Reviewed: July 19, 2005
Released: June 21, 2005
We all have those moments in our life that we regret. I have several, but the one that stands out, at least for the purpose of this review, was that fateful day in January 2000…the day I sold my Nintendo 64. Now I had my reasons. I was currently basking in the next-gen glow of the Dreamcast and more than 20 titles that put the N64 to shame, and the PS2 was less than a year away.
I was also certain that the N64 was nearing the end of its lifespan. Imagine my shock, horror, and disappointment when the two best games of the N64 (next to GoldenEye of course) were still to come. Less than four months after my N64 and game collection had been converted into a wad of cash Perfect Dark launched, and less than a year after that Conker’s Bad Fur Day sent the N64 out with a proper bang.
I suppose I could have bought a new N64 to enjoy these two smash hits, but I was stubborn and told myself that no matter how good these games were my Dreamcast games were better. Well, the gaming gods always reward those with patience and when Rare joined Microsoft it was inevitable that Conker would make an appearance on the Xbox. And now it looks like I will be able to enjoy Perfect Dark as well. Happy days!
Conker: Live and Reloaded is a visionary remake of the classic Conker, remastered for modern technology and online gameplay. It’s not a sequel as many had originally speculated, but rather the original Bad Fur Day with a few minor tweaks basically to throw off N64 fans, and add that Rare sense of humor to the design.
Conker is the type of game you would play if Monty Python were making games. It is loaded with irreverent humor, fart and poo jokes, loads of foul language (mostly all bleeped), and plenty of British flavor and slang. It pokes fun at dozens of movies and pop-culture references and even at its own N64 roots.
Conker is quite the unlikely hero, even though we join him as he sits on the throne in his newly acquired castle, ruler of his new domain, surrounded by what we will soon learn are most of the characters from the adventure leading up to this moment.
Conker narrates the intro then we are taking to the apartment of Berri, Conker’s high-maintenance girlfriend who is working out when the phone rings. Conker is off getting drunk…again…and that is where we join him as he exits the pub, pukes in the street, and staggers off into the first level.
Conker is based around some brilliant game design that starts with a multi-layer story. We have the interactive story of Conker who wants nothing more than to get home, only there are about ten hours of exploration, NPC interaction, and lengthy quests he must complete before that can happen.
Then we have the backstory that Conker isn’t even aware of. The Panther King keeps spilling his milk because one leg of his table is broken. After lengthy calculations the king’s scientific advisor comes to the conclusions that a red squirrel is the perfect replacement for the missing table leg…huh? The king orders his bungling guards to hunt down and retrieve such a squirrel.
If you have already played the N64 version then none of this is new to you. The game is 98% identical to the original, or at least that is what I am told by people who have played both. There are some minor gameplay changes in the opening tutorial that are even made fun of as Conker breaks the fourth wall and talks to the designers about changes to the original puzzles.
At its core, Conker is an action-adventure game in its purest form. You get to explore a massive fantasy land, interact with some of the most brilliantly designed characters in videogame history, and just have a riotous good time doing it. Even the puzzles are twisted with a wicked sense of irreverent humor. It’s the type of game, much like South Park that will likely appeal to the kids who are too young to play it.
Yes, Conker is a Mature-rated game for several reasons. The game is loaded with swearing but all of the really naughty words are bleeped, which as Matt and Trey have already proven, is much funnier than actually hearing the words. There are a few brief scenes of partial nudity but these are digitally pixilated, again, making them even more humorous than seeing miniature genitalia. The only substantial element that really puts this game in the Mature category is the violence and ample amounts of blood and dismemberment.
Conker blends several styles of gameplay. You start off wandering the land talking with people and getting quests. There are puzzles in which you interact with the environment, there are first-person shooting gallery challenges, there are the collectible wads of cash hidden around the world, and there is plenty of combat, mostly with a nail-enhanced baseball bat.
The game starts off with some defined goals and linear gameplay, but later in the game it can get really confusing. This is one of the only games in my 20+ years of gaming where I had to seek out a walkthrough, not to solve a puzzle, but just to figure out where to go next. You’ll ultimately have to backtrack and revisit previously explored sections of the game, but often there are no obvious clues to do so.
Conker is a squirrel of unlimited resources thanks to the comical integration of the “context sensitive” B button, represented by a large B somewhere in the game world. Stand on the pad and press the B button and Conker will get just the right item he needs at that point in time. This makes for some outrageous moments where he can pull a plunger from thin air and blast a boulder with dynamite, or whip out a cutting torch and light up some vampire bats.
Mostly, Conker uses a baseball bat to bash the robot-like enemies that wander aimlessly around the land. These guys are pretty stupid but they can do damage until you learn their timing. The best thing about Conker is that his world is persistent so once dead, always dead. Clear out a section and you never have to worry about enemies in that area again. This makes things nice when you have to backtrack and look for missing Sponduli (cash).
Some typical quests in Conker range from the simple task of retrieving a stolen bee hive from the neighboring wasps to helping the King Bee pollinate the sexy sunflower with the enormous jugs (now there’s a sentence I never thought I would type). It gets worse. How about feeding prune juice to a giant bull to fill an underground chamber full of poo. How about a mountain of poo with a giant turd boss inside who eats sweet corn and sings opera while flinging globs of poo at you? Anyone else think Rare is obsessed with feces?
My absolute favorite level has to be the bank heist which is a perfect recreation of the lobby scene from the original Matrix movie. This level puts Conker and Berri in full-length leather, heavily armed, as they go up against incredible odds in a massive gunfight full of slow-motion acrobatic tumbles and exploding marble columns.
Bosses really steal the show in Conker. They can be as simple as a pitchfork to as insane as a Terminator-style robot haystack with missile launchers. Many of the bosses and the levels themselves are themed after movies and other pop-culture references. There is a complete zombie and vampire world that spoofs Van Helsing, and a massive battle sequence that recreates the opening to Saving Private Ryan scene for scene. There is a giant arena battle that parodies Gladiator and a final boss fight that mirrors the final battle in Aliens, complete with Conker inside a load-lifter exoskeleton.
Defeating bosses still boils down to learning their patterns and weaknesses, but your attacks are almost always integrated into the environments and are always hysterically funny. In the boiler boss encounter you first have to get drunk and pee on dozens of fiery imps who then retreat into a giant furnace that comes to life sporting a huge set of balls. You have to stun the boss by dumping gallons of poo on his head then run up and crush his balls with a pair of context-sensitive bricks you pull out of thin air.
One of the more creative boss battles has you turned into a bat with the quest to feed your master, an even larger bat. You fly around the mansion and use your anus-cam to target and drop poo on vampire hunters who have invaded the castle. Once stunned, you can swoop down and pick them up and carry them back to your master for consumption.
There are a few quirks in the gameplay that can prove quite annoying. The first is an underwater swimming sequence that has you trying to get past three rotating fans. Swimming is a royal pain in the arse and this sequence took me over an hour to figure out. Then you have the hoverboard race along the lava river, which wouldn’t be that hard if it weren’t for the wandering dinosaur obstacles that can’t really be avoided. You just have to hope they aren’t in your way when you cross the intersection.
All of this leads to my final complaint. I don’t mind a game where I die, even if I die a lot. Conker checkpoints and saves often, but for some reason Rare has implemented a worthless system of lives. You collect squirrel tails to give you more retries, and when you are out of tails you are taken back to the menu where you can restart from the exact same place you were with a full set of retries. So why bother?
Plus, you first have to go through an end-game movie showing you as a prisoner of the Panther King, before going to the menu and restarting, and all of these have load screens. Conker is loaded with load screens. Thankfully, the load times never exceed 8-10 seconds but the game is load happy, especially when you meet new characters or go in and out of buildings.
So, Conker is definitely “reloaded” on the Xbox but what about that LIVE part? Rare has implemented a multiplayer experience not unlike Unreal Tournament or any of your other favorite multiplayer frag fests. There are some amazingly creative maps for multiplayer, again, borrowing from movies like Terminator, Lords of the Rings, Saving Private Ryan, A Bridge Too Far, and more.
All of the popular modes are present including deathmatch, objectives, and CTF along with team modes so Conker and his band of squirrels can go up against the evil Tediz in a variety of situations. There are numerous levels that you can play online or with a system link, and there is also a Dumbot mode that allows you to play these levels alone against some deadly serious AI.
There is also a Chapter X mode that sequences these multiplayer maps together with a loosely spun story, complete with original cutscenes and mission briefings. As you complete each level the next unlocks and the progression of difficulty is steep and challenging.
Multiplayer isn’t as varied as I would have liked. You either play as the SHC (squirrels) or the Tediz, choosing from any of six character classes like a sniper, infantry, rocket launcher, etc. You are essentially locked into these roles, unable to pick-up new weapons on the battlefield. If you want to change class you actually have to exit out to the menu and do so then reenter the battle.
Balance is an issue. Normally a sniper can rule in a game like this but targeting is fidgety and it’s nearly impossible to hold a steady sight, even on a stationary target, and the moment you pull the trigger there is a built-in drift. If you are lucky enough to hit your target you’ll find it takes 2-4 headshots to kill them, whereas the guy with the rocket launcher or the infantry guy with a hand grenade can kill you with a single shot that lands anywhere in the vicinity.
The game begs for large numbers of players since the levels are so large, but there is also the annoying feature of having the names of all players overlaid on the game screen. When combined with endless explosions, particle effects, debris, vapor distortion, and general chaos, the game just gets too busy to enjoy.
But given the massive numbers of people who are playing this game online, this apparently isn’t an issue. And for those willing to put in the time to learn the intricacies of online play, teamwork, and strategy, you’ll likely find a rewarding experience and a rich stat-tracking system that is second only to TimeSplitters: Future Perfect.
Conker is a visual masterpiece, perhaps the best looking game to date on the Xbox, which is saying a lot considering 60% of the game is dealing with poo either in solid or liquid form.
Character design is charming and delightful, a stark contrast to the mature dialogue that often comes out of their mouths. The paint can and paintbrush in the barn look like animated Disney characters but their bleeped dialogue betrays their innocent visual design. Even the animated wads of cash will curse at you before you sweep them up. Conker is amazing with a fluffy animated tail that pioneers the art of fur texture mapping. You just want to pet the screen. And he has a wonderful assortment of costumes that match the theme of the particular level.
The levels and environments are truly inspired and creatively linked together. The draw distance is massive and there is virtually no pop-up. There is one scene where you climb a ladder for about two minutes and when you reach the top you can look around and see the entire game world; locations that would take you several minutes to reach on foot.
Special effects are fantastic with colorful lighting, particle effects including swirling dust in the light beams, flames, and organic colors and lighting. There are some cool effects to enhance the immersion like blood splatters on the screen, rain drops that trickle down the screen, plus clear drips when you surface after swimming in water or sickly brown drops when you surface from sewage. The game also has the best "bullet hole in the screen" effect I have ever seen.
The game is fleshed out with a wonderful 3D menu system that has you panning around an interactive pub to access the various save slots, Live play, or chapter starts. The Live menus take you to an underground lab with even more cool visual effects and CRT displays that show your character and mission selections.
The dialogue in Conker is hysterical and there were times when I had to stop playing I was laughing so hard. And don’t even get me started on Sloprano, the singing poo boss. I’ve fought him at least six times now just to hear him sing. All of the characters have unique accents and distinct personalities. Who would have thought a pitchfork could evoke such emotion as he lay their wounded on the battlefield.
Sound effects are crisp, clear, and usually quite disgusting. The entire level that takes place in and around the mountain of poo is not for the squeamish. Conker sticks to the ground creating a sucking sound as he walks and when he is rolling around giants balls of poo there is this sickening sticky wet sound.
Environments create realistic echoes and there is an excellent underwater effect that keeps things appropriately muffled. All of the sound is presented in a wonderful 5.1 Dolby Digital mix.
The music is fantastic. Despite the hysterical lyrics of Sloprano, the opera music is actually quite authentic and the thumping techno tunes playing in the caveman club is the type of music I would listen to outside of the game. The game has featured music and background score and both are worthy of a soundtrack CD.
It took me 12:46 to finish Conker my first time. Keep in mind I never played the N64 version, so experienced Conker fans might get through this game a lot faster. I also got severely stuck on those underwater fans and the hoverboard racing, which probably added a combined 90 minutes to my completion time.
Of course Rare is betting that the multiplayer modes in Conker are going to keep you playing long after you have won your throne in the single-player game. That’s a tough call to make. I really like the themed levels in multiplayer, but the gameplay is just a bit lacking and the balance is off in the character classes. And I really hate the names cluttering up my screen.
Truth be told, there are numerous other Live games you can play in this genre, but none are as quirky or as original as Conker, even with the problems that come with it.
Conker: Live and Reloaded elevates the action genre to new heights while taking the standards of decency to new lows, but in a good way…a British way. If you enjoy smashing robots, swimming in and playing with poo, collecting large sums of cash, helping a giant bee get laid, hatch and then sacrifice a baby T-Rex, explore your vampiric ancestry, fight a war against the Tediz, and blowing up a giant Teddy Bear with a tank, all on your way to conquering the throne of the Panther King, then look no further. That’s just a small sample of what awaits you during this Bad Fur Day.