So, now that I took a look at Rare’s first 3D platformer on the Nintendo 64, Banjo-Kazooie, I also want to take a look at their last (and best), Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Beginning life as yet another cutesy collectathon platformer on a console flooded with them, the similarities to previous titles such as Banjo and Donkey Kong 64 prompted the developers to rework the game to make it something more unique. In doing so, you could say they went a little overboard.
What was once a kid-friendly, cartoony game became a raunchy romp, filled to the brim with sex, violence and poop jokes. But aside from the aesthetic change to an M-rated adventure, Conker is also the purest distillation of the Rare formula. It is the magnum opus of their platformers, bringing forth the highest quality of levels, mechanics and characters that we would ever see from Rare, even to this day.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day strips away a lot of the fluff that existed in almost all other Rare platformers. You can’t really call this a collectathon at all, since there is only truly one collectible that you need to find to unlock new areas: cold, hard cash. Instead of drip feeding new moves over the course of the game, Conker gives you your primary skills at the onset in the form of the “context sensitive” pad, which gives you the right skill at the right time. In turn, the game keeps things fresh by absolutely refusing to confine itself to a single game genre or style. One moment, you’re tanked in a nightclub pissing on rock people, and the next you’re hover racing against some punks who stole your money. It’s incredible how Conker morphs from one genre to another without ever losing a drop of its momentum in the process.
So, You Want Some Green Stuff?
Conker is a much more story-driven affair than Banjo-Kazooie, and it is all the better for it. Not that the story is particularly deep here–our hero, Conker, is trying to find his way back home after a particularly heavy night of binge drinking–but where Banjo was funny, Conker is downright hysterical. Without the restrictions an E rating, the writers went absolutely batshit with Conker‘s script, and created one of the weirdest game stories out there. To make things even better, the game features full voice acting, something that was not common in Nintendo 64 games. While the audio quality has aged a bit, the acting itself is as fantastic as ever. Huge props go to Conker himself, whose witty, sarcastic commentary is the source of tons of smiles.
To add to that, the character design is very strong here–from Conker himself to his hey-girl-hey girlfriend Berry, the Panther King and his minions, Greg the Grim Reaper, Birdie the scarecrow and a sentient pile of excrement (More on him later). Rare still has that habit of breathing life into every single object, giving sentience to wads of money, slices of cheese and piles of hay. The level design is also among the most unique in any platformer ever made. Don’t expect your typical archetypal snow, desert and forest levels here. Each level is extremely unique, and has themes that are inspired by the cartoonish tropes of the characters, as well as by spoofing on popular movies such as The Matrix and Alien. Another thing that sets Conker apart is the way that the levels blend together. There is no “beginning” or “end” to each level, they just kind of naturally blend from one to another.
Bring Out the Duct Tape
Controlling Conker is a much simpler affair than most platformers on the Nintendo 64. While most other platformers focused on creating large and diverse movesets, Conker benefits from its simplicity. The only real consistent moves you have are the basic jump and hover move, crouching and using Conker’s current weapon. For most of the game, Conker has a frying pan that can stun enemies. A lot of the time, Conker is pretty defenseless, and the focus is purely on platforming. Other times, the game gives you a gun and injects action into the mix. No matter what the game does, the controls always stay remarkably intuitive to whatever genre the game decides to take on. You have to make some pretty tricky maneuvers and jumps in this game, and thankfully, the game is pretty forgiving. You still have lives here in the form of squirrel tails you can find, but running out only means you get treated to a funny Game Over cutscene and you can restart at the last checkpoint where you left off.
Aside from the game’s varied platforming and action challenges, you’ll also get treated to some fantastic boss fights. Each boss is a cinematic spectacle, and they never fail to leave a huge grin on your face. One in particular is so good, I wouldn’t hesitate to call it one of the best moments in all of gaming history. Anyone who knows anything about this game knows about the Great Mighty Poo. This fight is the culmination of an entire level’s worth of poop jokes. After fighting your way into Poo Mountain, the home of the dung beetles, you face off against a big opera-singing poop monster. This fight is all of the reasons this game is so great on full display: the hilariously ridiculous premise is matched with intense gameplay, spectacular visual flair and fantastic music, creating a truly one-of-a-kind experience.
As if this wasn’t enough, Conker also has a surprisingly deep multiplayer mode. There are seven different game modes, based off of elements of the game’s story. There are, of course, equivalents to Capture the Flag, as well as your obligatory Team Deathmatch mode. The multiplayer shines is when it gets creative, such in Heist, Raptor, and the insane Beach mode. The only weaker one of the bunch is the Racing game, which is unfortunately limited to a single map. While it may be difficult to find nowadays, this game is still a fantastic, if a bit chaotic, alternative to GoldenEye 007. While you are free to play against bots, the true fun is in playing with real friends.
Now This Is What I Call A Platform Game
Aside from a remake for the original Xbox, an add-on for the ill-fated Project Spark and a weird upcoming Microsoft HoloLens game, the Conker license has been criminally underutilized after Rare’s purchase by Microsoft, and the game still has not had a proper follow-up. But when you think about it–where do you even go from here? Conker’s Bad Fur Day is gaming perfection. Like all of Rare’s best games, it just radiates creativity and joy from every corner, but this time, it also has the touch of game developers who have been around the block a few times, and are actively trying to maximize the fun and remove all traces of tedium.
I would say that this is the game that I immediately think of when I talk about “back in Rare’s golden years.” This is the game that I wish modern platformers would try to emulate. Not necessarily in its totally unhinged tone, but in its confidence to do whatever the hell it wants at any moment in time. This game is good and it knows it, making it dazzle you that much more when it succeeds at everything it sets out to do. It takes you out for a ride, and by the end, you’ll be as dazed and confused as Conker is in this game’s opening moments. All you will know for sure is that you had one hell of a good time.
- Hysterical characters, locations and dialogue. This game is legitimately hilarious.
- The game is packed with challenging platforming puzzles.
- Conker is easily the best looking Nintendo 64 game, pushing the system to its very limits.
- The boss fights are spectacular, offering an equal amount of visual spectacle and gameplay challenge.
- The music is amazing and catchy. Additionally, it adapts to your location in a similar manner to Banjo-Kazooie.
- The camera works flawlessly and is a huge improvement on other platformers on the system.
- The sound design is fantastic, from the great voice acting to each… fart noise.
- Switches from genre to genre while succeeding at everything it attempts. The game manages to stay fun as a racer, a platformer and a shooter.
- The diverse and hectic multiplayer mode is a ton of fun if you can get some friends together for it.
- That bittersweet ending.