Let me take you back to the 90’s. Technology was fast advancing, you couldn’t buy a computer without it being obsolete immediately, and everyone in the gaming arena was trying to one-up eachother, be it by graphics, sound, or technology. Enter a company by the name of Rareware, known around this time for their graphical powerhouses Killer Instinct and Donkey Kong Country (which utilized pre-rendered graphics). They made games on the NES, sure, but they weren’t that well known here in the states. (I actually played Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll as a kid. Anyone else? No?) However, during the SNES is where they really caught their stride. And then when the N64 came in, their hot streak continued. Lest we all forget all those excellent matches in 007 GoldenEye at our friends houses, not possible if it weren’t for Rare. Rare was amazing at taking a genre they hadn’t done before and conquering it. They did it with GoldenEye, they did it with Killer Instinct, they did it with Banjo Kazooie. But you’ve heard all this before; I hardly need to sing Rare’s praises (especially on a retro video gaming site), so let’s talk about my favorite Rareware title. Maybe not as groundbreaking as their other works, this game is Conker’s Bad Fur Day.
First and foremost, let me say that Conker is a technical marvel on the Nintendo 64. Conker has some of the best graphics on the system, and has large lush environments with no fog. FPS drops are not as apparent as, say, Perfect Dark, but do crop now and again. The game contains fully voiced cutscenes with animated mouths! Keep in mind this is the N64 we’re talking about. Even Metal Gear Solid on the PS1 had to settle with no faces and bobbing heads. Also of note is that this game does not require the expansion pak (an addon that gives the N64 more RAM to work with), as was the case with Donkey Kong 64.
Aesthetically Conker does a lot to impress me. All the environments are full of nice use of color, and are always very interesting to look at. The textures get kinda crunched and blurry, but this is an N64 game, so I can excuse it. The environments aren’t all bright and colorful, either. One environment has you in a land of poop! Another plays off of Bram Stroker’s Dracula (the film) and Van Helsing and is very dark and transylvanian. Another takes places in a war, and contains a parody of Saving Private Ryan. Conker himself is bright orange and stands out from the backgrounds quite nicely, so you never lose track of him. All of the character designs are straight out of a collect-a-thon platformer for children, and does a lot to add to the humor. It even does the kiddy platformer trope of personifying almost everything (some of these are even characters in their own right). Flowers can’t just be flowers, they’re flowers with faces and they dance. I love it.
Which brings me to my next point, this game relishes its genre and exploits it beautifully in the name of humor. Inspired by South Park (a fact I didn’t honestly believe until I heard it out of the creator’s mouth), this game goes beyond its genre and gives you some pretty surprisingly dark and gory humor at times. As mentioned before, this game features movie references and parodies, and its the only game I’ve seen do it well. Most games that feature referential humor just have their characters spit out one-liners from some movies (see: Duke Nukem and Bubsy the Bobcat). Conker however goes out of its way to recreate scenes from movies such as Jaws, Saving Private Ryan, The Terminator, A Clockwork Orange but adds in its own cutesy humor. I’m not gonna lie, not everyone will like these, but for me they hit the right note.
Complimenting all this graphical prowess and humor is the music. The music rarely hits a wrong note (no pun intended). The music is always fitting to the place you’re in, or what’s happening on screen. And there’s quite a bit of it too. This is impressive, since back then you could get away with reusing some tracks in multiple places (Super Mario 64 did it, and nobody ever minded). Granted, you will be hearing the main theme song melody throughout the game, especially during the beginning sections. Almost everyone who’s heard of this game knows about the Great Mighty Poo song. It’s just absolutely hilarious in its absurdity. If you haven’t heard it, look it up. I should also note that one of the background tracks contains farting as one of its instruments, seriously.
Now, I realize I seem to be throwing endless praise at this game. This really is one of my favorite games. But I do have to face facts, the gameplay does fall short at some points. The game plays as a pretty standard platformer of the time, with all the issues that go with it. The camera is abysmal, and gets in your way quite a bit. I can’t count the amount of jumps that were ruined by the camera. The game also gets very brutally difficult, in the later stages. It will take some dedication to finish this one. Its nowhere near Ninja Gaiden (NES) levels, though. The game features “context sensitive” pads that will give you different items or ability to go with, well, the current context. I like this idea, since it gives Conker all kinds of things to play with, given the current situation. The game puts him in different environments, so he may as well have different things to do with them.
The story is also nothing much to write home about. It serves to get Conker from place to place, encounter to encounter, and funny event to funny event. It does its job, and you can’t expect much more of it. It does take a turn at the end and ends on a bittersweet note. I won’t spoil it or anything, but the ending was really unexpected. Which is saying something, because it gives you the result at the beginning of the game. Conker the character is sort of an anti-hero. By which I mean, he's the hero undoubtedly, but he's certainly not got a heart of gold. He's greedy, he drinks, and is clearly a bit randy at times. Interestingly, even though other characters do, Conker himself never swears in the game.
Also worth noting is the port to the original Xbox console. Its actually pretty amazing, as it looks a generation ahead of the console its on. It also featured an extensive online multiplayer component, but that’s hardly worth writing home about since the original Xbox Live is gone. Worth noting, however, is that the game’s harsh language is censored, for some reason. They also fixed the camera issues, with it being under your full control with the right analog stick.
All in all, I highly recommend this game. For the more casual player, I’d recommend the xbox version, especially since it works on the Xbox 360. If you’re on the cheap, you can always run the original version in an emulator. For the record, for this review I played a real copy on my N64. Thanks Argus!