Booze, violence, squirrels...a typical day at Buttonhole.
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Sun, 14 August 2005
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Despite my undeniable fondness for the Nintendo 64, there were really only four game companies I can think of, off the top of my head, who consistently produced quality software for the thing.
THQ, thanks mostly to their excellent wrestling games, are one. Though they triumphed mainly with quality gameplay, rather than displaying any outstanding prowess in an aesthetic sense.
The now defunct Acclaim is the next to spring to my mind. They were one of the few third party publishers to significantly support the format on a regular basis. Acclaim also managed, more than most, to harness the system's graphical potential quite impressively at times.
The other two that I think of immediately are Nintendo themselves (of course) and the somewhat legendary Rare (who were the big N's closest partners back then - in other words they were 'second party'). During the N64's lifespan Rare were highly proficient in making games for it that not only played well, but also managed to wring out every last drop of the system's power. Presumably this was thanks, in part, to Rare having a more first hand understanding of how to best program for the "fun machine". (And I guess that Rare being just plain great at what they do might also have been a major factor!) Rare's N64 titles even topped Nintendo's own at times, from a technical standpoint at the very least.
So, I am quite sure that the Rare developed Conker's Bad Fur day was a fine game on the Nintendo 64. I never actually played it though. It was just another (the list is seemingly endless) one of those games that I always meant to take a look at, but never ended up getting to. No gamer, no matter how dedicated, can possibly play every game released, so it is inevitable that some of the good stuff will pass you by.
|The world's most dangerous squirrel. |
Conker came out pretty late in the N64's existence. If my memory serves me correctly (which is not something I'd be foolish enough to guarantee) this was during the period when I was utterly enamoured with all things Dreamcast. For me, most games on any other format took a back seat during that phase. I was far more concerned with eagerly devouring anything I could get my hands on for the sexy little white box that was Sega's last home console (I still haven't quite recovered from its premature demise).
As most people know, Rare are now partners with Microsoft. They've just released a remake of Bad Fur Day, called Conker: Live & Reloaded which is exclusive to the Xbox.
So, in this instance, missing out on the N64 version of Conker ended up working in my favour. It allowed me to experience the single player adventure for the first time in this Xbox port, with improved (and utterly stunning) graphics, as well as various other tweaks and upgrades. I'm really thankful I didn't know what to expect in advance, because awaiting the next strange and wonderful thing that this game is going to present you with is a big part of the appeal.
Even if you did play the old version extensively, I gather this remake has had various alterations made here and there. Also, the graphics are so good now that I'd say it is worth playing through again just to see it looking as superb as it does now.
On top of that, this version includes an all new multi-player mode. You can play that over Xbox Live, system link, in a two player co-op mode, or even solo against the computer controlled "dumbots". The multiplayer side of Conker: Live and Reloaded isn't perfect; it takes some time to get accustomed to and even then it remains a touch clunky. So it may not prove to be quite as popular as some of the other, smoother, multi-player Xbox titles already out there. Still, there's certainly some fun to be had with it. It is a solid (and welcome) additional feature, which really adds to the value and almost amounts to making Conker two games in one.
Speaking for myself, whether it was Rare's intention or not, the single player mode of Conker: Live and Reloaded is still the game's highlight and really what I care most about.
|Muppets on acid. |
The platform/adventure game has long been one of Rare's biggest strong suits (and one of my favoured genres) and Conker stands out as one of the finest examples of that. There's plenty of the good old run and jump, but you also get various third person shooting sections, some racing action and a whole lot more. The sheer inventiveness and superb variety of the gameplay kept me constantly compelled.
Another thing that helps to make this title so cool is that it is, quite simply, one of the funniest games I've ever played. Rare are a UK based company and that might be of some significance in this regard, because (not always, but just in general) I tend to respond more to the British style of humour than I do with the American kind. I won't go into detail about the content, because part of the joy of the game is seeing it yourself. But I will say that the storyline is ludicrous (intentionally so) and much of the humour is far from subtle, but entirely more effective as a result.
The game is not suitable for kids either; it has plenty of booze related shenanigans, foul language and outrageously exaggerated violence. Mostly, this is toilet humour at its best! Of course, seeing all these otherwise cute looking little characters acting in such crude and inappropriate ways only serves to make it all even funnier. There are also numerous parodies of popular movies included and those are all highly amusing - especially, once again, because they are being played out using a bunch of cute little critters. Basically, if you don't get at least a few laughs out of Conker, you might want to check your pulse and make sure your heart is still beating.
No game is perfect though and Conker: Live & Reloaded does have its share of problems. Firstly, the combat (in the non-shooting sections) is monotonous and unexciting for the most part. You run up to the enemies, hit them with a bat, back off to avoid their counterattack and repeat, about 5 times until they are vanquished. So, that gets old pretty quickly.
Another problem is that the camera can be quite frustrating, making it very easy to fail simply because you can't see things properly.
The biggest issue I had with the game though is the fact that you don't always know exactly what you are supposed to be doing. Making a game that rewards exploration and doesn't make every solution overly obvious, yet keeping it clear what goal you're meant to be aiming for can be a tough thing to balance. Australian Ninja and I have been discussing that very issue recently, but I digress. Conker: L&R, unfortunatley, doesn't quite get that balance right.
Often it took me quite some time to get to the next section of the game, purely because I had no idea what I was meant to do, or where I was meant to go. That was annoying and reminded me of another Rare title from their N64 days called Jet Force Gemini. JFG was an otherwise fine game, which was structured in a most perplexing fashion. Conker is not as confusing as that game, but it still is not structured as clearly as it should be.
There were also a few occasions were the controls didn't feel responsive enough, but I didn't find that problem to be a constant one. The control scheme worked well enough the majority of the time.
|I agree with what he said. |
So, those are the only niggles I had with it, but they were noticeable enough to take the game down a peg or two (otherwise I loved this game enough that it would probably have gotten the full score of 11 out of me). What helped raise it right back up though is the quality of its presentation.
Holy crap on a stick, ladies and gentlemen, this game looks great! There's so much attention to detail with the graphics, it is just a pleasure to behold. This is the best looking platform/adventure game ever made (a huge compliment, since that genre is one that often tends to excel in the looks department) and easily one of the most visually impressive titles on the Xbox.
When you see how well rendered Conker's fur is during a close up, or the textures displayed on any of the other wonderfully designed characters in the game, it is almost comparable with a CG movie like Shrek or Monsters Inc.! I know that is a big call, but I fully believe it. Most of the environments are almost equally as impressive. Rare's reputation for bringing the eye candy certainly won't be diminished by this graphical powerhouse.
The audio is magnificent too. Plenty of good voice acting, sound effects that wouldn't sound out of place in a Looney Tunes cartoon and excellent use of various musical styles.
Those who played the previous incarnation of Conker to death will have to decide for themselves whether the remake's beautiful new coat of paint and multi-player components are enough to justify giving it a second run. For anyone else, if you dig platform/adventure games (and you're of a suitable age) I definitely recommend buying this one. Despite those few problems I had with it, I got totally hooked on Conker: Live & Reloaded and couldn't stop playing from start to finish. That's a sure sign of a quality game!
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Looks phenomenal. Highly inventive. Mostly a blast to play. Laugh out loud funny. Conker: Live & Reloaded is one of the most enjoyable games I have played this year.