A Review 16 Years in the Making
Similar to Banjo-Tooie (Rare, 2000), Conker’s Bad Fur Day (Rare, 2001) is an action-platformer originally released near the end of the Nintendo 64’s lifespan that I had planned on picking up back when it first came out but, due to a combination of having no money and other priorities at the time, I was never able to. I remember borrowing a copy and briefly playing it but nothing concrete; since then, I had trawled Amazon and eBay to try and find a copy, only to find it reaching extortionate prices as one of the rarest and most expensive Nintendo 64 titles even in an unboxed state.
In 2005, Microsoft released a prettied-up remake for the Xbox 360 which I planned to get once I bought the Xbox One. Luckily for me, however, the title was including in the Rare Replay (Microsoft Studios/Rare, 2015) collection and, after sixteen years of waiting and anticipation, I was finally able to play this elusive title with high hopes of an experience comparable to that of its predecessors, Banjo-Kazooie (Rare, 1998) and Banjo-Tooie.
Boy, was I disappointed.
In Conker’s Bad Fur Day, you assume control of an anthropomorphic, beer-drinking red squirrel named Conker who, after a particularly bad night of drinking and debauchery, attempts to stumble home to his girlfriend, Berri. However, the Panther King’s side table is missing a leg and his lackey, Professor Von Kriplesac, suggests using a red squirrel as a substitute; thus, Conker is not only beset by the Panther King’s minions but also a series of increasingly daft missions and side quests, and the search for wads of cash that are dotted about the land.
Although the overworld and scope of the game feels smaller than Banjo-Tooie, the concept is similar; Conker traverses a large overworld, which provides access to a number of sub-worlds, in which he must complete a number of side quests and missions to be awarded with cash. Once Conker has accumulated enough cash, he can access other worlds and the game expands further. Each world allows Conker to perform new actions and afford him different abilities, but he cannot carry these over into another world (for instance, in one world, Conker wields a shotgun to dispatch zombies, but he cannot use this weapon in the overworld or in other areas). There are also numerous times throughout the game when Conker can utilise a context-sensitive pad to open up new areas or reach the ever-elusive cash.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day utilises a life system, which is a bit of a step back from Banjo-Tooie, which gave the player unlimited lives. Conker has to grab squirrel tails in order to gain extra tries at beating the game but, once they run out, it’s game over and you have to start again from the last save point. Conker’s health is measured in segments of chocolate, which can be found dotted around every level of the game. However, this is where the game’s most glaring issue lies; Conker is probably the weakest videogame protagonist ever. Conker takes damage when he falls from anything higher than a couple of steps (meaning that a fall from a great height will result in instant death more often than not), chocolate segments are few and far between, and there’s no way to expand or enhance his life bar. There are numerous times when Conker either takes double damage or dies instantly from one shot, making the game feel very cheap and frustrating as it’s not so much a question of player skill and more the fact that Conker is so incredibly weak, especially compared to Banjo and Kazooie.
Conker’s basic controls are fluid and smooth; Conker runs, jumps, swims, and can hover in the air by spinning his tail like a helicopter all with the same grace and poise you expect from a Rare title. Conker’s main enemies whenever he is performing these basic platforming actions are the camera, which swings around wildly and is oddly intrusive, and the fact that Conker can easily slip from paths and walkways; without the ability to grab ledges, it’s far too easy to fall to your doom.
However, it’s when you gain access to his additional abilities where the game’s flaws begin to really rear their head. When Conker receives the aforementioned shotgun, you have a choice between using it from a third-person perspective (which makes it difficult to aim) or from a first-person viewpoint (where the controls are reversed, slow, and clunky). Similar to the forced first-person shooting segments from Banjo-Tooie, any time Conker has to use guns really brings the game down and makes for some of the most frustrating parts of the game; Conker reloads too slowly, has terrible aim, and the shooting is annoyingly bad from a company that perfected first-person shooting in GoldenEye 007 (Rare, 1997) and utilised a far better third-person shooting mechanic in Jet Force Gemini (Rare, 1999). Honesty, I expected much better from Rare after they proved they can do first- and third-person shooting and action platforming a lot better in their previous titles. The fact that all these elements are so poorly implemented in this game really makes it difficult to play through and to enjoy.
However, Conker’s Bad Fur Day has many elements that are enjoyable; the game looks and sounds amazing, with some of the wackiest and strangest anthropomorphic characters you’ll ever encounter (Conker encounters a talking pot of paint, an opera-singing giant turd, mafia weasels, and battles a Xenomorph, amongst other things). Heading into this game, I was fully aware of its mature content; blood bursts from enemies as they are blown apart, characters swear every other word, and the game definitely isn’t taking itself seriously at all. To my surprise, Conker isn’t actually the foul-mouthed character I expected heading into the game; he’s a drunkard (the opening moments have you controlling him as he stumbles about and pees everywhere) and a greedy little git (he attacks wads of cash with a frying pain and stuffs them down his shorts with reckless abandon) but it’s actually the other characters he meets that swear and provide most of the mature content.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day is also, to its detriment, an oxymoron; the game has a lot of variety but also way too much repetition. So, one minute you might be gunning down wasps, rolling balls of poo into a giant turd mountain, or retrieving objects to fulfil your missions but you can guarantee that if you have to do these things once you’ll have to do them again, anywhere from three to five times. It gets extremely frustrating to have to repeat these actions so many times, especially while fighting the controls; for example, in the first level, Conker has to find some cheese for a mouse. You have to find three pieces of cheese and each one has to be collected separately and also find five bees to pollinate a sunflower (which you later have to use to bounce to a wad of cash but good luck getting the timing of the bouncing right and, when you do get the timing right, the controls fight you so you miss the ledge and fall from a height high enough to cause you significant damage!)
Similarly, there’s a part where you have to scare some cows into pooping to access a new area. To do this, you have to trick a bull into hitting a target, jump on the bull, and scare the cow. Once it’s pooped, you kill the cow and another waddles out, and you have to repeat this again twice more. There’s an even worse task in the Rock Solid disco. Conker has to get drunk, stagger around, and pee on a rock monster so it turns into a ball, then roll it into an opening. You then have to roll it along a narrow path, hope you don’t fall off, and onto a switch to rescue Berri. You then have to do this twice more and, if you don’t get enough pee on the rock monsters, they pop up and attack you. Things like this are so incredibly tedious and laborious tasks that get old and frustrating very quickly.
Later on, Conker gets transformed into a vampire bat and must poop on some villages to stun them and then carry them to a meat grinder. The controls make all this extremely difficult and annoying to pull off, especially considering how often you have to repeat the task. Things only get worse in the It’s War! Chapter; in a parody of Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg, 1998), Conker joins the war against the Nazi-like Tediz. While this makes for some of the game’s most amusing and controversial moments, it is also host to easily the absolute worst part of not only this game, but maybe any game I’ve ever played. After defeating the boss, Conker has a limited time to navigate through tight corridors full of laser trip wires; if you touch the wires, explosives go off and cost Conker at least two pieces of health. At various points, Tediz will also attack Conker with bayonets, forcing you to switch to the awkward first- or third-person shooting perspectives to attack them. Once you make it through these obstacles, though, you get locked in a room full of Tediz who start shooting at you; you get about two seconds to whip out a bazooka before you’re blown to pieces. The only way to succeed is to try and try and try again and again to master the trip wires and the Tediz in the corridor so you get through flawlessly and have all of your health for this final shoot-out to give you a gnat’s wing of a chance to positioning yourself properly to shoot all the Tediz. There’s no health in this areas, no chance for error, oh, and, also, if you shoot your bazooka too haphazardly then you’ll blow yourself up!
However, for every bad part of the game, there are positives; the boss battles are amusing and interesting, the worlds are full of life an activity (although there’s far less to collect than in the Banjo games), and the storyline is very funny and tongue-in-cheek. Ironically, though, the final area and final boss is perhaps the easiest part of the game. In a shocking twist, Berri is killed before Conker’s eyes and a Xenomorph bursts out of the Panther King. Conker has to (clunkily) beat the Xenomorph down and then throw it into an airlock (three times, naturally…). As the Xenomorphs moves in for the kill, the game locks up; Conker breaks the forth wall to get the programmers to help him out and wins the day, but forgets to get Berri brought back to life. Conker ends up being crowned the new king and sits, disenchanted and annoyed, surrounded by the characters he has helped out throughout his little quest (all of whom he hates).
Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a beautiful and challenging game…but it’s so damn frustrating and annoying! I don’t mind a challenge but this game takes it to another level! There is absolutely no hand-holding and no quarter given; this would be fine if the controls and camera didn’t work against you all the time and if Conker wasn’t so weak. I wouldn’t mind repeating some of the tasks you have to do if they were actually fun by the third time; once, maybe, but having to repeat some many laborious tasks really gets annoying very quickly. The boss battles are all multi-layered and challenging, though a lot easier than the platforming and puzzle-solving aspects of the game. The humour is crude, rude, and hilarious at certain points; it’s obvious that Rare were having a lot of fun just pushing the envelope and doing whatever they wanted in this title.
However, it also feels like they’re openly mocking the player and purposely implanting terrible gameplay mechanics; that must be the case as I know they can do better action platformers, better first person shooters, and better third person shooters. The game also has a tacked on multi-player component which involves these shooting aspects, however I’ve not played it and have no urge to given how bad the controls are for these parts of the game.
And that’s the summary of it all, really; I have no urge or desire to ever play this game again, and that’s really disappointing to me. I loved the Banjo games and everything they did; I love a good, bright, fun action platformer and I’m all for variety and trying now things…but this game just has far too many negative points for me to ever hold it in as high regard as I do Banjo-Kazooie or even Banjo-Tooie, which is a massive personal disappointment for me.