I'm beginning to worry that video gaming has changed into something that I may never be able to adjust to. Although I'm a fan of sidescrollers and oldschool RPGs at heart, there have been a select number of 3D games I've enjoyed (Super Mario 64, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Banjo-Kazooie come to mind.) When I heard people praising Conker's Bad Fur Day, especially those who claimed they never liked a 3D platformer before, I was excited. After being thoroughly depressed from playing the 3DO version of Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller, I was hoping for something that would lift my spirits. I knew that one of Conker's selling points was its surplus amounts of South Park-style humor (though I'm not really a fan of South Park, but never mind.) The problem is that I did not find Conker to be particularly funny, nor fun.
While not a "collect-a-thon", the tasks performed in the early parts of Conker are not so much different from what you might do to earn stars in Super Mario 64 or jigsaw pieces in Banjo-Kazooie. The game starts out suspiciously like a run-of-the-mill 3D platformer, complete with a "hub" and several paths branching off into areas where multiple quests must be completed. Conker is, essentially, a Banjo-Kazooie-style platformer shoved into the mold of Metal Gear Solid, where each task performed in each stage has little to no relation to the tasks performed in the previous stage(s). It is like a bunch of mini-games strung together, masquerading as an action-platformer. This is because we are living in an age where it's perceived that the more unique actions a game is comprised of, the "deeper" it is, as opposed to a game's design getting the most out of only a few available actions. While I won't argue that a game of such type could not be done well, I don't think Conker is, mostly because the challenges of its sequences are primarily derived from awkward controls and poor camera angles.
Performing even simple tasks in this game can be needlessly difficult. Swimming is even harder here than it was in Banjo, and more often than not, you can't even center the camera behind Conker while he's underwater. When you jump, Conker's shadow disappears, so you can't tell exactly where he's going to land, and he falls a ridiculously short distance before taking damage. When leaping to ropes, it's hard to tell exactly where they are in relationship to you in 3D space, and it's tricky to make Conker jump off a rope in the direction you actually intended to go.
Oftentimes the camera angle you're given is not the best one, and there's no way to change it. Many areas would be so much easier if you could fix the camera behind Conker so you could see if you were lined up with narrow platforms when you try to cross them, or with ropes when you jump to them. But no dice. You can momentarily switch the camera around your back while in "looking around" view, but once you stop looking, the camera swivels back to its fixed position. Another camera problem occurs in the caveman arena battle. Whenever I'd get knocked off the dinosaur, I had a really hard time finding the "B" floorplate because the camera would swing in so close that I could only see the part of the arena floor that's immediately around me. Since the floor is huge and it all looks alike, I had no idea which way to run to find the "B". By the time Conker's Bad Fur Day was released, camera problems like this should have been extinct.
Conker adheres very profoundly to the "rule of three", meaning that you're required to repeat every action at least three times before you can move onto something else. Sometimes, you were forced to repeat actions in older 3D-platformers, but there was usually a reason for it. In one part of Banjo-Kazooie, you had to swim through several sets of underwater hoops, the point being that you had to be a good swimmer to do it. In Conker, what is the point of taking the cheese to the rat three times in a row, or dumping so many villagers into the grinder? After the first one, it doesn't get any harder, and you have nothing more to learn from it. In another sequence, you have to climb ropes and walk across narrow platforms in a clock tower to reach the top. You perform a routine of leap to rope, climb rope, walk very slowly across narrow platform, fry a bat, leap to next rope, rinse and repeat. Walking very slowly like that, only to fall and have to start all over again is not my idea of fun.
I'm unsure of what to think of the game's challenge. I admire that Rare wasn't afraid to challenge players, as some parts are very, very difficult. But I'm not sure the challenge comes from good game design so much as little irritants like the camera problems and awkward controls. Take, for example, the part where you're escaping from the evil teddy bears' (Tediz) fortress. You run through gates, then stop to shoot bazooka-wielding Tediz along the way. You must know ahead of time where to stop, because if you wait for the Tediz to be in sight, you won't have enough time to kill them. When you stop and draw your weapon, it takes several seconds for Conker to get it ready, and Conker never aims it straight in front of himself. You have to manually move the crosshairs to where the Tediz are, and the camera turns very slowly. If you miss, there's a huge delay before you can fire again. (And you can't run with the weapon because it's heavy and slows you down.) In 3-D space, it's very difficult to tell exactly where you need to be, and if you're not exactly where you need to be, the Tediz will blow you up before you can blink.
Another major issue with Conker is that it lacks structure of any kind. There is no clue as to what you should be doing, when you should be doing it, or why. The premise is that, after wandering out of his favorite tavern and waking up drunk, Conker the Squirrel wants to find his way home. But Conker never appears to actually be going anywhere. Why does he not just go home? He runs around, performing all these chores, and then keeps ending up back at the "hub" area. Is he lost and trying to find his way? There is absolutely no motivation for Conker to enter the "war" chapter at all. It's obvious he does not want to go to war and it's not a way home, so why does he do it? I realize the purpose of this game is not to tell a definitive story, but without some sense of purpose, I felt little motivation to complete the tasks, as though nothing were at stake if I didn't. Conker is also completely unaware of the (non-entity) villains who are out to get him, so the level of conflict is nil. There is, however, one possible Wizard of Oz-like interpretation of the plot that could account for all of this (hint: notice how the "people" sitting around the bar in the beginning and ending sequences all become "characters" in the game), but by the time I realized that, it was far too late for it to affect how I already felt.
Most of the humor takes the form of movie parodies, such as Terminator, Alien, Saving Private Ryan, The Matrix, The Untouchables, and many more. The Matrix spoof is particularly well done, right down to Conker in a black trenchcoat doing Neo's ripple bullet-dodging move. The Saving Private Ryan spoof makes me wonder what kind of emotional effect something like that could've had in a more serious game. But most of these parodies aren't really funny because they either come out of nowhere (why is there an Exorcist spoof in the middle of the war chapter!?) or there is no punchline. The dialogue in the Bram Stoker's Dracula segment, for example, goes on and on and on, and there are no real jokes. It's essentially just characters quoting a movie, which is neither funny nor entertaining. When Conker meets the weasel mafia family, they immediately do an Untouchables parody, but it's not funny because we don't know anything about the weasels. There's nothing leading up to this scene, it's just dangling out there.
The rest of the humor, consisting largely of bodily functions, swearing, bloody gore, and innuendos, strikes me as something only really little kids would find funny. I'm not offended by their inclusion in this game, but it does disturb me that they were censored in games that used them more artistically. Do the censors really see things in such black and white? As if it's okay to have such content in a pointless game, but anything with actual meaning has to be wiped squeaky-clean. Conker, himself, gives off creepy vibes. Sometimes, his dialogue eerily, yet unintentionally, reflected my thoughts on what was happening ("This gig gets worse by the minute!"). And the idea of evil teddy bears is such an overbearing cliché, that I didn't know whether to feel annoyed or bored with it.
Perhaps nowhere is this game's uninspired nature more glaring than in its boss battles. I complained that Banjo-Kazooie didn't have enough boss fights. That may be true, but the Gruntilda battle in that game blows away every boss fight in Conker ten times over. It's a shame that such a bizarre boss as the Great Mighty Poo (literally a giant operatic pile of dung) is bound to the "suicidal invulnerability" cliché. Since very little happens while he's invulnerable, the fight feels drawn-out and boring. Other bosses, like the furnace, are far too easy once you know what to do. The main challenge of beating the robot bear is in controlling the (stupid) tank, and once you get it under control, it's only a matter of plodding along and firing. Hooray! The final boss, which is based on H.R. Giger's infamous Alien, actually seemed quite good at first. The fight is like a cross between Punch-Out!! and the Bowser battles from Super Mario 64. But when I had so much trouble throwing the Alien out of the airlock for the third time, I figured there had to be a problem...and the problem was that I was standing a hair too far away from the Alien when attacking it. Wonderful! Gotta love not being able to tell exactly where you are in 3D space! Not to mention that, due the game's complete lack of structure, I had no idea this even was the final boss until the credits started to roll.
If I were forced to say something nice about Conker's Bad Fur Day, I'd say it has a certain "spirit" that I admire. Some of the puzzles are so bizarre, like the one in the Rock Solid Club or the very beginning of the war chapter, that it makes me wonder how people even think up such things. The graphics are also very nice and colorful, though they're not quite as high-quality as Banjo's (many objects in Conker are too blurry). The music is also very good, especially Batula's theme, the music in the beginning of the war chaper, the Matrix spoof music, the Terminator boss theme, and the Great Mighty Poo's Lament. However, I'm getting a little tired of these banjo-riddled numbers that have been predominant in Rare's N64 games since Blast Corps. The amount of voice acting is also very impressive, and so is its quality, considering that most of it is delievered by just one guy (director Chris Seavor).
I wish I understood why so many have said this game is so much better than other 3D platformers, because I'm just not seeing it. If this truly is what the original Twelve Tales: Conker 64 was supposed to be like, then Rare probably did a good thing in giving it the shock treatment. Otherwise, I doubt as many people would care about it. When the main selling point of your game is its adult content and humor, there's a problem when the funniest part is a screaming chunk of cheese.
TO N64 REVIEWS
TO MAIN PAGE