I don’t think a game ever made me laugh so hard. Conker’s Bad Fur Day was developed by Rare in 2001 for the N64, and felt like a satirical middle finger to gaming and film that revelled in mocking many of its tropes.
It could only come from the creator of platforming classics such as Banjo and Donkey Kong Country, Rare. But in a symbolic move, Banjo’s head is mounted by the fireplace and Conker puts a chainsaw to the N64 logo in the game’s opening, stating derisively, “Stupid logo.”
“The great despisers are the great reverers,” Friedrich Nietzsche wrote. Conker’s Bad Fur Day takes risks with its subject material and yet shows its love for the gameplay with its smooth controls, interesting level design, and unique scenarios that will often leave you agape, wondering, did that really just happen?
What do sweet corn, bathrooms and the opera have in common? The Great Mighty Poo. One of the grandest, and nastiest, battles of the N64, the boss fight against this massive anthropomorphic crap giant is both surreal and hilarious. The Great Poo demands sweet corn, which Conker obliges by sacrificing the innocent corn into the crap pool. A Jaws parody scene follows before the rising of the Great Mighty Poo, who uses the sweet corn as a tooth. Conker doesn’t have much recourse against Poo other than to throw the “Context Sensitive” rolls of toilet paper into his mouth, qualifying it as one of the strangest bathroom scenes in gaming. But it’s the singing that I actually enjoyed most. His voice is catchy and his words have a cringe-inducing rhythm to it:
I am the Great Mighty Poo
and I’m going to throw my shit at you!
A huge supply of tish
come from my chocolate starfish.
Conker even gets in on the singing action in one of the exchanges. The ultimate goal is to make his soprano shriek so loud, it will shatter the glass protecting the toilet flusher. When it does, Conker flushes him down the toilet and the Great Mighty Poo’s end is marred by a deflated fart. There’s a big wad of cash waiting who’ll say to you, “Here I am you Greedy Bastard.”
Here was a level incorporating a musical element that was both cynical and brilliant, all while covered in shit. Other platformers have heroes with vague goals incorporating treasures, but who still try to do good and otherwise stick to heroic actions. Even though Conker is visually designed as a cute squirrel, he’s actually foul-mouthed and consumed by his greed, distilling his questing to its purest form. The only thing Conker cares about is satisfying his greed.
Saving Private Conker
War never changes. Except when it’s fought by squirrels versus Tediz Teddy Bears. This recreation of D-Day is even stranger because the soldiers are low polygonal squirrels shaded a muted grey, ill-prepared for what awaits them. One of the squirrels barfs and another soldiers warns you, “Thirty seconds. Nice knowing you guys.” As soon as the landing craft opens, everyone aboard gets massacred. Conker jumps out the other end of the boat, but even underwater, squirrels are getting slaughtered. The opening chunk of the level has you avoiding bullet showers from the Tediz. The nauseous absurdity of war has the echoes of Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan as times slows and Conker sees squirrels are on fire. One has even lost his arm, and more keep on getting their heads blown up. Conker’s reaction is painfully candid: “Get me the heck out of here!”
For the time, it was one of the most intense war scenes I’d experienced in a game, even if it was chocolate pieces I was losing. Bullets are interminable and squirrels are getting killed left and right. With no weapons, all Conker can do is run and take cover behind the Czech hedgehogs (the anti-tank obstacles). The whole screen is shaking, squirrels are yelling, and blood splatters everywhere. It is terrifying and depicts the horror of war in grotesque fashion as it’s cute squirrels being murdered in droves.
If you can survive the opening death beach, Conker meets up with another soldier who informs you of the situation against the Tediz. “Tediz. I hate these guys,” Conker says in a light reference to Indiana Jones. The Context Sensitive light bulb pops up, which is your cue to push the “B” button. Conker puts a cigarette in his mouth and receives two guns which he uses to fight back. If only reality were so easy.
The Conan Conundrum
There are many other memorable/shocking/gross (I use those words interchangeably here) levels and characters, from a grim reaper named Gregg, to an uncomfortable sequence that will explain why they describe a certain act as a talk about bees and flowers. Conker‘s final stage is a Matrix parody sequence that I actually enjoyed more than the real Matrix games. You have to infiltrate the Feral Reserve Bank and your characters gain bullet time perception as they leap from one end of the hall to the other while fighting off an army of guards.
The final battle includes an homage to Alien as well as a fourth wall breaking cheat where Conker makes a deal with Rare programmers. The ending is bittersweet, frustrating, and the opposite of every game out there. All alone on his throne, Conker can’t change his fate. Even his monologue seems like a total mockery of the the typical happy ending you’d expect in games. Conker goes back to the pub where he was when the game began, getting drunk on Scotch whiskey. This time, he takes the opposite road. The game seems to insinuate he’ll finally make his way back home.
Knowing Conker though, his bad fur day most likely just got worse.