Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a 3D platformer adventure game by Rare for the Nintendo 64. It’s rather special to me as it was the main reason I got back into reviewing video games after two failed iterations of game review series. That was about five years ago now, and upon replaying the game I feel like I’ve got a better grasp on how I feel about it. So as a celebration of my time reviewing games, I thought it’d be worth re-reviewing this one to see how it holds up now that all of the excitement has had time to die down and allow me to look at it with a more critical eye.
The plot of Conker’s Bad Fur Day is essentially three plots converging into one. The opening plot shows Conker drinking at the pub and calling his girlfriend, Berri, to make up an excuse to stand her up on their date so he can stay and drink more. After a few too many, Conker drunkenly takes the wrong way home and doesn’t quite know where he ends up when finally comes back to his proper senses. So for the most part he’s simply trying to find his way back home so he can sleep it off… but if he can make some cash along the way then he’s more than willing to take a slight detour or two. The secondary plot is that the Panther King has a problem. He keeps spilling his milk every time he sets it down on the table next to his throne. He threatens his “loyal” royal scientist to solve the problem. After many calculations and much research, the scientist finds out that the problem is causes by the fact that one of the table’s legs is incredibly shorter than the rest of them, causing the wait of the glass to make it tip over and thus spilling the milk. The solution? Well it’s simple. They need to prop it up with something. Not just anything, mind you, but something that will fit just right. That something is, obviously, a red squirrel. This sets up why some of the characters throughout the game are after Conker. The tertiary plot is that Berri gets kidnapped by a giant rock man… which… mostly just makes her appear as part of the events later in the game. As the game goes on, more and more story and events will unfold to create the adventure, but let’s not go spoiling that for you.
The gameplay is mainly a 3D platforming affair. You can run, jump, duck and jump to do a high jump, hover in the air by pressing jump again in mid-air, attack things with a frying pan, and eventually swim. There are also many pads and other specific spots that bring up a lightbulb over your head to indicate that you should press B to do the context-sensitive action. What happens depends on the context of the situation as the name would suggest. You can also grab chocolate to refill your chocolate bar of a health bar, tails to get extra lives, and bundles of cash to get… well… cash. The cash is used to mark your progress and will open up a few key areas of the game once you have enough. You’ll also be tasked with many specific things depending on what your current objective is. For example, in the first level you’ll have to hit pieces of cheese to stun them, then carry them to a mouse. In later parts of the game you can drunk a bunch of booze and then pee it out of your system to accomplish the current objective in those parts. Again, I’m trying to avoid as many spoiler events as possible so the game is fresh for you, but that’s a thing that happens more than once. There are also a few sections with a shift in genre. One shift is to a third person shooter where you can pull out guns and fire them. With the guns out you can move and strafe with the C buttons and aim by holding R, but instead of jumping with the A button it will have you reload your weapon. There’s also a racing segment where you are moving forward automatically. You can drift left and right, jump with A, and boost by holding up. You can still swing at other racers with the B button. There are a lot of simple changes to the gameplay based on the context-sensitive parts as well, but most of them are easy enough to figure out by playing and an explanation would only serve to ruin the surprise of what is to come.
Basically, these three plots motivate our characters to make the choices that they do throughout the game. You’ll notice that there are a lot of mature and immature themes present. There are sexual situations and implications. There’s blatant consumption of alcohol and cigarettes. There’s not only violence but also gore going so far as total dismemberment. There’s a lot of fecal matter in various forms. There are fourth wall breaks and movie references. You can even hear every curse word short of the F-bomb uncensored! It not only earns its M rating, it BOASTS that shit! So you can imagine that you’ll be roped into some pretty interesting quests and situations throughout your adventure. Almost all of the dialogue has voice acting and there are a number of cutscenes to setup and payoff plot points. There different worlds you stumble into are all connected but offer different characters and backdrops as inspiration for the variety of gameplay styles and situations you encounter. Will Conker find his way home? Will Berri be rescued? Will the Panther King ever stop spilling his milk? All of these questions AND MORE will be answered once you beat the game.
So there’s definitely a lot to like about Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Having so much variety keeps the game fresh and interesting. You’re never sure where you’re going to go next, what you’ll need to do next, or how you’ll go about doing it. There’s definitely a great sense of flow and direction. You also will likely be pretty shocked to see what Rare got away with on a Nintendo system. Some of the humor lands pretty well and it’s quite the spectacle to see this volume of cutscenes with full voice acting on the Nintendo 64. All of it ends up coming together into a wonderful adventure game that is sure to be memorable in its context. I really can’t think of a better adventure game on the N64 when it comes to the adventure.
However, there are definitely better adventure games on the system when it comes to the gameplay. Conker’s Bad Fur Day takes more of the jack of all trades but master of none approach. There aren’t SO many types of gameplay that they all suck, but the ones that exist clearly weren’t fully polished before being finished. Granted that a lot of the mechanics are only used one or two times, even the ones that show up for longer portions of the game feel lacking. The third person shooter sections don’t give you a clear sense of where you’re aiming and the time it takes to take your guns back out or reload them leaves you far too exposed to react quickly, resulting in them being slow, clunky sections of the game. The swimming has a terrible lack of camera control that makes positioning yourself effectively a nightmare, and you only have a vague sense of how much air you have left represented by a face of Conker in the corner. But by far the most baffling part is how bad the basic 3D platforming is, especially when consider that not only were other Rare platformers of the time much better but also that this game was originally going to be a straight up 3D platformer. When you stop running you slide forward a bit which makes Conker’s control slippery and difficult not to slide off of ledges accidentally. The fall distance before being damaged by it is awfully short. The double jump hovering slows your momentum to start the hover and then you have to pick it back up again by continuing forward so your flow of movement is disrupted. There’s not even a proper drop shadow for fuck’s sake. Something as basic as a drop shadow to help you determine where you’re going to land when the camera isn’t perfect, which is often, is absent. Sure, you still cast some impressive shadows that react to the lighting effects in the game, but there’s no good gameplay reason to not at least ALSO have the obvious drop shadow.
The plot elements are also very unsatisfying. Conker isn’t very likable or relatable as a protagonist. He’s fun and has plenty of character, but he’s not someone you’re really rooting for nor are you putting yourself in his shoes. He also doesn’t really have much motivation this whole time other than to try and get home and to get as much cash as he can along the way. Partway through the adventure he does encounter some of the Panther King’s soldiers and finds out they’re looking for a red squirrel, but he doesn’t really know who they work for or why they want to find him. It’s mostly just there as a way to tell the player that this is why bad guys are bad… which you could find out with contextual clues rather than cutscenes. It really doesn’t affect the character or the plot to tell you this. Likewise, when Berri gets kidnapped it just plays a cutscene. This part is really not explained as to why she was kidnapped. It’s also not like Conker knows this. It’s just for the player, but the player has no motivation to save a character they’ve only seen once before in a cutscene. And since Conker doesn’t know about it… it’s not a character motivation for him either. He just notices it’s her captive later on, she runs out of the scene once you free her, and then she’s immediately working with someone else in the next scene. Why was she captured? Why was she locked up? And how could she be working with this other character if she had been a prisoner this whole time? It feels like we somehow missed some scenes or it was just sloppy writing to get her into the story for later events. So most of the story elements are for the player rather than the character, but there’s no gameplay reward for the player so it doesn’t give much incentive. It’s just a sloppy mess of ideas that needed more polishing to make something truly great.
Look, Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a great adventure, but it’s a poor journey. Lots of different things happen and it’s a wild ride to experience it all for the first time, but the game doesn’t build on its mechanics. It doesn’t teach you new abilities or concepts that get more complex and challenging as you go. They just keep changing mechanics instead and trying to distract from their sloppy execution with cutscenes and shock value. Once the novelty wears off you’re left with a series of lackluster gameplay modes divided up by different locales and an array of interesting cutscenes. It’s a game that I can only really recommend to big fans of the Nintendo 64 or Rare and want to play a fascinating adventure game. It’s also rather expensive these days so don’t go breaking the bank for it. It’s no Banjo-Kazooie or Donkey Kong 64. It’s something different… for better or for worse.