Okay, lets start this party
right: Conkers Bad Fur Day is not for everybody. If you cant stand potty
jokes, dont like South Park, never wanted to see Fritz the Cat, then Conkers
BFD is not for you. There are others like you, and theyre reading other reviews,
which are indexed nicely at Game Rankings. Look for the lowest scores. Reviewers and
players who have problems with the content use that issue to tear apart BFD. But most of
us at the old GF! are pretty dang stoked about the game, and thats why it gets the
trophy not just because of the games transgressive content, but also because
of its great game-ness. Conkers Bad Fur Day is not an immature game for mature
audiences its a crafted title with an agenda. No, if you dont like this
game, then you just might be too mature for your own good, or at least youve bought
into an archaic model of what it is to "mature." But enough of that on
with the #@&%!$ review.
Conkers Bad Fur Day is simple enough. Its your basic
3D platformer, which the N64 is well-known for. The controls are pretty basic: walk/run,
jump/hover, crouch/crawl, and various camera controls. For the most part the set-up works
pretty well, and its a good thing they included a lot of camera controls, because
you wont be able to count on the games camera to give you the best view all of
the time or even most of the time. BFD includes a whole lot of precision jumping,
which I include as another warning. Usually a big focus on platform jumping gets old
really quick, but Conker makes it tolerable, if not necessarily any more fun.
The game has
been panned by critics for having less-than-perfect control and camera. Really, its
mostly a camera issue, combined with the fact that so much of Conker takes some real
precision to get through. Youll be jumping, walking, and running on some tiny little
ledges and rails, and combined with a camera that often wants to view Conker from the
front, or some bizarre diagonal angle, youre bound to fall down a few times. The
frustration with the control and camera is heightened by the fact that there are some
moments in Conker where you just dont know what to do. In part, this is a real
problem, and Rare could have done a better job pointing you in a direction. However, the
problem also seems to stem from preconceived notions we have about our games. We expect
things to be highlighted by ethereal glows or cameras to focus on our objective. However,
if youre playing Conker youre supposed to be an adult, and you ought to be
able to think your way out or just randomly try everything possible and you
ought to have access to a walkthrough. "Heresy!" I hear you yell,
"Were too tough for walkthroughs!" Oh, dont kid yourself.
premise of the game reminds me of a friend of mine, Adrian. He liked to party, and one
morning he showed up at my door, looking like hed just finished up a five day gin
binge. He asked if Id seen his shoes. No, I hadnt. Shirt? No. Glasses? Nope.
Backpack? Nada. He had the kind of night Conker had. As the game opens, we see Conker at a
bar, drinking, and then stumbling out into the darkness. Actual play begins with Conker
completely lost and hungover. Your job: Guide Conker back home. But it is, as Conker says,
a "Bad Fur Day," and you wont believe the sh*t our little squirrel has to
go through, literally.
about this game has a nice sheen to it, except the humor, of course. The graphics are some
of the best Ive seen on the N64, if not the best. Conker is animated
beautifully, there is no trace of N-fog anywhere, and you can see for what seems like
miles in the game world. The animation is very good, and highlighted by lots of details.
For example, when Conker jumps out of the water (or the runny poo), it drips off him and
forms puddles wherever he steps. Another example of the detail that went into this game is
what Conker does when you stop moving him around. Sure, idle animations are nothing new,
but Conker sometimes whips out a Game Boy Color and starts playing. If you move the camera
around just right, you can see that theres actually an animation on the screen of
the Game Boy.
The sound and
voice acting are incredible. Often, such as when torching bats with a flamethrower, you
are forced to rely on audio clues exclusively. The stereo effects are done in such a way
that the sounds are immensely useful when going up against bosses, or just trying to find
the cash that litters the game. I suppose that part of what made the tweaky camera
tolerable for me was the audio assistance. Unlike other games, its not essential to
always have bosses be visible in the camera angle.
acting, but more to the point the dialogue, is top-notch. The whole thing has a distinctly
British feel to it. Maybe its because in the UK you can say things like, "That
c*nt knows f*ckall about games," and sound like a perfectly respectable lady. But in
America thats dirty, dirty. What really gives it the British vibe is the fact that
most of the characters speak with vaguely British accents, especially the dung beatles,
who push little balls of "shite" around, and the several characters who
cant be "arsed" to attack Conker. Ive never seen so much spoken
dialogue in a Nintendo game, and its nice that they did it right.
multiplayer department, its a bit hit and miss. There are six multiplayer games,
mostly derivative of different tasks in the single player mode. The Death Match mode is
frustrating until you learn to just never come out of first-person view. There is a Race
mode that doesnt really come close to Mario Kart or Diddy Kong Racing. The Beach
mode is pretty fun, and so is the Raptor mode. What is impressive is the sheer quantity of
multiplayer games they've rammed in, and the number of options and customization you
can do. Both of those have you either running for your life or gunning down your opponent.
Overall, the games are fun for the first few times, and then for short periods after that,
but they are not going to win any awards anytime soon. Buy Conkers BFD for the
single player mode and then be somewhat amused with the multiplayer perks.
inherent humor of words like "poo" and "bastard," Conkers Bad
Fur Day does a lot more to be funny. It works on several levels. The first, and most
obvious level, is the potty humor. There are plenty of cheap gags in BFD, and the game
seems to revel in them. This, especially, is where the South Park connection comes in
its just damn funny to see these cute little characters cussing, spitting,
pissing, and doing really mean things to each other. Theres an irony built into it
they arent supposed to act that way. Still, this is the level that will
either turn people off or urge them further into the depths of the game. If you dont
laugh at these kinds of jokes, you wont have the patience to get to the really
interesting stuff. I could go on about how this resistance to the humor happens because
what we tend to value in "high" art is that which priviledges the intellectual
and distances itself from the physical, but suffice it to say that this attitude is
changing, at least in some critical/academic circles, and future generations may not be so
prudish about farting and dirty words.
game also incorporates a lot of pop culture in order to lampoon and parody it. The movie
parodies included in BFD have gotten a lot of attention. They do Terminator,
Dracula, Saving Private Ryan, and the Matrix, to name a few. These
parodies are well-done and definitely add to the humor of the game. The Terminator
parody involves a haystack (with one hell of an endoskeleton) that just wont die.
The Saving Private Ryan parody takes place in the middle of a war between grey
squirrels and killer teddy bears. It is especially impressive that the game really
succeeds in not only capturing the action and gore of the beach scene, but also the camera
angles and effects. Its eerie.
many ways, Conkers Bad Fur Day is a wake-up call. From the outset of the game,
Conker and the other characters make comments about games themselves. The conversation
between Conker and Birdy in the first level is like a critical "Whos On
First" routine, focusing on context sensitive buttons. Conker has a hover move, which
is officially called "That Helicoptery Tail Thing." What? Thats the words WE
use to describe the move in a game; the games characters are supposed to call it
"the Whirlwind" or the "Hover-in-ator" or something cheesy like that.
Conkers Bad Fur Day constantly reminds us that it is a game. Several times, Conker
will enter an area and the camera will pan to some baddies chilling out across the room.
One bad guy will say something to the effect of: "Hey, look at that squirrel. Are you
gonna kick the sh*t outta him, or should I?" And the other bad guy will confirm that
he will whoop the squirrel, but not until the squirrel comes closer. We know, as gamers,
that enemies in games are set to attack under certain circumstances. But the game
isnt supposed to tell us that. These trends go on throughout the game, and it is in
this way that Conkers Bad Fur Day becomes a meta-game, incredibly self-referential
(some may say "postmodern" but not me), and deconstructs itself and other games,
exposing the conventions and tropes weve come to rely on and expect.
also a very real issue of transgression that needs to be addressed. BFD is shocking at
times. You will hatch a cute little dinosaur, use it to destroy your enemies, then
sacrifice it on an alter. Youll fight a boss monster, in the only musical boss fight
Ive ever seen in a non-dance game, whose teeth are made of sweet corn and whose body
is made of poo. Youll encounter suggestive plants, endure sexual innuendos regarding
a clock and his cogs, and pee all over people dancing at a night club. Those are just a
few of the things that push the boundaries of taste. Of the movie parodies contained in
the game, the Saving Private Ryan parody seems to be the most disturbing. BFD
includes the beach scene, with shots of squirrels getting cut down all around, and the
infamous "in the water, out of the water" shot. Now this film is an icon
its been widely claimed that, if it were not for the reputation of Spielberg for
giving us movies that we need as a culture, the scene would have warranted an X rating.
This is the movie that makes old men cry and young boys cover their eyes. What is it doing
in a game? Pushing limits. And sometimes pushing limits is enough.
a moment to consider the correlation between the state of the videogame industry regarding
legislation and ratings, and the state of the comics industry in 1954. Back then, comics
had been written to all ages and offered a wide variety of genres, including horror,
crime, adventure, sci-fi, romance, humor, etc. A book called Seduction of the Innocent
was published, and combined with the evangelical efforts of its author, Fredric Wertham,
led to Congressional hearings regarding comics. Those hearings led to the Comics Approval
Code, which actually legislated what could and could not be shown in comics. These
included things like: the word "crime" cannot be used in a title; no criminal
shall ever be presented in a sympathetic or positive light; no drug use, whatsoever, can
be shown. The result of the Comics Approval Code was that comic books became "for
kids." Previously they were "for people," but as a society we relegated
them to diversions for children. We were afraid of what comics might do to our children if
we didnt regulate them.
it doesnt take a big leap to make the connection to the situation the gaming
industry finds itself in. They have taken steps to regulate themselves and offer ratings
to buyers (although that same kind of system was in place in the comics industry pre-1954,
and didnt help much). Still, games are identified as "kill simulators" and
"murder machines." It seems ironic that just a couple decades ago Ronald Reagan
lauded the new developments in interactive entertainment for "training the warriors
of tomorrow." My how our priorities shift.
Okay, the point to this is that when comics started coming back around to an adult
audience, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, they had to test the limits. Robert Crumb,
whose magazine Zap! was an important part of this revival, drew comics that
featured sex, drugs, racial humor, and sexist humor. While all of his work is not entirely
defensible, his sentiment is. He has stated that comics artists of that time had to push
boundaries in order to prove that it could be done, and that the world wouldnt fall
apart because it had been done.
I see Conkers Bad Fur Day as being one of those early forerunners of more adult
titles games that will actually appeal to our emotion and intellect as well as our
reflexes. And in some way, a game that pushes the limits of what is acceptable in games is
crucial at this point in time, when our government is once again considering legislating
videogames into the realm of childrens entertainment. Take for another example John
Cages composition for piano, 433", which is just four minutes and
thirty-three seconds of silence. When Cage did it, and he did it first, it became art, and
Cages composition will live on in the annals of avant garde composition. Likewise,
Conkers Bad Fur Day is the first game of its kind out there. So while it may not
seem like "art," Im willing to grant it that position because it is one of
those pieces that will redefine the way we look at the medium, just as Cages piece
did. However, just as every other silent composition after Cage's is just a gimmick, it
will take more than a few potty jokes and some movie parodies to reach the same place as
Conkers BFD, and to be seen as the same kind of progress. If nothing else, Conker's
Bad Fur Day moves us away from the old-fashioned Platonic ideals we usually see manifest
in videogames, and that's a good thing. We shouldn't rely on our games to teach us our
morals, and we shouldn't limit the scope of our entertainment in any medium to the narrow
constraints of reinforcing what are often arbitrary and culturally bound notions of right
and wrong, good and bad.