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Conker’s Bad Fur Day – Review A Bad Game Day 2014

Conker_rabgd2014

There’s something magical that happens at the end of a console’s life cycle. Developers take years to produce a title and sometimes those games that people have poured their hearts, souls and tears into go unnoticed due to brand new hardware announcements and promises of a new way to play. Every console goes through this and the games that fall into the final releases can produce a mix bag of emotions both for the creators and the people who play them.

For the NES, Wario Woods pushed the very limits of its hardware to produce a beautiful landscape and a fun experience. The Sega Genesis, sports games reigned supreme with releases such as NHL 98, NBA Live 98 and FIFA 98: Road to World Cup to satisfy any sports nut. The Nintendo 64, on the other hand, Nintendo decided to throw caution to the wind and allow any developer to release their titles to give a final ending to the console’s life. Most of these titles included boring sequels, remakes of remakes and a bad mouthed squirrel that would seem “too mature” to be released on a Nintendo system was, in fact, released. That terrible game was Conker’s Bad Fur Day.

Developed and published by Rare, Conker is considered by many to the last “real game” Rare ever released. If you go back through their line up of the sixth generation and up, you’d probably agree. But Conker will lead you to believe that it’s edgy, bold and a new look for a Rare game. But underneath the surface, it’s a simple collectathon of maximum portions that vomits level design and gameplay mechanics from previous Rare titles including Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64.

Drinking squirrels... I don't get it.

The game opens up with our “hero”, Conker, calling his girlfriend from a bar while completely intoxicated to inform her that he will be late getting home. His girlfriend, Berri, is shown doing aerobics starting with a very close up shot of her ass to a slow zoom out to an answer machine as Conker lies about his reasons of being late. From here, Conker stumbles out of the bar and tries to make his way home. Thankfully he doesn’t try to drive because binge drinking and viewing women as sex objects within the first fifteen seconds of the game is more than enough. Don’t think I could have taken a dead squirrel in a ditch as the car horn honks from his head lying against it until the police arrive to find him gone on top everything else. Thanks for thinking Rare. Drunk driving is bad.

Because this isn't sexist at all.

Conker stumbles into a field and is greeted by a talking scarecrow who tells Conker that he will help him get home by traversing the land. This is the point where we finally get to play the game through a simple tutorial presented from our scarecrow friend. But not before we get him a few somethings to drink.

Scattered throughout the overworld are pads on the ground with the letter B on them. Look familiar? They should if you’ve played Banjo-Kazooie or Donkey Kong 64. The scarecrow informs Conker that if he (i.e. You) press B while standing on these pads, you’ll get exactly what you need. They are referred to as “context sensitive” pads that will grant Conker a temporary ability to help him overcome whatever objective he’s facing. Not a new idea, could be interesting, but already I’m losing hope.

What do you mean "I'll just press B"? I'm the one who's going to press B!

There’s two problems here. One: and maybe this is just a pet peeve of mine, but I just can’t stand when a game uses metagaming to teach me how to play. An NPC claiming to the protagonist that if I press “the start button” a menu will appear. How does the NPC know about what’s going on beyond the screen? The surroundings of the world around him has taught him and drives information through the characters to communicate to the player. And, with all games with this kind of tutorial nonsense, the main character has no reaction to this kind of double speak and we, as the player, are lead to believe that this is OK for storytelling. Unbelievable.

Secondly, the amount of temporary weapons that can be used in this type of game mechanic is lazy level design. As a hero, you are giving certain special abilities as the game progresses to keep the player intrigued enough to finish to the end. You do this by creating fun and interesting ways to use the, sometimes, tired special moves in new and creative ways. That’s good game design. You make the player think differently about how to complete a puzzle using the tools and tricks they’ve learned throughout the game.

I don't know. I mean I was listening the whole time. Weren't you?

A bad way of doing it is to just give the player a new ability to conquer whatever comes their way. No, don’t think outside the box and use a move that you’ve learned so long ago in a new and fun way that makes you feel accomplished, no, we are just going to give you exactly what you need at the very moment you need it. No more “oh, geez, what the hell do I do” kind of thinking. Just hit that B button and let the game do the rest. What a waste.

Being a fan of voice acting and the art in general, I always take a closer look, or ear in this case, to how characters are presented by the people who voice them. With the exception of Conker himself, every character seems to be on helium or sulfur hexafluoride (the opposite of helium). Smaller characters always have a high pitched voice where larger characters have lower voices. But it’s not as simple as that. The pitch of these characters is so off that any gamer would be torn from the story to question the purpose. It feels like everyone is so digitize from their original takes that it comes off as completely ridiculous. So much to the point that you are no longer listening to what they are saying but to how they are saying it. Rare seems to have gone an extra mile to make things seem just a little bit more weird than normally. It makes me wonder what would happen if their classic platform titles used voice actors instead of the grunts and groans we know today?

The word "asshole" is OK to spell out but not the others? That's the line?

And it’s always a strange thing to hear an animal talking. It would be different if it were voiceovers like in the movie Milo and Otis. That would allow the developers to use facial expressions to really show emotion as the talking is done more off screen than from the lips of their characters. Just give me text to read. I can’t believe I said that, but I want to read in my video games. Keep the voice acting to the professionals.

Conker is slow to move and attack. His main weapon, a frying pan, comes out from under his coat like Christmas for a five-year-old. The enemies are so much faster than you are, you’ll be running around trying to collect candy bar pieces (your health meter) before death finds you. And yes, death is really a thing that you encounter if you lose all of your health bar. He hates his job (I mean, why wouldn’t he) and gives you tips on extending your lifespan on the surface. Death helping you stay alive, I thought we were going for realism here, Rare? I thought we were going for realism?

Apparently jokes about suicide are funny too. Didn't know that.

A popular troupe with mascots with attitude is their interesting idle animations. If you are not sure what I mean, the next time you play a game, let them sit for a while without touching the controls to see if they do anything different other than just standing there. If it’s a game from the 1990s, more than likely there will be a funny animation that you wouldn’t have seen without sitting idle will start. Conker is no different, pulling out a Nintendo Gameboy and playing a game while he waits for you to make your next move. Yes, a game within a game. It’s almost Shakespearian if you think about it.

Listening to the sounds coming from the Gameboy, it got me thinking “What game could Conker be playing?” Off to Wikipedia I go! What follows is a list of games that Rare has developed for the Nintendo Gameboy prior to Conker’s release:

  • Wizards & Warriors X: The Fortress of Fear
  • The Amazing Spider-Man
  • WWF Superstars
  • Sneaky Snakes
  • Super R.C. Pro-Am
  • Battletoads
  • Beetlejuice
  • Battletoads in Ragnarok’s World
  • Battletoads / Double Dragon
  • Monster Max
  • Donkey Kong Land
  • Killer Instinct
  • Donkey Kong Land 2
  • Donkey Kong Land III

I have painstakingly watched video after video of these titles looking for any of these that may fit the sounds produced from Conker’s Gameboy. None of them do. None. If you are going to Michael Bay your video game, at least make it coincide with content that you actually created. We all see the Banjo head mounted on the wall in the game save selection screen. We see Kazooie turned into an umbrella in the closet. We get it. You love your games. And, hell, some of us even love them too. But you have to go full force with it. If you are going to half ass anything, don’t let it be the outpouring of respect you have for yourself. It’s just bad form.

This is exactly what Rare was thinking about when creating Conker.

I get that this game is for mature audiences. It’s rated M for mature/15+. I get it. But going above and beyond to make sure the player feels out of sorts doesn’t do anything for game. Using curse words, taking fun of alcoholism and suicide doesn’t make your game “cool”. It only appeals to children because as an adult, we see and deal with these things everyday and it’s no fun. I play games to escape from the reality I live everyday to do something different: explore a forbidden world, conversate with aliens, conquer an ancient demon that terrorizes a small town. Not drink at a bar, battle a poop monster or piss on anything that moves. That’s the life I live right now. And I don’t want to play a crappy game that tries to emulate my life. I am not Conker the Squirrel.

Be sure to check out other great titles for Review A Bad Game Day!

Monster in my Pocket – Review a Great Game Day

Monster In My Pocket (U) [!]-1

Licensed video games. Just think about that for a second. Licensed video games. For most of us, a cold chill from scenes of Beetlejuice, Back to the Future and Friday the 13th that haunted as children and for some, still today, creeps down our spines.

There are a few of those titles that still hold supreme though: Batman, Gremlins 2, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2. Plus I’m happy to say that licensed games have really taken a big leap forward in terms of quality, gameplay and sadly, basic game mechanics. Something us retro gamers were not privy to that in the olden days.

Monster In My Pocket (U) [!]-3

These licensed games weren’t subjected just to movies and cartoons. In an era where anything was possible, we saw video games based on girl’s dolls, books and even toys. Tiny toys, especially tiny toys that could fit in your pocket. Toys of a haunting, evil nature that graced many silver screens in force of horror, terror and downright awesomeness. This is where our story begins.

Toys for kids during the late 1980’s and the early 1990’s were all about small moving parts. You’d be crazy to find such a toy now that was rated for kids 12 and up due to something they call a “choking hazard”. Back then, small was in. Hard, possibly metal, tiny toys were what you wanted. The smaller, the better they’d say. One particular franchise that saw that light started from two former executives from Mattel that created a line of miniatures based on monsters and legendary creatures from religion, mythology and popular science fiction. This is Monster in my Pocket.

Monster In My Pocket (U) [!]-5

Developed by Komani, Monster in my Pocket was released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1990. Basing its storyline primarily on the comic book series (I guess you can’t have much of a story with just toys), you are thrown into the world that is Monster in my Pocket. And it’s a world that you are familiar with. A world where your platforms and environments are your kitchen, your coffee table and your backyard. Places where these little guys had been in my house. Hoping from couch to couch. Attacking enemies from the stove to the countertops. I didn’t have much of an imagination growing up to create elaborate backdrops and scenery. Just a couple of books and a dream.

It’s a beat-em-up. Every one loves beat-em-ups. It’s not the best. You have two characters to pick from (provided you are playing a single player game): the vampire and the monster. Or basically Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster. See? They didn’t have much of an imagination either. Both characters play the same; no different movesets or characteristics. Most of the enemies repeat over and over again. There are some interesting stages like going down into the sewers or fighting a boss in the freezer. Good stuff there.

Monster In My Pocket (U) [!]-6

Here’s why Monster in my Pocket is a great game. It’s a childhood dream come to life. It doesn’t make itself out to be something it’s not. It’s not trying to be groundbreaking or have some crazy overarching story that only a psychologist would understand. You’re playing with your toys around the house. Just like you did when you were a kid. The graphics are fine. You can make out everything with a decent amount of detail. And you get to experience something that we all seem to miss out on as adults: playing with toys around the house.


Go ahead and try. No one is watching. I won’t say anything.

Street Fighter II –Review a Great Game Day

street fight 2 logo

It’s late July 1992. I’m 7 years old. Born and raised in Northern Kentucky, we were blessed with many things. One of those things being the Tilt Arcade located in a mall in Florence, Kentucky.

It was summer break. I had been an avid gamer since the bright age of 4 and it was a mix bag when it came to favorites. Of course we had Mario, Contra and Double Dragon, but I was missing that competitive edge. Growing up with an older brother, we didn’t have a game that we both could play to find who was the best.

Every time we went to the arcade, my mother would give us a roll of quarters in the amount of 20 dollars. Luckily, this was before “tokens” became popular so there wasn’t any conversion needed before running through the arcades finding that one game you wanted to play.

My mother, not a gamer in any sense of the word, sat outside the doors, Danielle Steel book in hand to let my brother and me run rampant through the dark corners illumined only by the glow of CRT screens.

Out in front was a line of maybe ten people all crowded over the same machine. Two moved side to side in the same direction of their digital avatars while others were rooting for one player or another. Never have I seen  a game at the arcade receive so much attention.

That game was Street Fighter II.

Street Fighter II? But I never played Street Fighter I! And I wouldn’t for many many years later. On my PC of all things but that is a different story.

I decided that this was the first game I was going to play for the day. I stood in line, surrounded by 20- and 30-somethings, and waited for my turn to play. After what felt like an eternity, I was finally up next to play. There was a man there, probably in his early 20s, who had not left his side of the controls for almost ten battles. He was on an incredible winning streak. Being the next one in line, he looks back at me, turns, then looks back at me again. He’s probably thinking “What the hell is this kid think he’s doing?” I wanted to play. That’s what I was doing. I placed my two quarters on the ledge below the screen and waited for my turn.

It didn’t take long for the man continued his winning streak and made short work of the one I was about to replace. I took my place up to the second player controller, slid my quarters in, and marveled at the huge character select screen.

My opponent quickly chose Guile and waited patiently as I strolled through the different characters looking at their profile picks and what part of the world they represented. Ultimately I decided on Ken, being the only one from the U.S.A. (well Guile is too, but you couldn’t pick the same character back in those days).

I’ll put it lightly. I got DESTORYED. I’m talking maybe one or two shots on him, but he just let loose. Not holding back from slamming a 7-year-old in an arcade. No mercy was had on the that day.

But something stirred in me. The projectiles his character shot from one side of the screen to the other was like magic. I hadn’t seen anything like it before. The backgrounds were super animated and I was just waiting for the blond from the U.S. airbase to come out and congratulate the winner on a job well done. Never happened, mind you, but I was a kid. After seeing Street Fighter II for the first time, I thought anything was possible.

Well that was it, I played through my 20 bucks in quarters, mostly on Street Fighter II, and ran out to my mom to let her know of the awesome game that I just played. She suggested that we go and see if it’s out on one of the many consoles we had at home.

Now to me, that was impossible. I just played it in the arcade, which to me meant, it just came out. It would take years to be released on a console if ever. Just a few shops down in that same mall was an EB Games (remember those?). Walking in, I was guided to the back of the store by images of familiar characters. There on the shelf were 30 different copies of Street Fighter II for the Super NES. I picked one up and almost threw it at my mother in my excitement. I said over and over again, “This is it! This is it!” She took it from my hand, looked at the price, shrugged and said “Well if your father asks this is your birthday present.”

I didn’t even think about the repercussions that would have on my birthday presents that year nor anything else. I was going to get the greatest game that had ever been released… ever! She bought the game and we headed for home.

In the car on the way back, I popped open box to read the instruction booklet. I read it from cover to cover until we finally parked in our drive way. I rushed from the car to the house, ran into “family game room” and slammed the cartridge into my SNES. I powered it up and started really playing the game for the first time. I spent the next eight hours playing Street Fighter II until my dad forced me to bed.

One of the things about great video games is they don’t have to have anything to do with plot development, or characters, or story or graphics to truly be great. It could be just a day in the arcade when something took your breathe away and when you realized that you were hooked. And I mean really hooked.

The Street Fighter II series (all of them) is still one of my top five favorite games ever. I could go on and on about creating combos or why Super Street Fighter II’s mechanics are terrible when it comes to the in-air hurricane kick. I don’t need to talk about any of that. I just need my 20 bucks in quarters and a guy nice enough to let a 7-year-old play.