There are many stars of the Nintendo games which have followings. Mario, Sonic, Link, Donkey Kong, Kirby, Starfox… and Conker.
Conker is the odd man, well, squirrel of the group, and he rarely – well, never – gets invited to “family reunions” like the Bash Bros. or Mario Kart games. He first appeared as a character in Diddy Kong Racing, and then had his own game as a Game Boy Color release: Conker’s Pocket Tales.
That game was described by the developer, Rare:
It’s Conker’s birthday and someone crashed his party! The Evil Acorn has stolen all of Conker’s presents and kidnapped his best chipmunk friend, Berri. Now you must take on the role of the bushy-tailed hero, pursuing your nemesis throughout 6 visually-stunning worlds to rescue Berri and save your birthday from complete disaster. Strain your brain to solve challenging puzzles, battle the Evil Acorn’s horde of minions with your trusty slingshot, and even flex your muscles in sporting events as you track your foe to the final showdown!
Simple enough. Perhaps too simple. The game was brushed aside by reviewers who felt it was too ordinary. Criticisms from reviewers is nothing new, but the developer, in this case, took issue with the reviews. The game, already being retooled for the Nintendo 64 platform, was retooled more… far more… than originally planned.
The Nintendo 64 was a fading platform, and Nintendo acceded to Rare’s requests in an effort to garner some resurgent interest for the game system. The result was Conker’s Bad Fur Day.
This is the game that has become a beloved title for game mavens and the main reason some kept their old N64s.
Berri still goes missing… but this time, Conker discovers this fact after returning home from a night of binge drinking with his friends. That sets the tone for the entire game. The squirrel is twenty-one (which raises questions about why he was hanging around with Diddy Kong) and enjoys alcohol… so much that he occasionally has to stop and vomit if he’s too active. He has a foul mouth. He is prone to avarice. He defeats some enemies not with the usual cartoon hammer, but with a double-barreled shotgun.
His enemies include members of the weasel Mafia, a self-aware (and singing) pile of dung, and Nazi teddy bears. He saves his girlfriend, but she’s gunned down in a later scene, and unlike most such games, she stays dead. The game even takes a swing into metafiction toward the end, where Conker enlists the aid of the game programmers to help him defeat the final boss… only to cap with him berating himself for neglecting to ask the programmers to bring his girlfriend back to life before they left.
For the family-friendly Nintendo image, the game is a nightmare. For the reviewers tired of familiar storylines in cookie-cutter platformers featuring anthropomorphic animals, however, it was brilliance. The game has since had its graphics and mechanics upgraded and included as an option for later Nintendo game consoles, but it’s never been welcomed back into Donkey Kong / Diddy Kong land, or the arenas of any of the other Nintendo mainstays. He’s a bad influence.
Question of the night: what’s your favorite console game(s)?