2001 was an ambitious time for the gaming industry. The Nintendo Gamecube and Xbox were to release later in the year, and the Playstation 2 was already hogging the spotlight! About a paltry ten games were released on the Nintendo 64 that year, adding to the fact that the Gamecube was more than ready to get a piece of the PS2’s pie. That isn’t to say none of the latest titles were anything unremarkable, though. Mario’s face was still on a few of them, and there was this one title made by Nintendo’s then-second party development team, RareWare. That game is, of course, Conker’s Bad Fur Day.
The weird history behind the title has been well-documented by this point in time, but in case you haven’t known about it, allow me to clue you in. Otherwise, just skip to the next paragraph.
Conker, as a character, was first introduced (in playable form, anyway) in Rare’s racing title, Diddy Kong Racing. Banjo also made his debut this way, and he would eventually get his own game series in the form of Banjo-Kazooie. There was a Conker game being made, too. Back then, it was known as Twelve Tales: Conker 64 – even before then, it was once known as Conker’s Quest. It was to stand out by having the characters and world feel like they wouldn’t be out of place of a lively cartoon. Yet, later on, it was decided they had to take a new angle if they wanted to compete among the ever-growing 3D platformer genre, so they totally reworked it into something else. Conker got a Game Boy Color entry before this change (Conker’s Pocket Tales), but the final result ended up being one of the most deliciously absurd titles on the market.
I’ve been curious about the title for plenty of years. After all, RareWare was second-in-command for Nintendo until they were bought out by Microsoft. How come something published by Nintendo was left unacknowledged by the community until far after it became financially irrelevant? What was so special about this game now that it has been more widely recognized? Fortunately, Microsoft and Rare were happy to oblige by giving it a remake for the Xbox…just as the Xbox 360 was coming around. Then they released it again along with 29 other Rare classics in the most generous gaming compilation ever, Rare Replay for Xbox One. Since I had no nostalgia for Rare’s golden age – as I always looked by the sidelines ever since knowing of their work – these aren’t Retro Flashbacks. This is more of a testament for whether or not it can still be enjoyed to this day.
Right off the bat, I have to say: These are some of the best graphics on the Nintendo 64. I know that’s been said a lot, but DANG. Everything is so well-animated, and the colors are incredibly vibrant! It’s like the cartoon element of Twelve Tales lived on in this way, albeit obviously mixed in with the more South Park-inspired elements. The character design shines through as with any other Rare entry, and it is backed up by the excellently thorough voice acting done mostly by the game’s creator, Chris Seavor; you can tell he knew exactly what he wanted from the characters. It’s also really impressive how all those voice samples managed to be crammed onto the technically primitive Nintendo 64 cartridge. The presentation as a whole is superb and arguably Rare’s best.
You can’t talk about this game’s presentation without bringing up the sense of humor, either. The fun of Conker’s Bad Fur Day comes from the plethora of comedic situations that never cease to conjure laughs. Heck, the very beginning of the game has Conker himself absolutely WASTED and talking to an equally drunken scarecrow to figure out where he is. Somehow, this eventually gets him into adventures involving hoverboarding cavemen, opera-singing poo, a strip club run by anthropomorphic boulders, and a suddenly prolonged homage to Saving Private Ryan that shockingly portrays war without much of a lighthearted spin on it.
If nothing else, Conker’s Bad Fur Day is all about the characters and their interactions with each other. It’s why the game in general is held in such high regard. I can say that for sure because the gameplay certainly isn’t why. It’s not that the game plays like crap, but it does feel like filler in between all of the memorable moments. What are you going to remember more fondly: The exchange where a brush and paint can bash the hell out of the stereotypical Southern pitchfork, or one of the numerous instances where Conker has to move back and forth collecting an amount of individual objects for an NPC?
The game looks like a lot of fun, but actually taking control of Conker himself doesn’t live up to that expectation. He can move around fine, but his flexibility is absolutely neutered compared to other platforming heroes. Want to jump down from a platform? You better make sure you get him to glide with his tail or else he stumbles right onto his back and loses health. Don’t even try falling from higher heights or else he’ll die entirely! Conker is simply the most fragile character this side of Donkey Kong, and it can unfortunately be felt by the player. Maybe it’s satire or something (since a lot of tropes get parodied around here), but I think it’s best to not have such an element interfere with the actual gameplay.
Perhaps to compensate for Conker’s limitations, the level design is generally downplayed. You won’t get to explore as broadly as you would in Banjo-Kazooie or maybe even Super Mario 64 for that matter. Should the tasks be overwhelming (which will be the case for the hoverboard racing scene), however, there are sure to be extra lives to ease you into more of the action. Unfortunately, many design choices amount to pure tedium. In one part, there are cheese slices that you have to knock out – since they are living things – and feed to a mouse. You can only knock out and pick up one slice each. This is the same case for fetching female gears for a talking gear bossman. And for fetching villagers as a bat. You can see where this is going…
I think the interesting part of the platforming is going from one place to another without an actual objective set. It really brings out that free-roaming vibe the 3D platforming genre cherishes. For example, just figuring out how to get to certain areas in the barn is fun because you’re actually exploring the area. You know, instead of being confined to scripted monotony. There are shining moments such as the Matrix parody, but they are way too far and few between.
It’s probably fair to say Conker’s Bad Fur Day as a whole hasn’t aged as well as it’s built up to be. Presentation not withstanding, that is. The game is lots of fun to watch; there’s a reason why the characters and dialogues have resonated so well with players after all these years. You can always count on me to watch the cutscenes for a good genuine laugh every now and then. As a game, however, the execution becomes pretty damn questionable. If you haven’t played it before, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to give the game a try; don’t set your expectations high, though.