than making another fighting game. So it never got made, I doubt it ever will.

Naturally, this is disheartening news. Worse still, one has to wonder how this might extend to other Rare properties; the company has a great library of previous titles which are ripe for remaking and re-releasing on Xbox Live Arcade, including Killer Instinct, Blast Corps, Battletoads, Jet Force Gemini, R.C. Pro-Am, and the Wizards & Warriors series. Of these, I’m going to look at two in particular.

Wizards & Warriors is a classic platformer which could potentially benefit from a Bionic Commando Rearmed-styled remake (though I’d gladly take a port with the original graphics and sound intact, or even an option for them). Though it wasn’t the most challenging game on the NES, thanks to a generous continue system, it was still a lot of fun to play– perhaps in part due to that continue system.

As the heroic knight Kuros, “Knight Warrior of the Books of Excalibur,” you traveled through the many forests and tunnels of the kingdom of Elrond on your way to the castle of the evil wizard Malkil, whose skill is such that even Merlin of Arthurian legend was but one of his pupils. Along the way, you would have to seek out weapons, keys, and treasure to bribe the guardsmen who would halt your progress towards rescuing the fair maidens held prisoner across the land.

There were also three sequels: Wizards & Warriors II: Ironsword (infamous for its box art featuring Fabio Lanzoni as Kuros) and Wizards & Warriors III: Kuros: Visions of Power for the NES, and Wizards & Warriors X: The Fortress of Fear for the Game Boy. These tended to be a bit rougher than the original game, and would probably benefit more from modernized remakes with some more contemporary design elements in mind (re: no or limited continues and no way to save your game, for example).

In addition to having some catchy music (at least in the first game, the only one I actually own; the others are less familiar to me), the content wasn’t terribly graphic or violent. Considering these were all NES and early-era Game Boy games, that isn’t too surprising, but also means that they would potentially fit the “kid-friendly” mold they seem to prefer from the company (as most of their older titles do).

While I do own the game, I have to admit: Playing it on my NES is nothing short of inconvenient, especially where HD televisions are involved (plus, I think I left it at my dad’s house). While some question Rare’s original output these days, I believe they can still do well when working with older content, as seen with their XBLA releases of Banjo Kazooie and Banjo Tooie. If these did well enough, who knows? Maybe Microsoft would allow a modern-generation sequel, perhaps even in 3D or something.

All said, Wizards & Warriors is a game I would really like to revisit, and in the case of the sequels, have another chance to explore.

Then there is Battletoads

I’ll be frank: I like Battletoads, but I don’t like their games. After the first two levels, the difficulty gets a rocket strapped to its back and blasted off into the stratosphere, never to come down again. Or maybe it does; few can get far enough to tell. What’s more, it’s usually a combination of crazy contraptions and a punishing system which sends both players back to the last checkpoint if one should die. That’s not even archaic, just ridiculous.

But there is one exception to the rule, one I’ve only seen online and would really love to see ported to Xbox LIVE Arcade. No need for visual updates or anything, either:

The Battletoads arcade game is perhaps the best-looking and sounding game of the series, and is almost pure beat-em-up, which is where most of the fun lay in the originals before lousy platforming and absurd vehicles screwed everything up. Plus, between Konami’s licensed arcade games (The Simpsons, X-men, and the rival Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games), Final Fight, and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game, classic-styled beat-em-ups seem to be making a bit of a comeback. There is a part near the end which breaks away from this style of play, but it doesn’t seem to do so in such a way as the console games did.

The only big problem, as you can see in the video above, is that the game also skews a bit more towards the “mature” side of things than its home counterparts. Hopefully a bit of blood and a busty Dark Queen wouldn’t be too much to keep this from happening, though, but since it would probably be on Microsoft’s dollar (which, in this case, they could easily afford), it’s tough to say whether they’d go for it.

While I did play the console Battletoads games– the NES and Super NES ones, at least– I never found out about this one until years later, never having seen it in arcades. it seems a lot of people who grew up with Battletoads have wondered where they went, perhaps in light of TMNT‘s return to the mainstream spotlight. What better way to answer the call of a generation now grown up than with a pre-made game with more mature content that– I would guess– relatively few people got to play?

Finally, it goes without saying that I, like many others, would love to see Killer Instinct return. And unlike many, I won’t even say it needs to be Killer Instinct 3– at least, not yet. We never did get arcade-perfect home versions of the first two titles, so why not bring them to Xbox Live Arcade and see if the audience is really there?

What’s more, while every new version and re-release of Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and whatever crossover Capcom comes up with winds up being shared with the PlayStation 3, this is one that Microsoft could keep all to themselves.

These are but a few of the options available in Rare’s library of titles, but also three which stand out most to me. There is money sitting on the table here, Microsoft, you just need to allow myself and others to give it to you.

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