Metacritic score: 92
VGChartz sales to date: 770,000
WHAT MADE IT GREAT
Every now and then the universe aligns in such a way that the impossible becomes reality. By the summer of 2001 the N64 was nearing the end of it's lifespan and the strain was starting to wear on it's considerable fanbase. The PS2 had been out for about a year and the Xbox launch was just a few months away, and the graphical power of both consoles were making the N64 look dated by comparison. On top of this, the N64 player base had aged 5 years since the console launched and their tastes for more mature content in games was growing and emerging details of the soon to launch Gamecube only confirmed the opinions of many that Nintendo consoles were purely kid-stuff. What few mature-rated games existed on the N64 were almost entirely first-person shooters with the occasional fighting game thrown in for good measure, but the action and platforming genres were by and large geared towards a younger audience. Everyone assumed the N64 was finished, that Nintendo was focused on their new console and there was nothing left in the lineup that would appeal to those gamers who had "outgrown" the system. Everyone was wrong.
Rare had been working on a new title based around Conker the squirrel as early as 1997, tentatively titled Conker's Quest. At first the game was shaping up to be another in a stable of deep platformers with cuddly anthropomorphic protagonists, much like Banjo-Kazooie or Donkey Kong 64. It was so much like their existing titles, in fact, that Rare feared it would get lost in the shuffle and so a monumental effort to redesign the game was launched. The finished product wouldn't be ready to launch until the waning days of the N64's lifespan, but when it was finally released it was everything gamers had been wishing for. Conker's built upon everything Rare had learned developing for the N64 and as a result both the gameplay and the numerous in-engine cutscenes (a novelty on the N64) looked absolutely gorgeous. The game kept it's action-platforming roots but the difficulty was cranked up considerably with more challenging puzzles and enemies. An expansive multiplayer suite was added that included a variety of game modes, none of which felt tacked on. But most notably, the game's story and themes took on an edginess that was rarely permitted on a Nintendo console. The plot included numerous references to drinking, drugs, sex, graphic violence, strong language, adult humor and parodies of pop-culture. Just as many gamers were starting to feel Nintendo had nothing left to offer them, Rare delivered exactly what they were hoping for.
The story picks up as Conker stumbles out of a bar blind drunk and gets lost while attempting to find his way home to his smoking hot (in an anthropomorphic squirrel way) girlfriend Berri. Unbeknownst to our furry hero, the Panther King finds his favorite end table is missing a leg and after consulting his adviser Professor Von Kriplespac decides that a red squirrel would make the perfect replacement and orders his minions to hunt one down. If that weren't bad enough, Berri is kidnapped by Don Weaso, head of the Weasel Mafia, to force her into being a stripper at one of his night clubs. The plot only gets more bizarre from there as Conker's greed often subverts his lust and his goal of getting home to give his girlfriend "the business" is frequently sidetracked by his attempts to score as much of the cash scattered around this strange land as he can. The situations he finds himself in are downright hilarious and even Conker questions the absurdity of some of the tasks he must complete in order to progress. Some of the highlights include helping a cheating bee, er, pollinate a busty sunflower, fighting a war between grey squirrels and Nazi teddy bears, carrying out a bank robbery heavily influence by the famous lobby scene from The Matrix, and who could forget battling the opera-singing Great Mighty Poo, king of Poo Mountain (you fight him by hurling toilet paper at him, naturally). Most people would be content to use feces as a one-dimensional joke, but Rare takes it to a whole new level and the virtuoso singing performance given by The Great Mighty Poo is rivaled only by Portal's "Still Alive" as the most hilarious soundtrack in gaming.
|Despite being a massive pile of shit, he was a downright heavenly baritone. Maybe the corn niblet teeth helped?|
|The lighthearted designs are hilariously juxtaposed against some rather dark black comedy. I guess even pitchforks can suffer from depression, though before they attempt to hang themselves they should probably seek help (or a wood chipper .|
|While one squirrel is chainsawed to chunks, a teddy is getting the stuffing stabbed out of him in the background. Cycle of violence, friends.|
Nintendo was absolutely terrified of this game. The company execs took one look at it and broke into panic attacks and night terrors of protesting parents accusing Nintendo of permanently traumatizing their children. Nintendo insisted on including a large print warning label on the game box advising it is not meant for anyone under 17, which is to my knowledge the only Nintendo game to every carry such a label (if I'm wrong, call me out in the comments). But the hand wringing didn't end there. Nintendo refused to publicize or market the game in any way (a policy evidently still in place as there is no mention of the game anywhere on Nintendo's website) and Nintendo Power refused to feature or review the game. Nintendo Power didn't acknowledge the game's existence until 10 years later when it was discussed in the Playback feature of volume 230 published in 2011. KB Toys refused to carry the game in their stores and Nintendo of Europe wouldn't publish the game in the EU market. If it wasn't for the solid 2nd-party privileged developer status and long history of successful collaborations it's doubtful Nintendo would have licensed the game at all.
After being blackballed by Nintendo, Rare was left scrambling to promote the game they had spent the past four years developing. Rare published the game themselves in North America and Australia (to this day the only other game they self-published was the previously featured Jet Force Gemini) while THQ published the game in Europe. Shut out from the most widely circulated gaming magazine for Nintendo fans and saddled with a warning label essentially saying the game wasn't suited for the console's largest audience base Rare decided to embrace the raunchiness of their adult-oriented game by publishing an ad in Playboy and putting out a racy TV commercial. Under such circumstances it's no wonder the game only sold 55,000 copies during the initial launch period, leading Nintendo to criticize Rare's sales performance in their decision to pass on the offer to buyout the developer. Needless to say, after developing so many hit games for Nintendo, many of which are remembered as the best ever made by a company that wasn't the Big N themselves, Rare felt betrayed and rumors persist that it was Conker's BFD which was the real reason Nintendo broke that bond and sent Rare into the arms of Microsoft. That would certainly explain why Conker chainsaws the familiar N64 logo in half during the game's opening credits.
But as much as Nintendo feared it, the critics were completely bonkers about it. Reviewers praised the graphical feats Rare had accomplished noting how improvements in draw-distance, lighting, shadows, facial animations and lip-syncing "makes other Nintendo 64 games look like 16-bit software" in comparison. The soundtrack and voice acting (much of it provided by lead director/designer/writer Chris Seavor, which explains all the British accents) was also well received and elevated the crude humor far beyond what you'd expect from typical toilet jokes. It's no surprise that it took the #1 spot in GameTrailers "Top Ten Funniest Games" list. The only criticisms came from some reviewers who felt that the removal of traditional Rare platforming tropes like item collection cut down playtime and the finicky camera system (to be fair, you can apply that complaint to almost any 3D game from that period). But those concerns didn't detract from the overall enjoyable experience and in the years since release a large cult following has developed around the game. It now holds the rank of 9th highest rated N64 game on Metacritic, sharing the top 10 with three other titles by Rare, the only company other then Nintendo to break into that pantheon of great games.
WHAT IF IT RELEASED TODAY
When Rare was bought by Microsoft in 2002 it effectively killed any possibility of Conker's return to a Nintendo console (or any other Rare game from making it's way to the Wii/Wii U Virtual Console). Even if Nintendo did have the rights to Conker's it's extremely unlikely they would ever let it see the light of day given that the company has only increased it's focus on family-friendly fare since then. But fortunately for Xbox owners, Microsoft has no such qualms about mature themed games (well, no as many I suppose would be more accurate) and in 2005 Conker: Live & Reloaded was released on Xbox Live. Though the game was originally meant to be a higher resolution uncensored remake, Microsoft had a change of heart and made some edits to both the single and multiplayer modes that some fans found rather egregious. While the multiplayer could now be enjoyed online through Xbox live, the game modes themselves were heavily altered. The variety of modes is reduced to just team-based capture the flag and deathmatch and a class system was introduced. There were also numerous edits made in the name of censorship in order to whitewash all the foul language from the game, the heavy hand of this is felt most during The Great Might Poo song which was re-recorded and had a number of lyrics bleeped out; both actions greatly reduced the comedic value of this scene. While the new graphics and textures looked truly stunning, many felt that the game's heart had been sucked out for questionable motivations given the game retained it's M-rating and dire warning labels despite the censorship.
|The sickle is handy for both reaping souls and slashing content deemed morally unfit by the censors of the Underworld.|
|Heavy is the crown, my squirrely friend. Sigh, where the hell did I leave my bottle of Scotch?|
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