Review: Good-looking quirky fun ? that's also confusing as #$@!
Like many gamers, I've been eagerly looking forward to Conker: Live and Reloaded ever since Rare announced it was bringing the critically acclaimed Nintendo 64 title over to the Xbox. After all, how could you not be intrigued at the idea of cute little squirrels gibbing evil teddy bears in deathmatches over Xbox Live? Of course, concept and execution are two different things, so the big question is: was it worth the wait?
Yes. Kinda. Sorta. Maybe.
I wish I could be more enthusiastic; Conker is fun but suffers from confusing gameplay designs that will have you grumbling in frustration, ?What the hell am I supposed to be doing?? many, many times.
But before we get into specifics, a little history is in order. The biggest misconception about Conker: Live and Reloaded is that it is simply an upgraded port of the original N64 Conker's Bad Fur Day with multiplayer tacked on. It is actually the other way around, with Rare spending most of their time working on a completely new multiplayer game that just so happens to have an enhanced version of the original to go along with it. From a business point of view it's actually surprising that Live and Reloaded was ever made, considering the original didn't even break six figures in unit sales despite glowing reviews. Granted, this was not entirely Rare's fault; poor marketing support from Nintendo and bad timing (the original Conker was released right at the end of the N64's life) conspired to suppress sales. But the savvy suits at Microsoft know a good thing when they see it and snapped up Rare and their raunchy squirrel in the hopes of creating a new cash cow franchise alongside that Master Chief guy.
Bad Poo Day
For the majority of us who missed the original Conker's Bad Fur Day, rejoice for here is your chance to experience what precious few others have enjoyed. It's not exactly the same as the original; certain sections were slightly altered, shortened or eliminated altogether to tighten up the gameplay, and some bits of humor that Nintendo originally cut because they deemed it too naughty have been added back. Overall, however, you will still get the full Conker experience.
The biggest difference from the original is obvious the first time you pop the disk in the tray. Simply put, this is one gorgeous looking game. Conker's fur looks so soft and plush you will want to reach into the TV to pet him (of course, he would probably smack you in the gonads if you did that, but that's beside the point). And it's not just the main character who benefits from the visual upgrade; everything in his bizarre cartoon world looks incredible, from the backgrounds to the pretty water and fire effects to the strange creatures he encounters on his travels. Little touches like how rain and blood splatters and runs down the screen or even how holes and cracks caused by exploding shrapnel appear on your TV add to the graphical coolness factor. The animation is outstanding too, from Conker's cute waddle to the realistic movement of fur when he twitches his tail, everything moves smoothly with a rock solid framerate. In fact, everything looks so good that I sometimes had difficulty determining when cutscenes ended and gameplay began. This is by far one of the best looking games on any console and is enough to make you wonder if the Xbox 360 is coming out too soon.
The audio is top-notch as well. The comical voice acting couldn't be better and the sound effects are perfect, from the wet squishy sounds of rolling poo balls to the hysterically frantic screaming of captured free-range cheese. Not since Thief has sound effects added so much to a game. The music is equally outstanding and matches the mood and action on the screen perfectly; composer Robin Beanland also does a hilarious job of spoofing the music for each movie parody.
The foul language has been bleeped, but before you cry censorship, listen to it first. I find it is actually funnier to hear the bleeps and let your mind fill in the gaps than to hear the naughty words outright. (Strangely enough, as raunchy as Conker is, I can't recall ever hearing him utter a bleeped word.)
Of course, beautiful looks and sounds alone do not make for good gameplay. Fortunately, Rare has that covered with a game that is fun and original in its weirdness. Conker may seem cute and cuddly with that toothy grin and big baby blues, but he is actually a selfish, greedy, raunchy little boozer who only looks after himself. However, similar to characters like Daffy Duck and Bender the Robot, he is still quite loveable in an anti-hero sort of way. The story starts off with Conker stumbling out of the Cock and Plucker pub after a long night of boozing it up with friends. He takes a wrong turn while attempting to stumble home and wakes up in a strange land filled with weird characters that would freak out Alice in Wonderland, like an alcoholic scarecrow, a suicidal red-neck pitchfork, and a substantially height-challenged, foul-mouthed grim reaper ? and these are his friends
. His enemies include the Panther King who, along with his evil mad scientist weasel, is trying to capture a red squirrel to prop up his wobbly three-legged table. No, it makes no sense, but neither does rolling around giant poo balls and giving cows explosive diarrhea.
Ah yes, poo. Those of you who suffer from scatophobia (which is the fear of poo ? no, I didn't make that up) will want to avoid this game at all costs. In fact, it seems like you can't go more than five minutes without encountering some sort of poo or fart joke; one chapter (there are nine in total) has you do nothing but run around and even swim in poo. Lovely. The developers went into overdrive with the scatological jokes, the epitome of which is perhaps the most disgusting and funniest boss in video game history, the giant opera singing Great Mighty Poo.
Luckily, the humor is not all about poo. When Conker has too much to drink, he will barf profusely. He will also pee like a fire hose, which is one of the most unique ways to kill enemies that you will ever see. The gross bodily function jokes might be a little adolescent, but overall, the humor is quite funny with many laugh out loud moments (though the part about the diarrhetic cows is really
During his adventures, Conker parodies Saving Private Ryan, Dracula, The Exorcist, The Untouchables, and several other movies and pop culture phenomena. My personal favorite is the ultra-cool spoof of The Matrix, complete with Conker decked out in leather and designer shades. Whoa. The game even pokes fun at itself in several Mel Brooks-like moments where you're humorously taken out of your suspension of disbelief and reminded that you're just playing a silly video game.
The game is basically divided into two sections: the first two-thirds is your typical platforming adventure (if you can call jumping around in poo ?typical?) with the last third a frantic fragfest shooter. The platforming sections are for the most part quite easy ? once you figure out what to do, that is. Trust me; you will be referring to a game guide or walk-through constantly because it is usually not clear what you're supposed to do or where to go. Even after reading the walk-through you will ask yourself, ?How the heck was I supposed to figure that
out?? Much of the fun of playing a game is solving things yourself, but since many of your tasks are so ambiguous with seemingly random connections to each other, things can get frustrating quite quickly. Sure, using a walk-through eliminates this problem but it also spoils the fun of discovery.
The context sensitive actions help to alleviate things somewhat. Whenever a lightbulb pops over Conker's head, you hit the B button and he will perform an appropriate action based on the situation (context sensitive hot spots are indicated by ? surprise! ? a big B on the ground). For example, he might pull out his slingshot so you can shoot things, or he may open up a beer keg and get sloshed. It's a simple system and works well; in fact, you never really know what to expect when you hit B, which adds a lot to the fun.
But despite the overall easiness of the game, there are several sections that will have you cursing angrily enough to make the foul-mouthed cog blush. The hoverboard section, for example, has to be one of the most irritatingly frustrating exercises in video game history. Hey, after 75 minutes of repeated attempts, you'd be steamed too. The camera is also not very cooperative, especially when you are close to a wall. For some reason, there are times when the camera will not pan vertically beyond a few degrees, which makes things difficult when you are trying to jump across large gaps. I've fallen to my death many times simply because the camera would not let me see either my take-off or landing spots clearly. Grr.
Once you finish the platforming sections, the game takes a sudden turn into left field and becomes a third-person shooter. There are still platforming elements you have to contend with, but for the most part it's all about running and gunning after the evil Tediz (think Nazi teddy bears). Veteran shooter players will find the combat quite easy; the Tediz are not particularly smart and will generally stand in one spot or run right at you, and they go down after only a few shots. The action is quite fun however, and the only downside is that this section is too short. One can only hope that if a sequel is in the works, we will be able to do more shooting and less platforming.
As well, not only does the gameplay change in the last third of the game but the story does too. The first two-thirds are filled with goofy cutscenes but for some reason that changes in the last third. The introduction to the shooter section is the aforementioned parody of Saving Private Ryan, where Conker and an army of squirrel soldiers must storm a beach protected by Tediz in armored bunkers. The thing is, it's not really a parody; rather, it's essentially a frame-by-frame recreation of the film's opening sequence. As a result, despite having squirrels instead of people, the ?parody? manages to capture almost the same raw emotion and brutality of the film. Instead of going for a laugh, the developers decided to go with serious drama; in that regard, it works, but after the silliness of the previous sections, it's a bit jarring. The serious dramatics continue throughout the remainder of the game (though to be fair, there are still many funny moments), including a very unexpected and sad twist near the end. In fact, the ending is surprisingly quite a downer; I suppose the moral of the story was to show Conker the consequences of his selfishness, but after making us laugh for most of the game, leaving the audience feeling sad doesn't seem like a wise decision.
Overall, however, the updated Conker's Bad Fur Day is a fairly fun experience (though short; gameplay is only about 10 hours or so). Replay is very limited, though ? I for one would not want to go through that damned hoverboard sequence again for all the anti-gravity chocolate in the world. Fortunately, that's where multiplayer comes in.