Conker’s Pocket Tales is a collect-a-thon game by Rareware for the Game Boy. It can also be enhanced by being played on the Game Boy Color. I played on a Game Boy Advance SP so it most likely would trigger the enhanced features. I also wanted to admit upfront that I was unable to beat the game, so it’s possible that the quality may change dramatically after the point I got stuck. However, I will explain why I got stuck later on. If you’re still interested in what I have to say on the game, please proceed. I won’t blame you if you would seek other means of review.
The plot is fairly simple. It’s Conker’s birthday, but before he can celebrate his friends, along with his girlfriend Berri, are all kidnapped and taken away along with all of his present by the Evil Acorn. You must play as Conker the squirrel on a quest to retrieve your presents and save your friends. That’s pretty much it. It’s a collect-a-thon adventure game with some puzzle elements to it. Early on you can only walk, run, jump, and ground pound. It’s a top-down perspective. You double tap in a direction to run and double tap jump to do a ground pound. The pound can press certain switches and harm certain enemies. Running allows you to make longer jumps along with increasing your speed. Fairly early on you’ll be pointed in the direction to find a slingshot. Once acquired, you can pick up nuts called conkers and shoot them at enemies until you run out. You can also pick up acorns to add to your health. Your default is four health, which you will respawn with upon death or be refilled to if you save and re-enter the game if you were below that amount. I’m not sure if there is a cap on the health or not, but it seems to continue to go up without a noticeable stopping point. Once armed, you’ll be pointed in the direct of the first world. Once you enter, you’ll need to traverse the world and collect a certain number of presents before you can leave. The levels tend to have a mix of maze-like areas to explore, enemies to fight, and puzzles to solve. The most common puzzles are block pushing puzzles where you need to kick boxes into holes without getting any stuck. You can restart a room by simply pausing the game and then resuming. You will also find button puzzles that require you to hit buttons in the correct sequence. Each area also has some type of boss fight. Generally, by the time you defeat the boss you will have enough presents to proceed to the next area. The blue presents are rewarded for doing the main tasks that get you through the levels, while red presents can be collected as a bonus and are more difficult to obtain. Party invitations are another out-of-the-way collectible that, along with red presents, go mainly into increasing your current rank. This is displayed on the pause screen. You’ll also need to be locating some key items throughout your quest. Some of these are for trading with folks who need them while others can give you new abilities, such as the ability to swim and later even go completely underwater. Once you’ve collected all the required presents I assume you can fight a final boss and beat the game. You can also save at any point though you will usually reload back at the start of your current room. I’ve also read that apparently if you play in a Game Boy version, you have to use designated save points instead. You can also only have one type of files being saved. So if you save a Game Boy version and play on a Game Boy Color it will erase the previous file, and vice versa despite having multiple save slots.
To be fair, this game is pretty neat for what it is. Graphically it looks very colorful and detailed. Some of the music is catchy. The premise is simple and lends well to the collect-a-thon nature, which is great to see done so well on a handheld. The game can be hard as nails in parts, but it’s usually forgiving enough to keep you going and feel like you’re beating the tough challenges. The puzzle elements and simple enemies can give a nice sense of tension and pacing to the exploration. Sometimes it even ends up being more about how you plan out your next moves than it is about rushing in and reacting fast. It’s the kind of game the certainly rewards patience, problem solving, and good reflexes in a pinch. I also think the way the game slowly opens up more and more as you get new abilities is fun too. Going back to previous areas to get hidden items just adds a bit of extra fun for the completionist in me. It definitely is right up my alley… but as you say in the introduction, it has issues.
For one, the lack of respawning health is concerning. It DOES seem to respawn the pickups, but I’m not sure if it’s after you complete a world or just at certain points. While ammo respawns while barely even off screen, the health that you often need much more desperately tends to be scarce at best if you’re running low. This means that if you ever get stuck on a part, you might end up wasting a ton of health that you can’t effectively get back. And you’ll be worse off because you’re used to having the big safety net of your health pool up until that point. Running out of ammo is easy enough to remedy, but it’s a tedious task to do so. The control is a little awkward as well. You can only fire your conkers diagonally when moving in the diagonals as you cannot face those directions when standing still. And sometimes you either fire in the wrong direction or don’t fire at all. Enemies love to respawn too so get used to dwindling health and the need for tedious ammo restocks if you want to have a chance at surviving. The ground pound is always a gamble when used for combat. If you tap jump too early or too late you won’t execute the move at all, but even when you DO perform the pound you’ll often miss characters you feel like you should hit or get hit in the process… sometimes both. It’s not really helped by the perspective either. There’s not a huge variety in the exploration, action, and puzzles so you’ll get the hang of it rather quickly and if it’s not enough for you then you won’t have much to look forward to as it progresses. Also, a lot of the music is a bit on the generic, meaty Game Boy side. So why couldn’t I finish this game?
Well I can’t say it’s from a lack of trying. Basically, I got to the boss of the swamp area, Swamp Fiend. This piece of shit is nearly impossible without a lot of luck or a lot of health. And by the time I got to this shit heap, I was down to 5 acorns. Not much room for error. This boss consists of a hand that moves around beneath the mud. The arena is just a square with a hexagon of mud in the middle. So the corners are the only safe zones. You move more slowly in mud unless you’re in the air. The hand moves toward you under the mud, indicated by a barely visible shadow, and when it’s within striking range it rises up and slaps the ground to try and hurt you. Contact with the hand will hurt you. You can’t shoot conkers at it, so you have to ground pound it. Granted the problems I mentioned earlier, your only advantage is that you can pound just outside of its range and still damage it once it is flat on the ground and exposed. The problem really comes in once you start doing damage. After so many hits another hand shows up and after that at least a third show up. At this point you have no reliable way of avoiding damage. I looked up help online for strategies, exploits, cheat codes… ANYTHING. The main advice I got was to stay in the corner and just keep pounding, but they also said you need to get lucky. And with my lack of health, if I could get THAT lucky I should consider lottery tickets. I tried running around and pounding from a safer distance when the window of opportunity was right, but once multiple hands showed up I kept running from one and pounding only to be blindsided by another. There are no cheat codes for the game either, and usually the ones who beat it either had a bunch of health to spare or played on an emulator where they COULD cheat it. So the only way I could imagine beating it, with the lack of respawning health, would be to start the whole damn game over and not get hit as much on the way there. That’s not really a strategy, is it? That’s not really FAIR, is it? I tried so many times. And this is also an excellent time to bring up the fact that once you die you get a game over screen, followed by the introduction screens, the language select screen, and the title screen. None of the screens can be skipped. So get used to sitting through these few agonizing minutes every time you die, which was quite frequent for me during this boss. What a shitload of fuck.
Look, the game has a lot of fun things going for it, even if it lacks the usual Rareware polish. I’m willing to let go of the fact that this was the old vision of Conker as a kid-friendly mascot. I can let it go that it’s on the Game Boy Color and limited by its capabilities to an extent. I’m even willing to say that, had this section not been in the game it would’ve been a decent little forgotten gem. But the fact is that this boss fight managed to single-handedly break the game for me. Even if the rest after that is awesome, it’s not worth the amount of bullshit this part requires. I can only recommend Conker’s Pocket Tales to very big fans of Rare or Conker in general that are curious. Get it cheap and don’t expect it to be great. I think it has been forgotten for a reason. The worse Conker’s day is, the better the game, apparently. Hopefully in the next game he’s dead so it’ll kick fucking ass!