It’s hard to believe that the original Conker was originally conceived close to ten years ago. Announced in 1997, Conker’s Quest (as it was then called) was lauded as the new high water mark in visual design and performance. With advanced character emotions and a unique two-person story (where you actually switched between a couple of characters), Conker was largely hyped as the step beyond Super Mario 64.
But then Conker’s Quest was mysteriously dropped from the schedule. Rare insisted that they were working on it but years went by without even a screenshot of the project. And then out of nowhere comes Conker’s Bad Fur Day, a completely retooled version of the game announced in 1997. Where Conker’s Quest was a cute, cuddly, innocent adventure for the entire family, Conker’s Bad Fur Day was a rude, crude, perverted quest meant purely for the adults.
This new Conker cursed, drank too much, was a sexual deviant, and most importantly, he was nothing like what we had seen on the Nintendo 64. Conker’s Bad Fur Day was exactly the type of game adult N64 users had been waiting for, but since it came out only months before the GameCube (not to mention only months after the PS2’s launch) few gave the game its due respect.
Perhaps that is why in 2003 Rare decided to announce a Conker remake for the Xbox. With new and improved multiplayer modes (enhanced with Xbox Live) and better graphics, Conker was set to finally take the world by storm. The only problem was that it didn’t show up in 2003 … or even 2004 for that matter! In fact, it’s not until just now that Xbox users are finally getting Conker Live & Reloaded -- mere months before the launch of the Xbox 360.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day was an instantly enjoyable game that was easy to get into and hard to put down, and the same holds true in this Xbox port. We’re introduced to Conker on a night where he’s especially liquored up and not in real good condition; an evening of partying that has left him without a way home. With blurred vision Conker attempts to make the journey back home, but clearly he is over his limit as he passes out on the way.
Conker awakes to what will be one of the most eventful days in any squirrels life, the sort of day that you won’t forget. It’s a day that involves Conker swimming through a lake of poo, mutilating cows, going to war, and even fighting an alien (as in the Alien). Conker’s day is sewn together in an often entertaining story that has him helping a cast of colorful characters – bees, a pitchfork, catfish, etc. – and collecting a lot of money.
Conker Bad Fur Day does everything it can to make fun of the standard platformer clichés and uses self-deprecating humor as a weapon. Conker’s adventure really feels like the programmers went out of their way to parody games like Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, which is really the charm of this experience. It’s not that his puzzles are fundamentally different from other platformers, Conker will be doing much of the same things Mario and his ilk has done for years; it’s the situations he keeps being put in that makes this game stand out. It may be rude, crude, and a little bit sexist, but Conker’s surroundings make for a wonderfully created world that you want to explore … at least until you get to the world of poo.
Although the story itself is a little short (it weighs in at around 12 hours), it’s the type game you will likely show friends or experience again down the road. With all kinds of memorable characters, several amazing boss battles (including one that is a sing along), and one of the strangest endings of all time, Conker is well worth going through at least once in your lifetime.
Conker is full of original ideas, some witty banter, and a lot of cool looking worlds, but it’s also a port of a game that by today’s standards, feels pretty dated. Much of my problem with Conker Live & Reloaded lies in the fact that Rare has done very little to improve the important aspects of their game. Sure the graphics and sound are better, but we’re still dealing with a flawed camera system, some questionable controls, and some real shallow combat. Considering the remake has been in development well over two years these are the types of things I would have expected to see tinkered with.
On the Nintendo 64 it was easy to overlook some of these problems because there was nothing else like it on the system, but these days a lot of the novelty has worn off. These days we look at the camera system and question how we every played with it in the first place, we are sad that Conker really has no moves outside of hovering or hitting, and we already have a lot of games that use profanity as a joke. Without the novelty we are left with a standard platformer that, while entertaining, is nowhere near the step beyond Super Mario 64.
Although much of Conker is on the easy side (none of the puzzles should take players more than once or twice to complete), parts of the game can be made extremely difficult thanks to unresponsive controls. Don’t get me wrong, most of the time Conker is easy to control, but when it comes down to really important split-second kinds of actions this game just doesn’t deliver. At first I thought it might be my game pad, but after experimenting with other controllers I realized that the game play was just naturally loose. This really made a few situations (especially towards the end) much more frustrating than they needed to be; considering how long this remake has been in development these control issues should not be a problem.
Aside from the few control hiccups you’ll find a story that is well worth going through … but even that side is not without a few problems of its own. One of the main problems I have with the storytelling comes from the fact that it seems like the programmers just go into full movie-parody mode about half way through. Early on there are hints at movies jokes, but it jumps too quickly from the regular Conker world to a Bram Stoker’s Dracula world for what seems like no reason at all.
And that brings up another point, while the movie parodies were on the mark when Conker’s Bad Fur Day was first released, now they just seem dated. By now everybody and their mother has parodied the Matrix, and do people even remember Bram Stoker’s Dracula? It’s not that the parodies aren’t on the mark (I am especially fond of a certain nod to Eyes Wide Shut), but they aren’t very fresh or exciting anymore. It would have been nice had Rare taken some time to update a few of the movie references, perhaps give us parodies of newer films … lest I remind you that this has been in development for over two years.
So if the time and energy didn’t go into making a new single player mode where did it go? One look at the various multiplayer modes and you’ll see what Rare spent their time working on. Conker’s multiplayer modes (which can be played via Xbox Live, with bots, or even through system link) is where the real excitement lies. It’s a meticulously thought out 8 on 8 battles between Squirrels (SHC) and Bears (Tediz), all in huge levels that require teamwork and a lot of strategy.
Unlike most multiplayer experiences, Conker actually offers a story to go along with each of the eight expansive environments. Each level requires both teams to work together to complete tasks, kill the enemy, and ultimately gain advantage over the other side. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Most of the tasks (or victory conditions, as they are called in the game) are a little vague at first, requiring you to play them more than once before you figure out what you’re doing. In fact, almost nothing about Conker’s multiplayer modes are instantly obvious.
Thankfully you can practice the missions against computer opponents before looking like a fool in front of 15 other real life players. Once you’re well versed on what you’re doing from level to level the game becomes quite a bit more fun, offering a challenge unlike anything else on the Xbox Live. The missions all make sense and do a nice job of making you feel like you’re part of the action at all times. The story elements are a nice touch, offering an entertaining story about the war between the Tediz and the SHC.
Another great addition is the ability to select from different classes for each side. Unlike games like Halo 2 where everybody is essentially the same until they pick up weapons, Conker allows you to choose a character at the beginning of each game that will offer pros and cons. Just about every type of killing machine is represented here, including the Grunt (your basic, run-of-the-mill warrior), the Long Ranger (who carries a sniper), the Sneeker (who uses a sword and can cloak to become invisible), the Demolisher (who is slow, but carries a bazooka), and several more. These different classes each have their own special abilities and make the game even more diverse than it already is.
But even with all that going for it, Conker’s multiplayer support does have a few problems that are immediately noticeable. For example, the control just doesn’t feel as user friendly as you would want it to be. Granted, it’s better than what you get in the single player game, but some of the actions seem mapped to the wrong button. You can change the controls around, but even after tinkering with it for quite awhile I found that the game just never felt as good as other online shooters.
If that weren’t enough, I also had a hard time keeping track of whether or not I was hitting the enemy or not. With many of characters being so small in scale, it’s easy to simply shoot around them or not see them at all. It’s also worth mentioning that the various classes, while cool, don’t feel very balanced. Some characters, like the Demolishers, are simply too powerful. Whereas others, such as the Grunts, can be killed off in mere seconds. Sniping is especially difficult, since the game’s aiming never feels very accurate. None of this ruins the experience, but considering how long this game has been in development you would think that they could have worked a little harder on balancing out the classes.
Even with these problems, there is something addicting about Conker’s Xbox Live mode. It’s hard to deny that rushing the bloody beach (ala the beginning of Saving Private Ryan) is one tense experience. Other levels are slightly calmer, but provide a lot more depth than you might see on the surface. With weapon upgrades, vehicles to use, and plenty of explosions, Conker delivers quite a punch … assuming you can get used to the awkward controls and steep learning curve.
There’s no doubt that with a strong multiplayer mode and humorous story, Conker Live and Reloaded manages to offer enough game play to warrant a look. It’s one of the few platformers on the Xbox that delivers the goods almost every step of the way. The story may be outdated and the jokes work only half the time, but Conker’s quest is one you’ll likely remember for years to come. In the end I wish Rare would have spent the three years developing a new adventure to take Conker on, but it’s hard to deny the appeal of this remake. If you missed Conker the first time around, do yourself a favor and check him out on the Xbox, you won’t be sorry you did
As far as remakes go, Conker Live and Reloaded is a good one. But with flawed controls, outdated movie references, and a multiplayer mode that is maybe a little too complex for its own good, Conker doesnâ€™t quite live up to its hype. Still, itâ€™s an adventure everybody should experience once in their life.