‘Rare Replay’: ‘Conker’s Bad Fur Day’ is unique, hilarious and dated

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Conker’s Bad Fur Day
Developed by Rare
Published by Rare
Available on Nintendo 64, Xbox 360, Xbox One

The gaming scene in the 90s was filled to the brim with company mascots competing for market share in their own platformers, from the days of 16-bit side-scrollers into the birth of the 3D platformer. Calling the market saturated with those titles would be fair, especially because just about all of them were sugary sweet. Super Mario 64’s bright green trees and sunny days were filled with colorful, cutesy characters. At the start of Banjo Kazooie, players were greeted with a happy-go-lucky musical number from a smiling bear on his banjo. Characters like Sonic the Hedgehog had big, wide eyes, squishy noses and a smile.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day had its own adorable little protagonist and its fair share of cheery environments and ditties, but it gleefully covered it all in poop, swearing, drunken stupors, breasts, executions, blood, war, pee, torture devices and so much more.

Game developer Rare, has been making games for thirty years strong for both Nintendo and Microsoft. As one of Rare’s most fascinating efforts, Conker offered what remains possibly the best example of parody in all of video games. It’s a hilarious game and one-of-a-kind, but when it comes to its often frustrating and dull gameplay, it really shows its age.

Most games from that particular era of gaming are hard to play nowadays. The unappealing, jagged, flatly-colored look of early polygonal 3D games doesn’t help matters, but this one isn’t rough because of its visuals. The expressive and sometimes purposefully ugly visuals look just fine. The development of this game took around four years, so Rare was able to make something that really pushed the Nintendo 64 to its limits, offering loads of complex animation, a great deal happening on the screen at once, and big, sprawling environments. It also boasts a ton of varied sound effects and is one of the earliest games on consoles to have such beefy voice-acting, every line spoken by an actor; the quality isn’t gentle on modern ears, but it does bring the game closer to today’s status quo.

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The gameplay is what adds some difficulty to enjoying this classic. It’s not to say that it always plays bad, because that isn’t the case. At times, Conker proves itself competent with pure gameplay, thanks to fine, simple platforming accompanied by healthy interruptions of racing, action, and shooter sections, among other genre diversions.

Many of the tasks boil down to completing monotonous chores, like whenever an NPC asks Conker to give a mouse some cheese, only to ask him to do the same thing many more times. Much worse is whenever the mechanics and controls become frustrating in the latter half of the game. Countless times the player is prompted to pick up an object, sacrificing significant mobility, and bring it across an agonizingly long series of obstacles. Screw up and it’s a long trek back to the beginning to pick up another object and try again; because of the lack of precision evident in the controls, that’s bound to happen plenty.

These design choices may very well have been done with the strong intention of extending the length of the game, as even its approximately 15 hour length, as hard as it may be to believe today, was subject to criticism back in the day. It seems like the only thing holding IGN’s Matt Cassamassina back from giving the game a perfect ten back in the day was the game’s short length. Nowadays, it’s understood that newer examples of more refined, fluff-free gameplay are evidence enough that Conker’s gameplay is generally best left in the past.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day is still a game worth playing, however, and something that is truly special. Within the context of its time, Rare was remarkably ballsy to put a game out like this at the time. They didn’t just fart out a dirty little cartridge, but used the idea of a raunchy parody of mascot platformers and ran with it. Conker’s offers a story filled with creativity, loads of humor, and fun references to films as mainstream as Terminator to as geeky as A Clockwork Orange. It is clear that this game’s creators freaking love storytelling.

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There is just so much joy to each of this games’ ridiculous set pieces and areas, from the filthy, swearing hornets, to the beloved singing mound of poop with a special affinity to corn and a special weakness to toilet paper. The boundaries are constantly pushed in this game, always subversively casted against a genuinely cute cartoony aesthetic and done with intelligent nuance like goofy little animations and clever one-liners. Seeing Conker’s eyes open wide as can be with a huge, toothy smile that takes up most of his face after the player gets him drunk is such a riot. With this level of charm, the archaic gameplay can many times be forgiven in the moment.

It is hard to really think of many narrative-focused games that take the silly, cartoon-aesthetic as far as Conker does. Franchises like the Ratchet and Clank series are popular examples of cartoon-style game narrative, but those games are pretty dramatic in tone. Conker himself breaks the fourth wall throughout the game, looking right at the player and saying “this is what I call a platformer” whenever he gets to bounce a pair of breasts.  He also changes shape into anvils and pulls a variety of weird objects out of his seemingly endless pockets. Conker’s Bad Fur Day embraces the nonsensical logic of Looney Toons, with a crazy unfocused story with little to no regard for dramatic story beats.

Thanks to its narrative, Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a one-of-a-kind, special game. While not quite a critique of the bevy of mascot platformers of the time period, this game pokes fun at them with a lot of finesse, resulting in a constantly hilarious experience. While mascot platformers still had a presence after Conker’s release, what with the Playstation 2 era of games like Sly Cooper and Jak and Daxter, and today’s strong relevance of Super Mario, this daring video game just might have released right at the end of the genre’s huge, mass-market reign.

What a way to go out.

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This piece does not cover the multiplayer section of the game. The game was played on the recently released Rare Replay collection, which updated the original game only in resolution. 

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