Conker’s Bad Fur Day was something of a mad experiment in its day. During the years of the N64, developer Rare was in its heyday. With games like Goldeneye 007, Banjo-Kazooie, Diddy Kong Racing, and many other releases on the system, Rare was an almost unparalleled force of gaming quality during the era. But one of their promising N64 titles quickly became obsolete, as Twelve Tales: Conker 64 – a cutesy, animal-filled platformer – was deemed repetitious after the release of Banjo-Kazooie.
It what may have been an extravagant act of spite on the part of Rare and designer Chris Seavor, Conker 64 was completely retooled into a raunchy, profanity-laden, M-rated title called Conker’s Bad Fur Day.
Conker, once a cute, unassuming squirrel who debuted as a member of the Diddy Kong Racing cast, became a swearing, alcoholic jerk, and the cute world he inhabited became riddled in poop jokes, sexual innuendos, and gore.
At a glance, this change might seem like a cheap means for Conker to differentiate itself from Banjo-Kazooie. Thankfully, Rare used the change in tone to the game’s advantage, ultimately mixing up the gameplay experience because of its drastically different nature from its contemporaries. Though not all of its ideas are winners, and certain segments have suffered the same affects of aging as many N64 titles, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, as a whole, is a work of mad genius.
The game begins after a night of binge drinking, and an inebriated Conker – simply trying to find his way home – makes a wrong turn that ultimately takes him to a distant land. Conker then sets out on an adventure with a simple goal in mind: to find his way home and reunite with his girlfriend Berri. But it won’t be so easy, as the ruler of this land, the Panther King, plans to kidnap Conker, as his top scientist has deduced that the red squirrel is exactly the right height to serve as the replacement for a broken table leg, which has given the Panther King grief over countless spilled glasses of milk.
If that setup sounds absurd, it’s only the beginning of it. The entire game takes place over the span of a single day (hence the title). A day that sees Conker encounter increasingly bizarre and offensive situations, and progressively more corrupt characters.
Throughout his adventure, Conker will ride a velociraptor, turn into a vampire, enlist in the military to fight nazi teddy bears, pee on fire demons to put out their flames, bounce on the bosom of a sunflower, and in the game’s most famous moment, Conker does battle against a giant, opera-singing poop monster, to name just a handful of the strange situations the not-so-heroic squirrel finds himself in.
Aside from the consistently offensive material (some of which pushes the boundaries of its M rating), what separates Conker from other platformers of the time is the absence of collectibles. While Mario was chasing Stars and Banjo was nabbing Jiggies, Conker was simply, well, doing stuff. Wads of cash (anthropomorphic dollars who enjoy cursing at Conker) serve as an exclamation point at the end of various objectives, but they are never presented as a collected goal.
Instead, Conker’s Bad Fur Day takes advantage of its offensive situations and daylong timeframe to make the experience feel like a seamless chain of events. There aren’t so much levels as much as there are different connected areas distinguished by their themes (which include barns, battlefields and mountains of poop, as opposed to platforming norms). The game is progressed through arcs in the overall story, as opposed to being advanced through obtaining more golden trinkets.
There are areas in the game, particularly early on, that use more traditional platforming challenges, but the adventure progressively adds new twists and tweaks to the gameplay, which makes for an incredibly varied gaming experience.
The game achieves this mostly through what is humorously referred to as “context sensitive situations.” Instead of giving Conker a robust and expanding moveset like Banjo and Kazooie, he himself is stuck with the basics (running, jumping, gliding, and a basic attack to stun enemies), but by hitting the B button while standing on certain pads or during particular situations, Conker receives exactly what he needs at that moment (hence “context sensitive”). Whether it be a shotgun to shoot some zombie heads, an aspirin to cure a hangover, or a swig of alcohol so he can unzip and extinguish those aforementioned fire demons, it’s all just a matter of pressing B at the appropriate time.
To top it all off, the game is complimented by a memorable musical score by Robin Beanland, and some of the best visuals and presentation in the Nintendo 64’s library. The voice acting is top notch and humorous, and the animations and lip syncing were far ahead of their time. There may not be another N64 title that matches it cinematically.
For those who may feel the ten or so hours it takes to finish the game aren’t enough, Conker’s Bad Fur Day comes equipped with seven different multiplayer modes. Though some of these modes adhere to multiplayer norms (such as “War,” which includes basic death matches and capture the flag modes), others are a bit more unique (the mode titled “Raptor” sees some player’s taking control of the titular dinosaur while others play as cavemen, with the raptors killing the cavemen to feed their young, while the cavemen can find guns to defend themselves in their quest to steal the raptors’ eggs for food). The best multiplayer mode is “Heist,” which sees four color-coded weasels trying to nab a runaway bag of loot while killing their competitors in a spoof on Resevoir Dogs.
The multiplayer modes can be played against AI if you don’t have anyone else around, but for maximum entertainment value you should be playing with a full group of four players (Heist remains pretty fun even against the AI, however).
Unfortunately, not all is good in the world of Conker. Like so many N64 games, the camera controls are far from ideal, and a number of areas in the game are so dark you can’t see what’s right in front of you. Combine those two elements and you have a number of instances of accidental deaths.
Speaking of which, Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a surprisingly difficult game, with certain segments feeling needlessly challenging, and in a few instances, somewhat unfair. Thankfully, checkpoints are plenty, so if you get past one difficult segment, you won’t have to repeat it once you wrap it up. Though I question why the game utilizes a life system (aside from tradition), considering you’ll start back from the same checkpoints whether you lose a single life or get a game over. The only difference is that a game over will take you back to the file select screen, which just seems unnecessary.
Some of the game’s chapters simply aren’t as fun as others, and even overstay their welcome. Some of the later chapters in particular, like the one based around vampires and zombies and the war chapter, feel like they would have been better if they were trimmed short. And some of the changes they make in the gameplay go unexplained to the player, which can be a little jarring with the first few tries.
Perhaps in a bit of a personal gripe, I also found the ending segment a bit disappointing, as it basically writes off most of what had been built up in the story in favor of a few extra movie references and fourth wall-breaking. Yes, the plot is nonsense, but the disregard the ending gives to certain elements still comes off as a letdown.
When all is said and done though, Conker’s Bad Fur Day truly is a game unlike any other. Not only for its irreverent and often obscene personality, but also for its willingness to reinvent itself on a moment’s notice time and time again. Not all of its ideas stick, and age has gotten the better of certain aspects of the game, but what may be the worst day of Conker’s life makes for a strangely captivating video game.