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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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 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.
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.
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