Thursday 16 August 2012

Stories in Unlikely Places: Conker's Bad Fur Day

Things change fast around here. One minute we're making platformers about plumbers, the next we're doing high resolution first-person shooters, and then before you know it we're doing platformers again, only different.

Conker's Bad Fur Day both fell foul of that particular fact, and embodied it. One of the very last games to be released on the N64, it looked for all the world like the last of the old guard Nintendo platformers. In 2001 we were beginning to move beyond the cartoon simplicity that had satisfied us for so long - more adult, and lavishly detailed experiences like Silent Hill were drawing audiences away from the Gamecube and toward the PS2 - and Conker languished in the purgatory between hardware cycles. It sold 55,000 copies.

But Conker was a sign of things to come. It played like any other Rare platformer (and, I'd say, was the best of the lot at just that), but it was radically different in tone and style. It was rude. It was self-referential. It took the piss out of games, films and itself in equal measure. In short - it was way ahead of its time.
I is gonna stick my big fork right in your ass!
Were you parents related? Like before they were married?
The game follows Conker who, after a particularly heavy night on the town, winds up on a fateful trajectory that will see him become the King of the Land. While that story sees him do all the usual things - collect keys, jump on bad guys, solve puzzles - his priorities throughout have more in common with those of Animal House than Banjo or Diddy Kong. Conker would fuck those guys up. He might even wave his squirrel bits at them.

Throughout the game you can just feel the guys at Rare letting loose with not only their many years' experience with the genre, but their love for it. Of course, this is also the last cute-animal-platformer Rare released on console (barring re-releases and the construction-focused Nuts & Bolts) and so it's most interesting to observe the criticism of the form that's ever-present in Conker. From keys that refuse to be collected to boss battles that are literally the crappiest part of the game, there was a sense that Rare was looking to what games were going to become rather than what they'd always been content to be. Their switch from Nintendo to Microsoft came one year later.

Looking at the game today, it's not quite as sharp as it once was, because Conker was one of the first AAA games to try to break out from being just the sum of its parts. It suffers because we've gotten so much better at doing that. This said, it's still a game which chooses to, at one point, put a cartoon squirrel in the middle of an animal-based Omaha beach landing. It's still a game where the princess, instead of baking you a cake, calls you on your cell and gives you shit for not coming home, before donning leather and joining you in a Matrix-inspired lobby shootout.

Better, the Xbox remake still looks fantastic. If you've got one in the cupboard / are of an emulation disposition then I'd unconditionally recommend you play it. It's a vital and always entertaining part of history that only 55,000 other people have shared.


  1. It also has an awesome, downbeat ending. Love it to bits.

  2. Don't forget about Live & Reloaded, that's how I ended up playing the game.

  3. Oh, man, I got stuck on the pitckfork / barnyard boss for so long, and died so many times, I ended up raging right out of that game. :P Still, that anecdote served me well with Dr Doak when I interviewed at FRD!

    I think this is the one. I found it infuriatingly difficult!

  4. Yeah, I remember the guy, there were some tough boss fights in that game!