CONKER’S BAD FUR DAY (2001) – RARE
Conkers’ Bad Fur Day is a very rare game in several respects. First of all, it was the last game made by Rare (a tenuous link I know) for a Nintendo console for quite some time, before Microsoft bough the studio in 2002. Second; it is rare in the respect that it was one of only two games to have an enhanced 64MB cartridge for the N64, the other game being Resident Evil 2. Third, it’s a rare game: if you want an original copy you could be looking in excess of £50 for the privilege. Finally though, and most importantly, it’s a rare game in the sense that it manages to be hilariously funny and crude in a way that not many games since, the Grand Theft Auto series included, have ever come close to being.
Conker himself made his debut in a rather low-key role as a character available to race with in Diddy Kong Racing, another Rare title. This game was in production for four years and was meant to be a cutesy platformer (following on from the success of Rare’s Super Mario 64 clone, Banjo Kazooie), but at the last moment Rare decided to go back to the drawing board and in the end produced a cutesy platformer…albeit now with swearing, gore, drunken behaviour and adult themes thrown into the mix. Many adults bought this game for their children to play and were greatly shocked methinks when they saw the content on display; despite it saying on the box and the loading screens that this was a mature title and not meant for children (a rarity in itself for the family friendly N64). The game sold poorly on release due to Nintendo not advertising it properly, and as a result it was passed over by many. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it now, because behind the profanity and blood lies one of the N64’s great titles.
Case in point number one: the plot. Had Rare continued down the original path they were following, you would have expected this to be a bog standard affair by where Conker went through a world collecting items and fighting a boss at the end. By tailoring the game towards adult humour while keeping the child friendly graphics, Rare managed to make a plot that you couldn’t predict the outcome of. The story starts with Conker getting drunk in a bar, and phoning his girlfriend Berri to tell her that he will be late. Cut to the next morning and Conker is lost, and with a massive hangover. Meanwhile, the evil Panther King has a bit of a problem with a table that keeps spilling his milk, and summons his servant, the disabled Professor Von Kriplespac (I’m not making this up) to analyse the problem. The cause: the table is missing a leg, something that the Professor believes can be solved by inserting something of a similar height into the gap…something like a red squirrel. As the Panther King orders his minions to find a suitable candidate, Conker attempts to make his way home, getting caught up in an increasingly bizarre and ridiculous set of scenarios along the way.
Part of the appeal of the story is the fantastic character design that went into this game. For all intensive purposes, the audience should hate Conker; he’s a greedy, alcoholic, violent red squirrel, and yet in comparison to the world around him, he seems relatively tame. Just a short while into the game you will encounter a drunk scarecrow who offers you a manual and hints, a Queen Bee who uses her hive as a machine gun nest to take down wasps, the King Bee who is trying to get laid by a big breasted sunflower, a redneck pitchfork that tries to kill Conker when he enters its barn, and a giant mound of faeces that sings opera tunes. And dung beetles who speak in Scouse accents. And a cog that tells you to f**k off and find his ‘lady companions’. And this is all in the first hour or so. Whatever Rare were smoking when they thought this up must have been strong stuff indeed. The end result however is hysterical as Conker does his best to help out all these warped individuals; some parts had me literally crying with laughter on my first playthrough.
And added to all of this is a ridiculous amount of spoofs and lampoons from films and other games. A Clockwork Orange, Aliens, Star Wars,Indiana Jones, The Terminator, The Exorcist, Dracula…all of these are referenced in some way or form. And that’s not even including a full scale recreation of the opening of Saving Private Ryan (as the grey squirrels take on the evil Tediz) and a fantastic take on the lobby scene from the Matrix. Nothing is sacred in this game and it all comes off in a very funny manner. It also helps that Conker is always consciously aware of the fourth wall, speaking directly to the player at several points and talking about the conventions of the game that he is in. Overall, I really cannot fault the story and execution of Conker’s Bad Fur Day; it knows exactly what it wants to do and completes it with aplomb.
Having gushed over the story for so long, I can now move on to case point number two; Bad Fur Day is a quite the enjoyable game to play. It is based of the Banjo Kazooie engine, which is a good start, but as mentioned before Rare moved away somewhat from Banjo Kazooie when designing Conker, and decided that people had had enough of collecting items. Instead you now get what are known as ‘context sensitive buttons’; basically there are platforms around the game that Conker can stand on and press the B button, which causes something to happen. For example, he may get a slingshot out to aim at bats hanging from the walls. Or mix up some aspirin to get rid of a headache. Or get out a frying pan and smash a gothic statue in the head with it. Those sorts of things. The variety of tasks that you perform throughout the game makes these context moments something to look forward to, as you never know what Conker has planned. Otherwise, Conker operates like your standard N64 character; he can move around the world with the analogue stick, jump and hover by pressing the A button, and crawl around using the shoulder buttons. It’s far from a complex game to get used to.
The game also differs from its N64 counterparts by not having a hub world that links everything together, or at least in the strict sense of the term. There is an over-world that Conker passes through to get to other areas, most of which are blocked off at the start of the game. In order to progress, Conker must go through each area in turn, solving problems and collecting cash, which opens up new possibilities in the overworld. It’s a clever way of doing things, giving the player a sense of freedom and at the same time guiding them along a path.
Bad Fur Day also featured another Rare trademark feature in the form of a multiplayer mode. Taking inspiration from the likes of Goldeneye and Perfect Dark, there are seven game types available for up to four people to play, from the standard deathmatch and capture the flag options to the more intriguing Raptor and Heist modes. All of the game modes are customisable with rules such as lives and bots available to be changed. It has the quality that you would expect from a Rare multiplayer feature, and its another addition to the game which helps this platformer stand ahead of the crowd. Indeed when the game was remade for the Xbox, the multiplayer mode was one of the most popular things going on Xbox Live well over two years from its release. And that was going against the likes of Halo 2.
Unfortunately Conker’s Bad Fur Day is not exempt from criticism. Some of its biggest strengths, in the form of the context buttons and progressive completion, actually double up as some of the game’s biggest weaknesses. From start to finish its quite a linear game; there is little room for exploration and you never get the sense of wonder that you did from walking around Super Mario 64’s levels for example. It’s also not the toughest game in the world as the enemies are pretty simple to take down and there is plenty of health (in the form of anti-gravity chocolate) lying around in case you get in a jam. The biggest problem however lies with an aspect that has dogged most platformers since the start of time: the camera. About 70% of the time it will be fine following Conker’s movements, but then it will be caught in a piece of scenery at a vital time causing you to lose health or die. It can get quite frustrating, especially later on when quick movement becomes essential to survive.
I mentioned earlier that Bad Fur Day required a 64MB cartridge to hold all its data in, and it’s no surprise when you look at the graphics; coming so late on in the N64’s lifespan, this game shows what the console is really capable of. It had many features that were absent from other N64 titles; an impressive draw distance without fogging, dynamic character shadowing and proper lip synching amongst them. There is also a lots of custscenes, all of which play out nicely without much sign of lag on the game engine. The way that the game was styled, with cartoon like graphics, also meant that Rare could infuse the world with a bit of colour, and it does shine through…apart from the points where Conker is wallowing around in s**t. You could very well argue that Bad Fur Day is one of, if maybe not the, best looking game available for the system.
The other reason for the large cartridge was the sheer amount of vocal clips that were forced into the game. Whereas other games like Ocarina Of Time and Super Mario 64 had very little speech, Conker has realms of the stuff, thanks to a very large script and the aforementioned high number of cut-scenes. The really impressive thing about the game however is just how many voices are done by one man; all but one of the male voices were performed by Chris Seavor (the director and designer of the game) and he manages to put in one hell of a performance, being able to generate several voices and accents quite convincingly. It’s not all speech however, as there are a multitude of sound effects going off everywhere and a soundtrack based around one track that changes depending on which area you are in. Clever stuff.
I’m not sure what more I can say about Conker’s Bad Fur Day to convince people that it isn’t just a crude excuse for a video game; Rare’s last hurrah for the Nintendo 64 has one of the funniest stories ever to make its way to a games console, a solid single player mode and the option to fight it out with friends, and it looks and sounds just peachy. I think only the linear progression really holds it back from challenging Super Mario 64 at the top of the tree, and I just wish Nintendo had the balls to sell it when it first came out. My advice is that if you still have it, keep it – check how much its going for on the internet and you will quickly see you have a gold mine in your hands. If you haven’t played it, do what you can to get your hands on this little gem of a game.