This weekend sees the 15th anniversary of Nintendo 64 cult classic Conker’s Bad Fur Day.
Easily one of the best platformers on the N64 (and possibly of all time if you’re willing to forgive us a little bit of hyperbole), it’s a brilliantly funny, surprising and very rude spin on your traditional cutesy characters and gameworlds.
So we thought we’d shed some light on this oft-forgotten gem of gaming. Here’s why it really was, and is, something special.
The set-up is a simple one: Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a 3D platformer very much in the vein of Super Mario 64. But while it looks as cute and cuddly as that jolly fat plumber himself, or Rare’s previous output (Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64 etc) it hides a dark sting in its tail in the form of a rather offensive sense of humour.
As Conker – a greedy, heavy-drinking red squirrel – you must attempt to return home to your girlfriend Berri, completing various challenges involving solving puzzles, fighting enemies, and gathering (sometimes shocking) objects along the way.
Taut as you like
Ignoring all of the hubbub surrounding its adult content and subversive marketing, at its heart Conker’s Bad Fur Day was just a really well made game.
With platforming modeled from the genre defining Super Mario 64 five years before it, it was obvious Rare wanted to produce a title that was, at its core, hugely fun to play.
Behind the scenes the work that went into it just sounds downright obsessive (one programmer spent four months reverse engineering the Nintendo 64’s tech to allow more simultaneous light sources on screen), and led to the slickest, best looking title on the N64.
Conker released right at the very end of the Nintendo 64’s life-cycle, and as such was missed out on by many gamers who already had eyes set on the shiny new GameCube that would release a mere eight months later.
The advertising campaign Rare set for the game was much more low-key than befitted a game of Conker’s quality, though it did include page space in more adult publications like Playboy. Yes, really.
This under-the radar-approach, alongside the kind of scatological humour which lends itself to a cult classic nine times out of ten, secured Bad Fur Day as the kind of game only the most ‘in the know’ gamers loved.
Not your average Nintendo game
Nintendo has always had a bit more of a family-friendly reputation about its games; for every gritty warfare simulator released for the Xbox or PlayStation, there’s a Super Mario or Pokémon title for Nintendo’s consoles.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day was at odds with everything Nintendo had stood for thus far; a distinctly adult sense of humour.
This didn’t make things easy: Nintendo of America refused to acknowledge the game in its official Nintendo Power magazine, and Nintendo of Europe handed over publishing rights to THQ, for fear of parents accidentally buying the game for their children.
Nevertheless, Conker made it more or less through the censors unscathed (“pretty much 99.9%” according to director Chris Seavor), though a dirty cutscene involving Pokémon – we don’t want know – and a few other lewd tidbits fell by the wayside.
The humour itself
Boy is there a lot of great humour on show here.
Ranging from the puerile (see the ‘Great Mighty Poo’ song, above) to brilliant fourth-wall breaking takedowns of popular culture and video gaming tropes, it’s disgusting and smart in equal measure.
There’s bound to be something to make everyone laugh here, but be warned, as clearly professed on the box “This game is not for anyone under age 17″…
One of a kind
Conker never really took off as major player in the video game hero realm. Though a remake for the original Xbox in 2005 (Live and Reloaded) introduced him to a new audience, and he was included with Project Spark‘s rudimentary game-building tools recently (for some reason).
A recently announced launch game for Microsoft’s HoloLens technology, entitled Young Conker, looks to be as far removed from Bad Fur Day’s adult humour as you can possibly get; a sterile platformer with a sickly cute lead that – while looking ridiculously awesome – sullies Conker’s cult legacy no end.
We’ll stick with the original, thanks.