Rares magnum opus and a stunning finale for the N64
Anyone who ever owned a N64 will regard it as more than a game system, it was a labour of love by a pioneer of the industry, that love manifested by the genius mind of producer/designer Shigeru Miyamoto. The story of the N64 was a story that began in 1996 with the revolution spun by Super Mario 64 and Goldeneye, continued with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of time, Donkey kong 64, Banjo Kazooie, Super Smash Bros before coming to a close with Perfect Dark and finally its most under appreciated master piece …. Conkers Bad Fur Day.
Before the release of Conkers Bad Fur Day, Nintendo maintained a strict policy of ensuring that all its material would be inoffensive to families. This policy resulted in the development of several kiddy games,cementing nintendos image as a “kiddy” company in face of competitors like Sega and Sony (Sega capitalized on this with its “Sega does what Nintendont” campaign for the Mega Drive console). It was also notorious for allowing Nintendo to foolishly censor violent video games like Wolfenstein 3D , Mortal Kombat and Doom, removing most of the bloody gore that made those games so appealing. With that in mind, no one should be surprised if they walked into sony playstation fan and described the concept of Conkers Bad Fur Day before being laughed at.
At the time in the year 2001 nothing like Conkers Bad Fur Day had ever been achieved and nothing quite like it ever came since, not even its graphically superior Xbox port/remake Conker: Live and Reloaded. The basic concept of Conkers Bad Fur Day is this: Conker is a red squirrel who recounts the events of a day which he started out in a hangover, far from home and how he reluctantly finished the night by becoming king. Along the way he meets a drunken scarecrow, deals with a steaming pile of operatic singing feaces, encounters big chested babes, brutally maimes and slaughters several adorable animals, and lets out several swear words. Oh and by the way theres a plot by a Panther king to use him as a replacement for one of the legs on his stool and there are several parodies of iconic movie scenes.
Even gameplay wise: Conkers was then an unrivalled beast of a platformer. Sure it kept the basic 3d platforming elements laid out by Super Mario 64 which were run, jump and explore but it added a rather distinguishing feature- the context sensitive buttons which populated Conkers world. These buttons allowed Conker to perform actions that can solve the problem that would be presented in his current surroundings. Press a context sensitive button near Birdy the Scarecrow and Conker will give him a bottle of beer. If you press a context sensitive button during the War levels Conker will pull out two guns and be ready shoot. The presence of context sensitive buttons in Conkers Bad Fur Day not only made the game more accessible and reduced the need for the tutorials that plagued the likes of Banjo Kazooie, but it allowed for each level to stand on its own. One level features Conker hoverboarding with a bunch of thieves who have stolen his money. Another features Conker fighting off a bunch of Gladiators by hypnotising a dinosaur and towards the end he pulls off a shootout that parodies the now legendary lobby scene from The Matrix.
What set Conker even further apart from its peers was how it avoided becoming a collect-a –fest. Unlike Super Mario 64 or Banjo Kazooie where the player was required to search out every nook and cranny so they could collect as many stars or jigsaw pieces as possible to progress. Conker required that players collect money, but the importance of the money was de-emphasized by having it conveniently put in easy to spot places that would not require Sherlock Holmes to find. As such the money was perceived by players not as an important must have item but a mere mc guffen that served as an excuse to drive the plot.
Perhaps the games most famous aspect was the toilet humor that occupied much of the dialogue and physical actions. In what was to become one of the most legendary boss battles ever, Conker is faced with the wrath of the Great Mighty Poo, a baritone voiced, corn eating, opera singing mountain of poo who sings about how he’d love to ram Conker “up my butt”. Gameplay wise the scenario is a generic bossfight,but the fact that The Mighty Poo sings in this fight elevates it to a level of comedic gold and disgust.
Conkers Bad Fur Day was also a technological marvel for the N64 and was one of the first games to really bring its characters to life with lip synching. What really deserves a special mention here is the effort that Rare put in to store a full over soundtrack within the limits of a 100mb Nintendo 64 cartridge. The Voice acting itself was and still is outstanding especially considering the limited number of voice actors hired. It was a surprise to hear that Chris Seavor, the games creator and voice of Conker voices nearly single character in the game except for the females. What Rare achieved with the voice acting was a rare feat that sadly occurred at the end of N64s life.
Despite all the praise I have for this game, there was one criticism that I believe i must mention. Much of its relevance will be lost on future generations. When Conkers first came out, it came out in a time when mascot platform characters such as Mario, Sonic, Crash were dominant belonged to a particular system and rivalled eachother. Crash and Sonic have become platform agnostic and Mario and Sonic now share cameos in their games. These days 3d platformers are hardly the craze that they were at Conkers release. Much of Conkers shock value has also died as well. In 2001, it was shocking to think that a video game character could swear. In the post GTAIII world of 2009 its almost normal.
Despite these criticisms the game design is still quite solid and holds up on its own.
The Bottom Line
A wildly twisted take on the cute Nintendo and Rare were famous for. Buy it if you can find it .