Nintendo’s brand is, rightfully so, associated with family-friendly entertainment in the minds of most people. Although the company does occasionally partake in the either development or the publishing of games with slightly more adult content, the inclination towards colorful characters and light-hearted scenarios runs deep within the vein of its developers and producers.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day – released more than a decade ago on the Nintendo 64 and produced by Rareware during its incomparable mid-90s and early-00s streak – is one of those games that carries the Big N’s stamp but walks right over the line drawn between fun-for-everyone and a darker side of the gaming alley.
In fact, stating that the adventure merely “crosses” that boundary is rather tame – not to mention glaringly unfair. A far more appropriate description would be that it actually pisses right on top of that border, blurring the frontier of what is acceptable and what is borderline offensive. Then, in its attempt to pick on which side of the street it is going to stand, it drunkenly stumbles, falls on its face, and proceeds to throw up all over itself when trying to get up.
From that point on, the game just loses control of where it is morally headed, and spends the next twelve hours of gameplay producing reactions of disgust, joy, horror, incredulity, and laughter that is – at the same time – both childish and honest.
The game starts with the titular character sitting on a throne and donning a crown. He, in a disturbed and deep tone, claims to be king of the world. However, those royal objects could mean something else altogether. Conker’s Bad Fur Day was, at the time of its release, the king of disrespectful games. Thirteen years later, it has barely had its abusive glory challenged.
Sure, games with bad words and questionable content are released monthly, but absolutely none of them are able to match Conker’s journey. Perhaps the game’s British background – Rare’s headquarters are in the United Kingdom – gave its outrageous manner a dryness that made it more low-key and sharp while keeping it on-the-nose. It pulls all that off with uncanny brilliancy, and fills the voids in between its moral insanity with gameplay segments that often turn towards the unexpected.
Considering the crude nature of the package, it is delightfully ironic that – as one kicks off the adventure – the first name they are faced with is “Nintendo”. Conker’s Bad Fur Day has a cinematographic quality to it, and it acknowledges that fact from the get go by opening its travails with movie-like credits that expose the name of its publisher with a “Presented by Nintendo” projection, only to then mention its developer.
It is the gaming equivalent of going to the cinema, watching the traditional Walt Disney Pictures castle intro, and subsequently being treated to a flick full of profanities, gore, terror, and sex. The audience will likely wonder if they walked into the wrong room, or if the movie’s operator has gone mad. But no, Conker’s Bad Fur Day is the right movie reel; the operator is not a psycho. It is just that the project’s backer has just, delightfully, temporarily lost its mind.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day is so fully aware of the entertaining value of its putrid spirit that it builds its journey around cutscenes, which explains its cinema vibe. There are literally hundreds of them, each depicting situations that are increasingly absurd. Not one to lose an opportunity to ridicule someone, the game embraces those occasions to mock a range of movies with either unsuspecting quotes or full-fledged satirical reproductions of major scenes. The icing on the cake is the voice acting – a grand achievement for the era, which is present throughout the game and adds a lot of life to the whole thing.
The game’s flood of indecency is exacerbated by its look. Conker is, unquestionably, a cuddly squirrel; one whose plush would cause most girls’ brains to go into some state of inertia. Although most of the other characters he encounters do not have such adorable lines – the secondary designs are intentionally rough – this world is happily colorful. Yes, there might be a hill made of rolling poop in the midst of the game’s generally vibrant hub, but the palette used here is not one people tend to relate with mutilations, degenerate vocabulary, and various forms of murder.
Despite the fame he has garnered since the title’s release, Conker is initially relatively mild-mannered. His starting sin is pretty common: going out with friends and getting a bit too drunk. The same applies to his journey, as he sets out not meaning to harm anyone: he just wants to get home safely. It is true he does like money quite a bit (who doesn’t?), but other than his greed, he begins the game as a straightforward guy.
The problem is that, as he tries to go back to the safety of his place, he encounters situations and characters that are dirty, corrupt, and borderline evil. To make matters worse, he suddenly finds himself as the target of an evil panther king who, in a ridiculously specific turn of events, needs a red squirrel in order to fix the broken table on top of which he rests his glass of milk. The hero, then, has to go back home and contend with the horror of being perpetually turned into the feet of a coffee table.
His interactions with the outside world are not neutral. He expresses his disgust towards some of the cursing, is loathe to perform some of the tasks he is required to do, and even defends a silly pitchfork against the can of paint bully. However, as the titular bad fur day goes on, he becomes less sensitive: he does not mind butchering a few cows after they are done pooping, he explodes an entire prehistorical civilization, helps a vampire in the murdering of some villagers, and mercilessly crushes a newly born dinosaur that sees Conker as his motherly figure. Little by little, he loses touch with what is right and wrong.
It all culminates on the “Its War!” segment, when – after going through hours of psychologically harmful activities – he needs to face a brutally gruesome conflict that pitches gray squirrels against nightmarishly evil teddy bears manufactured by a mad scientist. He is certainly not innocent, for he displays the ability to sarcastically get out of tough situations when the game begins. However, the psychotic demeanor he comes to display can be explained by a disturbing series of occurrences that have him dealing with everything from an opera-singing pile of excrement to the weasel mob.
After thirteen years out in the world, Conker’s Bad Fur Day shows some wrinkles – even if its visuals still work fantastically well. However, the game remains astounding due to two factors: its unique structure and the unpredictability of its gameplay. Its non-explicit subdivision into chapters that are tied into one overworld gives the game a unique flow when compared to other titles of its time: the adventure does feel like a series of crazy events that happen across a day.
All of the scenarios in which Conker finds himself are so far-fetched and unexpected that the end of each segment brings a feeling of wonder in relation to what is coming next. More orthodox platforming segments might be followed by transforming into a bat, singing up for a lava-surfing race, riding on top of a dinosaur, pissing all over a night club, helping a bee pollinate a busty flower, massacring enemies with a machine gun, avoiding deadly bazooka blasts, or being thrown in the middle of a heist that includes Matrix-like moves. It is hard to know what is coming.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a wild trip into a vortex of madness and stinking morality and it is so utterly over-the-top that its finest moments are eternally imprinted into the minds of those who play it. Conker’s psychological downward spiral was legendary then, and it remains legendary now. It is unethical fireworks against a naïve white backdrop, and its depraved ways have yet to be matched.
He begins his day as an average Joe seeking a path home, and – twenty-four hours later – he sits, with his mind annihilated, on a throne ruling over everything that is foul and rotten. It is a hell of a journey.