Its heart might be clouded by too much alcohol, but its intentions are good and they materialize almost perfectly
Conker’s Bad Fur Day is an appropriate title for the cute squirrel’s grand adventure on the Nintendo 64. However, depicting a full twenty-four hours in the life of the visually lovable character, the game could have easily opted to borrow the label of the literary work “A Series of Unfortunate Events”. What starts out as a simple night out with some friends, quickly unravels into an unfathomable sequence of outrageous occurrences that, not satisfied with frequently crossing the line of what is morally decent, seeks to entertain through sheer offensive spectacle. And almost everything about it is so wonderfully done that anyone who has the capacity to stomach the title’s madness will to oblige it.
The partying takes a wilder turn than expected, and Conker – who wisely phones his girlfriend, Berri – decides to stay a little longer. After drinking himself to total drunkenness overnight, he stumbles out of the shady bar with one clear goal in mind: going back home; that is, if he can remember which path to follow. From that point on, and having to deal with a character that totters and punctually stops to throw up as he walks, players must lead the way.
Eventually, Conker takes an aspirin and rids himself of his shameful state, but that does not stop the game from taking turns that are completely absurd. While the squirrel becomes sober, the software itself never recovers from its inebriated condition; it gets progressively more insane with each passing segment, and it is not ashamed to throw profanities, obvious sexual innuendos, and flashy brutality on the screen.
What truly sets Conker’s Bad Fur Day apart from the many great platformers that had the Nintendo 64 as their home, other than its M-rated label (which does not seem to be a category high enough to envelop all of its content), is its progression. Where Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, and Donkey Kong 64 were neatly segregated into a hub and multiple worlds, Conker’s Bad Fur Day goes for a looser approach: the game’s setting feels like a seamless junction of different scenarios on which the absurdity takes place.
Such structure plays right into the hands of the idea that the journey occurs during an uninterrupted one-day timespan. It feels like everything is a solid succession of tasks and activities Conker must do to either please the creatures he bumps into or escape the evil plans of those who seek his destruction. It is a relentless string of deeds that get more unpredictable and lunatic by the second.
On his way home, besides having to cope with his geographic amnesia, Conker ends up as the target of the evil Panther King: the ruler of the land who, advised by his highly intelligent scientist minion, is on a desperate search for a red squirrel, an animal whose size is just perfect to serve as the repairing piece of the broken leg of his coffee table (such is the ludicrous nature of the game). Consequently, the variety of situations the unheroic protagonist has to get out of is flooring.
That fact generates gameplay opportunities that are wide-ranging, and Rare takes full advantage of it to build a game that never touches on the same ground more than once, keeping players pleased with a constant stream of unforeseeable turns. Conker will surf on lava, ride on dinosaurs, swim in poop, participate on a twisted rodeo, almost annihilate a civilization, go to an atrocious and extremely entertaining war, find himself in the midst of a horror story that includes zombies and a vampire, and much more.
Although some of the segments are not that fun, a few specific ones, in particular, feel more like chores than interesting challenges, the game is a victory in the sense of having the players’ brains fully intrigued by what is coming next. Its set of experiments in gameplay (which even feature a few more traditional platforming tests) is commendable even if it sometimes misses the mark.
Another factor that greatly contributes to the game’s sense of continuity, is its cinematic quality – which, as far as the Nintendo 64 goes, is completely unparalleled. From its very first second, where both Rare and Nintendo’s logos are displayed as if they were part of the opening credits of a movie, to the various clever spoofs of landmark films that populate the game, and its impressive dialogues that are fully voice-acted, Conker’s Bad Fur Day feels and plays like a scatological movie that encompasses ridiculous circumstances.
It is, by all means, a great technical achievement that extends way past cinematography. The game, whose cuddly look and colorful whimsical world would be right at home on a child-oriented effort, is one of the system’s best-looking works. Its visuals are incredibly smooth and run perfectly well, but most important than that is the fact its art style is so finely tuned that it is able to embrace romantic lush environments, terrifying locations, disgusting effects, and high levels of gore and put them all under the same cohesive umbrella. If Conker’s Bad Fur Day did not exist, it would not be absurd to label the blending of such an heterogeneous mixture as impossible.
By itself, the game’s main quest does not hold enormous amounts of value in spite of its greatness: it all rounds up to something between eight and ten hours of gameplay. That short length can mostly be attributed to the lack of anything resembling a collectible, which is something that will definitely please those who are annoyed by the collectathon nature of most platformers of the era.
However, Rare was smart enough to develop a very fun multiplayer mode that packs quite a punch. With a whopping seven modes that carry a great deal of variety, the game more than delivers on that front.
In addition to the traditional free-for-all warring and an entertaining capture-the-flag, the multiplayer offers: Heist, where players – as weasels – must compete to catch and store fleeing bags of money; Raptor, where cavemen raid the nest of a violent tyrannosaurus; Beach, which features war refugees trying to find their way into a military base overrun by devilish teddy bears, who must protect it at all costs; and the self-explaining lava-surfing Race, and the chemical war of Tank.
Due to the many possible configurations each mode allows, not to mention the fact some of them can be played from very distinct perspectives, the multiplayer can more than double the time one spends with the game. And when four friends are gathered, it is a guaranteed blast.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day is, then, able to stand out from its peers not only because of its obscene content and propensity to go far beyond what is morally clean, but also because of its many prowesses. It is an impressive work that displays great attention to detail and that dares to step outside the gameplay bones of its generational counterparts. Even though it is frequently remembered for being dirty to strong degrees, its colorful surface hides qualities that go far beyond excrement, blood, and beeps censuring bad words. Its heart might be clouded by too much alcohol, but its intentions are good, and it is able to fulfill them; even if it sometimes stumbles and vomits along the way.