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While playing the single-player portion of Conker: Live and Reloaded – an update of 2000’s Conker’s Bad Fur Day – one thought inevitably turns around and around in my head. What was it that prompted Rare to turn what had promised to be another cuddly 3D platformer – very much in the mould of its own Banjo-Kazooie – into a potty-mouthed, faeces-obsessed, eclectic adventure featuring an amoral, boozed-up squirrel? Was it working with Nintendo? Did pressure to design games that fitted into Mario’s cutesy mould spur them on to create something so completely the antithesis? Just idle speculation, and we’ll probably never know, but the results are really something else.
If you’ve heard shocking tales of Conker’s Bad Fur Day before, I can assure you that they’re all true: the blood, the gore, the bleeped-out swearing, the cheap sexual innuendo, are very much present and accounted for. There are whole areas where you’re literally wading or swimming through excrement. Relieving your bladder is an integral part of the game. One of the bosses really is a giant operatic turd that threatens to shove your head up its behind. You’re genuinely are told to **** off by just about everyone you meet. At one point, you actually sacrifice a cute baby dinosaur to get a little further on your way. If any of this sounds remotely offensive, or you’re the high-brow sort that prefers sophisticated French arthouse comedies to Team America: World Police then trust me, Conker isn’t for you.
Which might actually be a shame, because the Xbox is horrifically starved of decent platformers, and underneath all the sh*t, p*ss, vomit, swearing and violence, Conker is better than just about anything similar on the system. On the Gamecube or PS2 it would find stiffer competition, what with Super Mario Sunshine, Jak & Daxter, Sly Racoon and Ratchet & Clank knocking around. On the Xbox, against such lacklustre acts as Blinx or Sonic Heroes, Conker shines.
This is arguably because the original Conker’s Bad Fur Day sits in a sweet spot in-between two camps of 3D platformers. Like Banjo-Kazooie, it takes the basic Mario 64 template, with the game divided into a series of large, themed environments containing enemies to defeat, routes to explore, tasks to perform and hidden bonuses to discover, and within limits you’re able to move between these environments at will. However, foreshadowing Jak & Daxter, Ratchet & Clank et al, Conker wanted to be more than just another 3D platformer; it wanted to add a chunk of blasting and a spot of racing into the gameplay. As a result, you get a game that mixes the usual climbing and jumping with bloodthirsty levels parodying Saving Private Ryan and The Matrix.
Admittedly, Conker doesn’t spread these components evenly throughout, with the front half more of a conventional platformer and the game becoming more trigger-happy towards the end. However, both parts of the game are very enjoyable indeed. After Banjo-Kazooie, Rare had designing 3D platformers down to a fine art, and the mixture of tasks and the imaginative ways in which you complete them make Conker a lot more enjoyable than the usual ‘collect five of this, then six of that, defeat a mini-boss then collect some more’ stuff you find in many second-rate examples of the genre.