The 'Shroom:Issue 64/Conker's Bad Fur Day Review
To many gamers of the late 1990’s, the name Conker the Squirrel likely conjures fond memories of racing, flying, and floating across and around Timber’s Island in an attempt to defeat the diabolical Wizpig. It may also conjure slightly less fond memories of having to rescue Conker’s girlfriend, Berri, from the clutches of an acorn while armed with nothing but a slingshot.
These experiences, whatever one thinks of them now, reflected a light-hearted innocence which defined Conker as a kid-friendly character. However, a few months into 2001, that innocence died, and in a sense, so did Conker, for what British developer Rare unleashed upon the world (okay, North America, Europe, and Australia) then was and is anything but kid-friendly. It is a tale of love and loss laden with alcohol abuse, toilet humor, blood and gore, and absurd amounts of money, a tale that enthralled and continues to enthrall gamers in ways Conker’s previous appearances never did, a tale that challenged what was acceptable in video games for its generation, a tale known simply as Conker’s Bad Fur Day.
Within seconds of starting the game, Conker makes it clear that while he’s appearing on the Nintendo 64 for a second time (in what turned out to be Rare’s last game on the console), he’s cut ties with Nintendo as a character. After players are warned that the game is for mature audiences, Conker uses a chainsaw to bisect the iconic “N” and knocks it away before replacing it with and polishing the “Rareware” logo. From there, the events of the game are a series of hilariously bizarre events set in motion when Conker, after a night drinking with his friends at the Cock and Plucker, leaves the bar nauseated, vomits on a passerby’s shoes, and takes a wrong turn on his way home before passing out. He wakes up hung-over in a strange land and meets Birdy, a drunk scarecrow who introduces one of the game’s main mechanics, “Context Sensitive Zones,” large pads activated by pressing the Button that provide Conker with an item he needs to progress through certain areas, such as Alka-Seltzer to manage his hangover or a flamethrower to torch bats, a feature that distinguishes Bad Fur Day from other platformers of the time.
Another major gameplay mechanic involves collecting money. Money in this game is anthropomorphic and has a penchant for using profanity, often calling Conker a “greedy bastard” and other such terms of endearment. It is earned by finding it in alcoves and other hard-to-reach areas or by helping characters with problems they have, and it is needed in order to access portions of the game. Despite this, the world of Bad Fur Day is open to some degree, since the characters’ problems in a given area can be dealt with in any order. However, because it isn’t obvious until encountering them which characters have problems that need solving, and because how to solve these problems isn’t always clear, there are points where players will end up wandering aimlessly in search of something to do.
Health and lives are initially nonexistent, so some players may be disappointed when they are finally introduced. The former consists of six pieces of anti-gravity chocolate, and the latter consists of squirrel tails. Finding the chocolate is preceded by the beginning of the game’s sub-plot. While Conker is trying to find his way home, the Panther King, a milk-loving feline who punishes his minions with duct tape (it’s implied to be unpleasant), needs a fourth leg for the table by his throne, since he breaks his milk glasses whenever he sets them down. Enter Professor von Kripplespac, a legless weasel who’s a bit of a mad scientist and the game’s main antagonist (he also invented the chocolate, though I’ll never understand why. With all of the other random things that go on in this game, it doesn’t surprise me, though). After performing comically complex mathematical calculations, he measures the gap between the broken leg and the floor and determines that it’s a perfect fit for a red squirrel (e.g. Conker). Von Kripplespac then initiates a secret plan to exact revenge on the Panther King for his usage of duct tape as punishment, and its execution, which includes an army of killer teddy bears known as the Tediz, is a major portion of the game.
Lives are more interesting, since they don’t come into play until Conker dies for the first time. In the empty darkness of the afterlife, he meets Gregg the Grim Reaper, an impatient and diminutive robed skeleton who hates cats, since they have so many lives. He informs Conker of the squirrel tails hanging from hooks scattered across the land, swearing and muttering to himself as he does so, before reluctantly letting him go back to the world of the living. From this point on, dying without having any squirrel tails in reserve will result in a game over, and there are several different scenarios that depend on where one is in the game as well as the condition of Conker’s body. If von Kripplespac has not solved the table leg problem, Conker appears in a “missing” notice on the back of a milk carton. If he has, and Conker is in one piece, he is brought to the Panther King’s castle, tied up, and is forced to act as the aforementioned fourth table leg. If he is not (or if he drowned or was burned), he is set at the Panther King’s feet in a burlap sack.
Now that I’ve finished with the background and explaining the game mechanics, it’s time to get into what I like and dislike about Conker’s first real solo adventure. Like those in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time or Ōkami, the characters in Bad Fur Day help define and enrich the overall experience. From a semi-cowardly pitchfork who’s determined to “kick [Conker’s] ass” to a bipolar cog to a giant, opera-singing pile of feces with sweet corn for teeth (whose song, like it or not, is quite catchy, not to mention vulgar, so listener discretion is advised), these characters are guaranteed to get and keep players laughing, or at least mildly amused. Even better are the characters, cutscenes, and game elements based on or taken from iconic movies, such as The Terminator, Saving Private Ryan, The Godfather, and my personal favorite, The Matrix, since seeing that movie’s motion effects in a segment reenacting one of its ending scenes is very cool.
I’ve never known Rare to make a bad game (if it has, I haven’t played it/those yet), and because of that, there’s little I dislike about Bad Fur Day. However, it suffers from the same problem from which Rare’s Donkey Kong games suffer, something I call the “gaudy girlfriend” mechanic, the inclusion of a female character who acts as a love interest to the main protagonist, who is designed as an object to be admired, and who has superficial qualities to the point that players become disgusted with the character, and in this game, Berri fits the bill. She’s obsessed with her body and only talks to people she deems “cute,” and even though this isn’t characteristic of the mechanic, her voice is grating to the ears, and she’s about as useful to gameplay and the plot as Ashley Graham is in Resident Evil 4, so it’s a relief when her role in the game is done (expect only Conker to shed a tear).
Other than that, the game is fantastic and worth playing at least once. Now what I have not yet mentioned? Let’s see…the environments are large, vibrant, and colorful, there are a few references to past Rare games (e.g. Banjo’s head is mounted in the Cock and Plucker), and the game has a decent multiplayer mode featuring seven minigames based in part on mechanics from the single-player mode. On that note, I suppose I should address Bad Fur Day’s remake for the Xbox, Conker: Live and Reloaded, which was released in lieu of a sequel.
Aside from a graphical update, the single-player campaign is almost identical, though some players may not like the fact that it’s much more censored than the original game (it really f***s up that song I mentioned as well as some of the dialogue. Thanks, Microsoft), it’s missing a few challenges, and it’s less refined in the lip-syncing department. However, it has a more extensive multiplayer mode, which I think is Live and Reloaded’s only selling point, so anybody interested in more than multiplayer should get Bad Fur Day if at all possible. It is one of the best experiences on the N64, if not in the history of the industry thus far, and perhaps the magnum opus of Rare as I knew it and Rare as I’ll never forget it.