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Classic Review: Conker’s Bad Fur Day

conker

Wait… this isn’t a review of RAGE? And it’s review day? What gives?!

Well, due to a number of factors including extenuating circumstances of a familial nature and an active social life/girlfriend who enjoys marathoning Breaking Bad I haven’t managed to finish RAGE yet. Which, I’m actually pretty thankful for. Despite RAGE’s 12 hour gametime I’m finding quite a lot of little things to do while I’m driving around the place and I want have the leisure to experience the game without having to sprint for the finish the whole time.

In other words, the RAGE review will be next Monday. Today I’m going back for a classic.

And what a classic it is! Conker’s Bad Fur Day was a breath of fresh air for a console and a games developer that had been pigeonholed as a “PG at best, this stuff is for kidz yo” system since day one.

And how did it do this? Basically by making fun of every other game on the console and introducing everything Nintendo had kept back from all the other games on the Nintendo 64.

That’s right, there was one game that had all the sex, violence, swearing and toilet humour that was missing from other “more successful” titles like Mario whatever and Sonic something; and that game was Conker’s Bad Fur Day.

For anyone who hasn’t played it (and if you haven’t you should be playing it, like right now) Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a free-roam action-platformer similar to Banjo Kazooie or Super Mario 64. The game takes place over the course of a single (very long) day in which Conker, a red squirrel, tries to find his way home to his girlfriend (who is easily the hottest squirrel I have ever seen) while shaking off his hangover from the night before, inadvertently changing the king (and the kingdom) forever. In order for this to happen, he travels across a whole host of “Chapters” which satire famous films or game genres but maintaining the visual and cartoonish action-platformer style the Nintendo 64 was famous for. These worlds include a Farm-like area, a War area, a Zombie area and a particularly unforgettable Matrix sequence.

There are many good times to be had.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day never sold particularly well, partially due to a mismatch in audience between the game and the system it was on and partially due to terrible marketing and deploying in the final days of the Nintendo 64 – but in no way does that make it a bad game.

Like so many classics, Conker’s Bad Fur Day was never appreciated in it’s own time (with the exception of a small amount of people) but developed a cult following of fans over the years after it’s debut.

And for good reason. This game was shockingly original and witty as hell. It cut straight through all the cutesy crap of traditional action-platformer titles and basically showed exactly how ridiculous they all were. From having you throw toilet paper into the mouth of a giant piece of excrement to racing hoverboards on lava while avoiding dinosaurs – Conker’s is a ridiculous romp through a very loosely connected number of worlds and scenarios with only one real thing consistently presented through the game – the attitude and morally irreprehensible character of Conker himself.

Conker is a dick. He’s in it for the cash and always puts himself first. He won't help you unless you pay, and even when you pay he will still screw you over at the drop of a hat. In short, he is everything that Banjo (Banjo and Kazooie) isn’t. And he is perfect for this game. From witty one-liners to breaking the fourth wall to straight up insulting his fellow cast, he really sells the fact that this game is one long joke at the expense of Nintendo and their Disney-PG politically correct book of rules.

Of course none of this would matter unless the gameplay was particularly amazing. And it is. By copying the tropes of the cute adventure world, somehow Conker’s plays like a fusion of gametypes without disorienting or losing the interest of the player. There are racing elements, platformer elements, multiple boss fights, puzzle solving – even FPS. And it all strings together into one hell of a tail tale.

I won’t spoil it for you, but the ending is particularly bittersweet. It made the 12 year old I was (playing an MA15+ game like a badass) want to kill myself. In a really really good way.

And then there is the multiplayer, seven different game modes reflecting seven different parts of the game which were particularly enjoyable. There were tanks, sniper rifles, cave men and even playable dinosaurs.

I mean, in case you couldn’t tell, this game was in my top 5 Nintendo 64 games of all time easily. And there were a fuckload of good games on the N64.

There was still some room for improvement. Obviously target market and advertising needed to be corrected, it should never have really been on a system which was so kid-oriented. I hear some parents even tried to sue it because of this. But in the actual gameplay? Well, some chapters played better than others. There were parts you would never want to play through again (underwater turbines which kill you in one hit) and parts you would play a hundred times over (dinosaur race, matrix sequence). The tone was inconsistent, sometimes portraying Conker as a happy-go-lucky guy – other times he was a drunk asshole. The relationship with his girlfriend was strained at best, since he spends half the game attempting to cheat on her and then tries to go for “but I love you so much” angle towards the end of the game.

But these are all forgiveable inaccuracies for a title which was the Frankenstein of modern references, satire and gameplay elements. Really I’m amazed the whole thing is a coherent as it is.

And the good news? Much like Crazy Taxi  there was a less-than-par port of Conker’s Bad Fur Day (titled Conker’s Bad Fur Day: Live and Reloaded) which almost does justice to the original game (since it basically completely copies the original storyline and then tacks on a hit-and-miss new multiplayer system) so you can get some of the Conker’s experience even if you don’t own a N64.

Unless you own a PC or a Playstation, in which case: tough titties.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day was really a coming-of-age experience for me. I learned some things I probably should never have learned at that age and I was exposed to a deep and resonating melancholy that was completely absent in other titles I had played. It was familiar and yet resoundingly different. It was a game that changed me.

And for a game about a hungover squirrel who flies by spinning his tail, that’s a pretty massive achievement.

Also, Nazi Teddys. Lots of Nazi Teddys.

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