Players: Up to 4
Genre: Action / Adventure / Platformer
Length: 13 Hours
Extras: Analog Control, Rumble Support, Battery Backup
ESRB Rating: M
What a great concept this one was... take Nintendo and Rare, the two names as closely associated with children's video games as, say, Mattel and Hasbro are with toys, and allow them to create another of their sticky-sweet adventures, complete with speaking woodland creatures, cartoony faces on everything in the world and a horrifyingly universal-appealing, loud and obnoxious main character. Then, when the concept is fleshed out and midway into production, throw a wrench into the mix; take all those existing materials, creatures, scenarios and whatnot, give every one of them a dirty mouth, ramp up the violence and insert plenty of lewd, adult themes and situations. It was, truthfully, just what Nintendo needed; a tongue-in-cheek parody of what they'd become over the last ten years, a worldwide admission that they had fallen behind with the times, and an inspired, self-conscious new direction for the future. Rebounding from the widely-regarded failure of their final cartridge based system, the N64, the company desperately needed this kind of attention and momentum to get their next console off on the right foot. They needed a home run from their sleeping giant, the developer who had provided them just that in the autumn of the Super Nintendo's lifespan with Donkey Kong Country. Rare needed to come through for them, and they needed to do so with a game that not only lured back their lost fanbase with a unique, more adult, premise but also kept them there with a wholly satisfying game from start to finish.
It was a novel idea, I'll give them that.
My problem with Conker doesn't have as much to do with the idea so much as it does the follow-through. In all honesty, I was thrilled to hear the company had recognized their own flaws and were attempting to reconcile for them by releasing a shockingly robust title that seemed to spit in the face of everything they'd done since the debates caused by the home release of the original Mortal Kombat. I know I, for one, was excited by all the press this was generating at the time of its release, and was extremely disappointed that I didn't have an N64 to play it on at the time. And, as a result of that underlying anticipation and excitement, it was the first cartridge I bought for the system when my sister gave me one a couple years later. That it was an almost immediate letdown set the stage for what was to come. I left that initial playing with the sense that the idea itself was exactly what the company needed, but the execution was fairly lacking.
The story plays out like a theatrical feature, which is appropriate considering the number of situations the game eventually borrows from popular films. The conclusion of the story is carved in stone almost immediately, as the entire game is presented as the memories of a jaded "King Conker," a squirrel seated atop an oversized throne. Glass of milk (or is it a white russian?) in hand and a scowl plastered upon his face, Conker is immediately reminiscent of the kind of anti-hero popularized by Bruce Willis in Die Hard or Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction. Surrounded by his supposed friends and acquaintances, this introductory scene was a great way to set the tone of the story and introduce a hardened, slightly older version of the title's namesake. The moment the king's flashback begins is when the player begins to take control of the action.
As I mentioned earlier, there's a lot of Hollywood inspiration in Conker's tale. From the little nuances and cliches such as the opening scene, to borrowed scenes or tips of the hat to films like the location of the King's throne at the end of the game, to straightforward rip-offs of memorable scenes or films like the unquestionably Matrix bank heist, this cartridge is chock full of film-lore. And, to its credit, the vast majority of the game's quirks, nods and thefts are handled very well, with just enough originality and additional humor thrown in to make it work within the broad context of its storyline. The infamous "D-Day landing" scene from Saving Private Ryan, for instance, is transformed from a horrifying depiction of the human face of war into a hysterical bit of gallows humor and parody by merely replacing the soldiers with exaggerated cartoon squirrels and the Nazis with fluffy-yet-evil teddy bears known only as Tediz. Though I felt bad about it later, I laughed heartily at the momentary glimpse of a squirrel who had lost his arm in the raid, found the dismembered limb lying in the sand and stopped to pick it up and carry it along with him amid the hail of gunfire. It sounds like a disgustingly sick thing to parody when in print, but in action on the screen it's funny as hell. I wish the entire game had been handled as ingeniously as the few genuinely unexpected and hilarious scenes, like this one, that really succeeded. This is exactly the kind of humor that could have made this game an unyielding success; the grim, offbeat sense that tries to peek out at you every once in a while.
Occasionally the film-borrowing stops for a bit, and the title unveils an original storyline or two of its own, most of which come off as forced and unfunny. The shit jokes are everywhere in this one, and while they were shocking, surprising and very, very funny initially, the charm wears off after a couple hours and their constant repetition taints the rest of the story as a result. And this is coming from a guy who lives and dies by poop, fart and butt jokes. This mood, fortunately, doesn't seem to affect the title's one huge success: the infamous poop boss, who sings a melody in tribute to corn, peanuts, flatulence and every aspect of "droppin' the kids off at the pool." I had to wipe away tears during this battle, the original song and lyric was so incredibly funny.
I guess what I'm getting to is this: for the most part, the story is successful. Its film parodies are spot on, while its original threads tend to lag behind a bit and force a joke just for the sake of it. It's easy to tell, in retrospect, which areas were the writers' favorites and which ones they loathed the thought of. It feels like the game was rushed, and rather than waiting for the inspiration to create something undeniably funny, they instead went with whatever they came up with the fastest. In addition, there's little if any direction as to what you should be doing at any point in the story. More often than not, you're dropped at the end of a cutscene and left to your own devices to get through to the next one. I can't tell you how frustrating it is to start the game as a drunken squirrel trying to stumble his way home in the rain, and wander around for upwards of twenty minutes before discovering the camouflaged circle with a letter in the center of it that was only a couple feet from where you started. Bad Fur Day is a big fan of putting you in the middle of an immense area with no visual clues as to where you should go from there, then erecting giant invisible walls out of thin air and hoping that their placement will corral you into the exact area in which you should be. Successful or not, this method is employed over and over and over again, from the game's start until its finish.
While the storyline is competent for the most part, the actual control and gameplay itself is nearly unforgivable. For the majority of the game, your available actions are extremely limited; you can run, jump, push or swing an enormous cartoon frying pan. Limited options should mean an easy-to-understand control scheme that almost becomes second nature by the time you're a couple hours into the game... right? Well, not exactly. That frying pan you can swing about as your only means of attack? It only connects with maybe one out of every ten moving objects on the screen, enemy-inclusive. I guess they programmed it that way for the same reason they included those enormous invisible walls that keep you out of areas that you shouldn't be accessing just yet... I mean, why should you be allowed to do something if it isn't directly related to the progression of the story at that moment? Physically controlling Conker is a complete nightmare. Even the use of the N64's well-designed analog joystick can't save this horribly imprecise setup, as the bastard squirrel will occasionally veer left or right without explanation or mosey over the edge of a cliff moments after you've told him to stop moving entirely. Conker does have a sort of double-jump feature, in that through the use of his tail he can hover in the air for a couple additional seconds. He can also perform a high jump and a long jump, by crouching or running for a few second before leaping, accordingly. But even these apparent blessings are wracked by some poor control choices and deliberate inconsistencies. Conker will only spin his tail and hover if he's actually jumped before doing so... if you've slid off a ledge or walked off a cliff, as is commonplace in this pile of crap, you're S.O.L., because that little squirrel refuses to slow his fall by spinning his tail in the air. Additionally, the high jump and long jump options only seem to work when they feel like it. I've been running for upwards of a full minute, jumped, and watched Conker perform a weak little sissy jump and fall to his doom. This game really feels like something that wasn't fully tested before its release, the controls reek of incompletion.
Add onto that one of the most horrific cameras in the history of 3-D rendering, and you've already got a pissed off gamer. Seriously, you're given supposed control of these angles through the use of the C buttons (similar to the way the camera is maneuvered in The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time), but as soon as you find a vantage point you're comfortable with and release the C button, it just goes off on its own and returns to a completely unhelpful, useless view. This camera cannot pass through walls, so if your back is against one and you're trying to prepare for a complicated, lengthy, precise leap, you've got to do it blind. Better still, once you've made up your mind and attempted said jump, the camera will awkwardly spin as soon as it's got room to get behind you, effectively reversing your controls in mid-air and introducing a loss of direction to your life. I hate this game's camera, I honestly do. I want to destroy this game's camera with an aluminum baseball bat. It makes the angles of Kingdom Hearts look like a cakewalk.
From time to time, Conker will stumble across what's called a "context sensitive area," which basically means he acquires a new ability for a limited time. Sometimes it's a new weapon, other times it's a new way to move around the screen, others it's just something completely stupid. Roughly half the time you find one of these little, difficult-to-spot tiles on the floor, it's just an excuse to fill Conker with alcohol and destroy the game's already-hazardous control scheme. The screen sways back and forth, the little hero of the story stumbles slowly around in roughly the same direction as you're telling him to, and he often stops altogether to throw up, Honestly, this really is a good translation of drunkenness. If you hit the B button while he's drunk, Conker will unzip his fly and unleash a nigh limitless stream of piss, which you can aim with uncanny precision. Holding down the B button while he's spraying causes him to flex his abs a bit and shoot the stream even further. You can use this method to put out fires or move heavy objects, and it's one of the few truly original, hilarious inclusions of the game.
Visually, I think I was expecting a little bit more of a punch from the ol' N64. I know I've seen better looking carts on this old system in the past, and I even thought that perhaps picking up a RAM expansion would help with both that and the choppiness of the on-screen characters' movements. No dice. Actually, I didn't notice any sort of improvement whatsoever between pre-RAM N64 and the post. That's cool, though, I'm always looking for ways to throw away thirty bucks. Characters are jagged and treated with fairly weak detail, and the framerate is noticeably low. Even the pre-rendered cutscenes are poorly compressed, uninspired and seem to have been created with the same software as the live-rendered in game graphics. So, basically, they're like watching your N64 process the game after it's been run through poor digital compression and muddied up a bit. Yet another aspect of Conker that could've been refined a little further had it not been hurried through production.
The audio is one of the few undeniable triumphs of this one. The voice acting is tremendous, Conker's voice suits him perfectly and the actors themselves seem to be having a lot of fun with the material. The music is the usual fare for Rare platformers, light and bouncy, and serves as a constant joke considering the circumstances surrounding it. Little tidbits like the main character mumbling to himself and retching when he's drunk, or fighting back bile while rolling an enormous ball of poo really make a difference in the experience, and are things I wish more games took the time to incorporate. It even pushes the system's notably lacking audio functionality to the limits, incorporating what could for all intents and purposes be mistaken a s 5.1 surround sound at times. You'll hear bullets whiz past your ear when you're fighting your way through the D-Day invasion, and birds chirping behind your back when you're at home. All things considered, the sound is probably the only part of this game that doesn't seem to have been rushed out the door. It's surprisingly solid.
When push comes to shove, there's really only one thing you can create with the ingredients provided by Conker's Bad Fur Day, and that's disappointment. There's no question in my mind this game needed another couple months of production before it was ready to ship, and looking back it should be regarded as the poster boy for the N64's lifespan. So much promise, so much potential, but filled with rudimentary flaws and an altogether annoying atmosphere. This game wasn't created to entertain and enamor so much as it was to annoy, frustrate and defeat. It's a few shining moments of true humor shuffled in with handfuls of forced, stupid comedy and basically the antithesis of what Nintendo needed at the time. I should note that I have yet to try out the multiplayer portion of the title, but can't fathom how even a flawless multiplayer experience could save this pile of crap. Anyone rating this higher than "poor" is out of their gourd.
On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4.1