A Bad Fur Day Indeed.
By Joseph Walter
With all sights set upon this prolific team, "Conker's Bad Fur Day" was set to turn the 3D platformer on its head once more, with an irreverant satire of the genre. And with the parentage that came before it, why would anyone believe otherwise?
Alas, the sad truth is that "Conker's Bad Fur Day," while having absolutely enjoyable aesthetics, comedy and storytelling, fails tremendously in the gameplay department, rendering sequences from unfair to practically unplayable. This is an even worse blow when considering the team's immediate predecessors.
Look up nearly any official review of this game, and it scores nearly perfect across the board. I can easily sympathize, because the change of pace that "Bad Fur Day" brought to the table in 2001, with its taboo humor and charmingly mean-spirited adventures, was likely more than capable of blinding reviewers from its flaws.
The game was not always about big-breasted sunflowers, however.
It started developement as another cutesy 3D-platformer called "Conker's Quest" then "Twelve Tales: Conker 64." Eventually, it somehow morphed its way into "Bad Fur Day," which embraced a full on 17+ "M" Rating, along with the box and opening text of the game clearly pointing out that it is intended for mature audiences only.
From a studio known for its all-ages games, and the knowledge that a cutesy squirrel is the star, these warnings add a certain level of innate shock value to the experience, which gives its already shocking humor even more of a boost. Before this game is done, you'll experience suicide jokes, infanticide, and giant, singing pieces of shit, all played, quite successfully, for laughs. Okay, singing shits are inherently funny, but the others not so much.
Let's start with the positives.
The next scene details that so-called bad fur day's start with Conker being utterly plastered at the local bar, and then deciding he needs to make it back home to his girlfriend, Berri.
From here on out, players are treated to a barely comprehensible and wacky string of misadventures that have no shortage of homages to "The Matrix," "Bram Stoker's Dracula," and even "Saving Private Ryan," which all somehow revolve around a character called the Panther King who simply wants to drink his milk without spilling it.
It's bizarre beyond reproach and hardly ties together, but ends with a poignant and surprisingly unhappy conclusion.
Of course, to tell such a story, a game requires storytellers. We are treated to an almost-always funny script and the voice work of two people, who play almost all the roles in the game. Fully voiced games on the N64 were an absolute rarity, so to have the amount of dialogue and voices in this game is a huge achievement.
Graphically, this is a good looking game. Conker's facial expressions and character model are probably the best of its generation, aside from Mario's floating face on the title screen of "Super Mario 64." The lip-sync for all of the spoken dialogue is also quite impressive. However, while the rest of the graphics are pretty, they feature drab textures and dark colors, so they don't quite compare to the clean vista's and mesmerizing rainbow lighting from "Donkey Kong 64."
Multi-player is a blast, too, with unique asymetrical modes, such as refugees trying to escape while under constant turret and sniper fire, or cavemen trying to steal dinosaur eggs while that very same dinosaur hunts them down, along with traditional deathmatch and other gametypes.
As I already alluded to, the game also contains a legendary boss sequence where an enormous, sentient turd called "The Great Mighty Poo" sings an opera about his "chocolate starfish" and "tag nuts," while you toss toilet paper into his mouth. It's juvenile, yes, but tremendously funny. The accompanying orchesration that plays along to this sequence is also genuinely impressive and catchy.
Unfortunately, that's where the positives end.
It's a blessing that the game's cutscenes are so funny, because everytime they are doled out, you almost forgive the frustrating and dull sequences the game is populated with.
Nearly every task the player performs is a repetitious slog, whether it be "get three pieces of cheese" or "make three cows poop" all with no variation in the proceedings. In the case of the cheese, that means walking the exact same path three times, grabbing a cheese three times, and then slowly walk back to the destination three times. That is, of course, if you don't accidentally drop the cheese, in which case have fun doing it again.
And you'll be doing it a lot. The game has a difficulty level that is uncalled for and entirely unfair. Conker, a squirrel for God's sake, takes fall damage from most drops, even ones that Banjo or Mario would have no trouble with. There are also very few invincibilty frames when in combat. That means if you're getting shot at and are in a bad place, no matter how much health you start with, there is a good chance you're going to be dead, since every time you get up, you're shot right back down. Anti-gravity chocolate, the item that fills your health bar, respawns very quickly, but they never seem to be around in the most frustrating sequences.
Conker's fragility aside, the scenario's are only made worse by the unituitive camera and sluggish gameplay.
The camera is the worst of the "Rare" games, and possibly one of the worst on the entire system. There are moments when you can control the camera, but more where you lack any and all traditional control... often at the most inconvenient of times, including grabbing onto dangling ropes or tricky platforming. That of course, leads to more deaths, and the inconsistent checkpoint system will likely force you to complete your entire fetch quest again.
I was equally surprised by the controls. Aside from awkward implementation (Holding "R" and then using the control to look around, rather than the traditional Up-C), Conker feels great at first. He has a sense of weight and mass, and his "funny helicopter-y tail thing" is a great joy to hover around with. But then we get to the context sensitive pads.
Unlike in Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64, which used a series of button combinations to pull off a variety of moves, Conker eschews all complexity in the form pads emblazened with a "B." Naturally, while upon the pad, press the "B" button and whatever the situation calls for, you'll get an item and a new playstyle. These range from the aforementioned rolls of toilet paper to a slingshot.
Gunplay is even worse off. From the company that brought us the stellar "Perfect Dark," we are treated to woefully unresponsive aiming and mind-numbingly slow reload times. For example, while being attacked by zombies, Conker can only defeat them with a direct headshot. This is fine and good until you are getting swarmed, and although you do finally have a crosshair, the lackadaisical aiming fails to give you the speed and accuracy needed. Couple that with the even slower reload times and you're in for a lot of anger.
Even in levels without the need for headshots, such as storming the Tediz beach, aiming without the R-button's crosshairs is suicide. The camera failures and natively inaccurate shooting make the tight spaces and pop-out swarms of enemies far more annoying than need be.
Even more frustrating is that Rare had a fantastic third-person shooting system from "Jet Force" that would have greatly enhanced the enjoyment of the bad fur day. Reasonably accurate firing from the hip, a swift crosshair, and all around better controls in "Jet Force" make the Conker shooting segments seem like head-scratching de-evolutions.
There are also sequences that start charming, and quickly lead to nearly endless irritaiton. One in particular has Conker drinking from a keg of beer, getting loaded up to urinate profusely on a gaggle of flaming imps. Hilarity ensues for about a minute, until you realize that zipping up or down your pants lasts far too long, and drunk Conker is not very fun to control, all the while the little imps you joyfully pissed upon surround and quickly maul you into yet another death.
The game design is also at fault to some degree, with many objectives being vexxing to even properly locate. When you have garbage controls and a camera locked into place, good luck finding that darkly-colord B-Pad in an area shrouded in shadows in a place you can't see, while you slowly waddle around with a hangover. There are no "a-ha!" moments, only "are you kidding me?"
I get what they were trying to do, and they absolutely succeeded artistically. But on an interactive level, the developers failed. Titles like DK64, Goldeneye, B&K, and JFG have not only aged better, but have superior versions to every gameplay concept that Conker tries to ape.
Normally, I don't advocate watching "Let's Plays" or "movies" of all of a game's cutscenes, but in this case, I strongly recommend it. You'll get all of the best parts of the game, while skipping the many, many redundant frustrations that come from actually playing it.
"Conker's Bad Fur Day" could have been the chosen one, but instead, it ended being the fourth leg on a wobbly table made to hold glasses of milk.
In my ranking system, 5 is the is represnentation of an average game. If we were judging solely on gameplay merits, I'd likely rate "Bad Fur Day" a 3.75 or a 4. However, the artistic and creative triumphs warrant the comparably high 5.
I'm sure such negativity rankles the many people who find "Conker" to be a brilliant masterpiece, which is fine. Opinions are opinions. That said, if this were any other 3D platformer of its time, minus nostalgia, the "Rare" stamp of approval, and all of the hilarity and outrageous gore, I doubt many would have fond memories or hold it in such high regard.
I went into this never having played it before, but fantasizing about it for years. Did I have fun? Yes. But in the end, it wasn't because of the gameplay. It was the genuinely edgy spunk that made this experience almost bearable. And I truly believe that it's that particular element which enhances the memories or experiences with the game.
"Remember that time we had to swim through an extremely dark and frustrating maze under the water with obnoxiously hidden air bubbles while being chased by enormous, chomping mine-things? Man, what a great experience!" said no one ever. Instead, it will always be about the paint can, the paint brush and the pitchfork, or the giant caveman concerned with the size of his bone(r).
And there's nothing wrong with that. It's just important to know how to seperate artistic aesthetic triumphs from good or bad game play. And in this case, "Conker" is a bad game with a great artistic aesthetic.
It can still be enjoyed. It can still be loved. But it's just not as fun to play as it should be.