13 November 2009

Because I Bought it on eBay: Impressions of Conker's Bad Fur Day

A few weeks ago I went ahead and purchased one of my all-time desired games that I was never allowed to play as a kid (do the math, I was 15 when it first came out. Yay parents), Conker's Bad Fur Day for the Nintendo 64. This of course has slowed my posting a little bit, due to the 15-hour completion time as opposed to the usual twenty-minute TV show. At any rate, I had tremendous expectations for this gem of a game going in that were very quickly tapered. What followed was a truly unique gaming experience hampered by a few poor design choices. By the ending cutsene however, I realised this had been one of the greatest gaming experiences of all time.

From here it gets complicated.

Let's travel back to oh, 1997 or so. I'm so glad my posts are consistently relevant. Rareware, LTD was high chieftain of cutsey platformers, coming off the popular Donkey Kong Country Series on the SNES and beginning to dip into the N64. It was a time of a shitload of cookie cutter platformers, from Super Mario 64 to Crash Bandicoot and Banjo-Kazooie. By the time it was Conker's turn he would have been another drop in the pond. Rare took drastic action. Completely retooling the game (amongst a nearly four-year delay) they eventually released Bad Fur Day, an extremely foul, raunchy, bloody shit-filled endeavour that would have probably revolutionized the platformer if XBox and Halo hadn't plunged the video game world into FPS heaven but eight months later.

I will discuss the philosophical implications of this game in a future post. For now let us deal with the basics. The basic premise throws out nearly all the aforementioned kiddie notions while still employing many of the common N64 platformer tropes. There's jumping, collecting, bashing baddies but you're hungover, scoring pure cash and pissing on Fire Imps. This is foremost a great way to explode the stupidity of the genre, not dissimilar to The Venture Bros. The controls are simplified, Conker has about two main moves, a tailspin jump and a frying pan whack. That's it. Completely zilched are the 438 Banjo-Kazooie moves for any situation or the constant character switching and navigation that was Donkey Kong 64. In some ways this is really sweet, but also jarring at first to someone like me very used to the genre. It's frustrating for instance, not being able to attach high-flying enemies. Once you adjust the gameplay however, it's easy to realise you don't NEED to attack enemies like this. The result ends up being liberating and opens up a lot of new possibilities for innovative gameplay.

For maybe the first two-thirds of this game I absolutely despised it. Fueled only by my intention to both see every level and write this post I trudged through the crap (sometimes very literally) and dealt with the abyssmal fixed camera controls, insane fall damage and a general lack of attacks, all of which were incredibly frustrating (and still are). This is the one thing that bogs the game down right to the end. Having now played through and gotten used the scheme I want to say it's not too terrible but on first run-through, this absolutely sucked. The camera is really whack. Never points where it should.

The game is also distinguished because of the genuine challenge. It's like a tough professor who knows you can do better work than you've turned in. Conker pushes the player to problem solve creatively. Again, this took me about five or six levels to get used to, to finally understand that every level just needs constant thorough exploring and the answer is usually there somewhere. There's never an easy way out, it holds up to its Mature rating, the levels are not kiddie levels by any means, via content or gameplay. There's always some stupid trick or slight adjustment to be made (pressing Z on Rock Solid comes to mind...if you've played it you know what I'm talking about), which is extremely frustrating for most of the game.

So basically the cartridge is shit until about the "Mr. Death" chapter of "Spooky." This features an impressive Zombie assault that was one of my most horrifying gameplaying experiences of my life (I'm not alone). From this point on, the game is elevated to something wholly beyond what it purported to be. It has a cinematic quality from the beginning, but the real emotional depth starts at "Mr. Death" and continues right through "It's War" and the end.

Needless to say, this game has by far the greatest character graphics on the Nintendo 64 system, probably of any Fifth Generation game. Its cinema and voice acting is also incredible for the time, with sound and music far and beyond anything else on the market. I mean, c'mon. Rock Solid. In all respects, this should have been a Sixth Generation game, which it eventually was.

There are a ridiculous amount of film references, from A Clockwork Orange (1971) to The Matrix (1999) (Funny how it comes from in an era when that wasn't trite yet). None is better than the Saving Private Ryan (1998) sequence, where Conker is first presented with true horror and loss, despite his previous nonchalant death-dealing earlier in the game (A character arc not unlike Alex DeLarge). The End Cutscene, which continues this tone is absolutely fantastic. You may view it below (beware of Spoilers I guess from this eight-year old video game):

Keep in mind this is the payoff for an entire game full of singing piles of poop, anthropomorphic catfish massacres and bee/sunflower prostitution. The ending solidifies and justifies much of the horrific gameplay that ends up elevating the entire experience to something that is not quite a video game.

I will continue a more sophisticated interpretation of this game in a future post. Stay tuned dear readers.


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