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1995-2001
GamesFirst! Magazine

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by Rare

c12-01.jpg (4808 bytes)Okay, let’s start this party right: Conker’s Bad Fur Day is not for everybody. If you can’t stand potty jokes, don’t like South Park, never wanted to see Fritz the Cat, then Conker’s BFD is not for you. There are others like you, and they’re 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 that’s why it gets the trophy – not just because of the game’s transgressive content, but also because of its great game-ness. Conker’s Bad Fur Day is not an immature game for mature audiences – it’s a crafted title with an agenda. No, if you don’t like this game, then you just might be too mature for your own good, or at least you’ve bought into an archaic model of what it is to "mature." But enough of that – on with the #@&%!$ review.

c2-01.jpg (4393 bytes)Conker’s Bad Fur Day is simple enough. It’s 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 it’s a good thing they included a lot of camera controls, because you won’t be able to count on the game’s 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.

c3-01.jpg (3480 bytes)The game has been panned by critics for having less-than-perfect control and camera. Really, it’s mostly a camera issue, combined with the fact that so much of Conker takes some real precision to get through. You’ll 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, you’re 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 don’t 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 you’re playing Conker you’re 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, "We’re too tough for walkthroughs!" Oh, don’t kid yourself.

c4-01.jpg (5314 bytes)The basic 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 he’d just finished up a five day gin binge. He asked if I’d seen his shoes. No, I hadn’t. 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 won’t believe the sh*t our little squirrel has to go through, literally.

c5-01.jpg (3202 bytes)Everything about this game has a nice sheen to it, except the humor, of course. The graphics are some of the best I’ve 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 there’s actually an animation on the screen of the Game Boy.

c6-01.jpg (2287 bytes)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, it’s not essential to always have bosses be visible in the camera angle.

c7-01.jpg (2765 bytes)The voice acting, but more to the point the dialogue, is top-notch. The whole thing has a distinctly British feel to it. Maybe it’s 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 that’s 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 can’t be "arsed" to attack Conker. I’ve never seen so much spoken dialogue in a Nintendo game, and it’s nice that they did it right.

c8-01.jpg (4030 bytes)In the multiplayer department, it’s 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 doesn’t 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 Conker’s BFD for the single player mode and then be somewhat amused with the multiplayer perks.

c1-01.jpg (4140 bytes)Despite the inherent humor of words like "poo" and "bastard," Conker’s 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 – it’s just damn funny to see these cute little characters cussing, spitting, pissing, and doing really mean things to each other. There’s an irony built into it – they aren’t 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 don’t laugh at these kinds of jokes, you won’t 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.

scrn01-01.jpg (3790 bytes)The 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 won’t 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. It’s eerie.

scrn02-01.jpg (4256 bytes)In many ways, Conker’s 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 "Who’s On First" routine, focusing on context sensitive buttons. Conker has a hover move, which is officially called "That Helicoptery Tail Thing." What? That’s the words WE use to describe the move in a game; the game’s characters are supposed to call it "the Whirlwind" or the "Hover-in-ator" or something cheesy like that. Conker’s 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 isn’t supposed to tell us that. These trends go on throughout the game, and it is in this way that Conker’s 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 we’ve come to rely on and expect.

c13-01.jpg (2778 bytes)There is 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. You’ll fight a boss monster, in the only musical boss fight I’ve ever seen in a non-dance game, whose teeth are made of sweet corn and whose body is made of poo. You’ll 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 – it’s 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.

scrn05-01.jpg (3798 bytes)Take 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 didn’t regulate them.

scrn06-01.jpg (2426 bytes)Hopefully it doesn’t 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 didn’t 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 wouldn’t fall apart because it had been done.

I see Conker’s 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 children’s entertainment. Take for another example John Cage’s composition for piano, 4’33", which is just four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence. When Cage did it, and he did it first, it became art, and Cage’s composition will live on in the annals of avant garde composition. Likewise, Conker’s Bad Fur Day is the first game of its kind out there. So while it may not seem like "art," I’m 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 Cage’s 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 Conker’s 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.

Shawn Rider

Snapshot

Ups: Great graphics; hilarious; intelligent; lots of multiplayer modes.

Downs: Some camera glitches; control a bit tricky sometimes; THIS GAME IS NOT FOR EVERYONE.

System Reqs:
Nintendo 64; good, twisted sense of humor.

Check out our review of the Conker's Bad Fur Day Official Strategy Guide.

 

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