Does being an adult suck?
A long time ago on a console generation far, far away, there was a game called something like Project Dream, Twelve Tales: Conker 64, or maybe just Conker’s Quest. This prototype of a game was showcased for the press at the tail end of the 20th Century, and many journalists were exposed to a title that was meant to evoke the concept of a “playable (Disney’s) Bambi”. Unfortunately, this was being highlighted after a decade of cute mascot platformers, and, more recently, the publicly beloved Banjo & Kazooie. So, whereas Conker 64 was certainly impressive, many complained it was more of the same from the exact same studio that was now becoming best known for bumbling bees and not belligerent battletoads. This caused the studio that had once wanted so bad to make their own Mortal Kombat to snap, and Conker 64 was transformed into something that was intended for a wholly different audience. The explanation was “kids who were 6 when they played the first Mario game are now 26,” and an N64 platformer/collectathon for adults was born. The writing and presentation were going to be M for Mature, even if the gameplay may be M for Mario 64.
But this conversion of Conker’s world offers us a rare (heh) opportunity to apply science to videogame production. We all know what mascot-based action games from the N64 era look like. There are a variety of examples available, from Glover to that tongue game. But none of these games went for a full mature audience. Give or take Gex trying to appeal to hip 40 somethings that love Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes, none of Conker’s contemporaries even attempted to appeal to anyone old enough to drive. There may have been a “subtle” joke here or there, but that key “young adult” demographic was always assumed to be a parent that wandered into Little Timmy’s playroom, and not the person actually playing the game. Conker’s Bad Fur Day shows us exactly what these games would look like if they were made for adults.
And Conker paints a bleak picture of adulthood.
Let’s start with the bit that is the least psychologically offensive (assuming you are not my grandmother). Conker’s Bad Fur Day involves a number of jokes that are entirely based on the ol’ “so now that the kids are asleep…” kind of thinking. Where a “kiddy platformer” might have a snow-based world, Conker has a scatological-based area (complete with fart-based theme song). Vampires have been all over children’s games, but they were somehow bloodless. Here, we have a vampire that inspires wall-to-wall blood. Conker’s “princess” is shaped like a bombshell, and his main villain is going to suffer a gruesome death (one way or another). This is all very… what’s the best way to put this… “mature” is certainly not the right word… Well, it is straight up puerile, but it is childish in a way that acknowledges none of this would be possible in “kiddy” action games. We are allowed to do whatever we want, so let’s model the hell out of that (literal) shit.
But then justifying some of those “mature” inclinations starts to cause problems. Conker’s Bad Fur Day includes swearing. In fact, the game contains a lot of swearing. And, likely in pursuit of rationalizing said swearing, practically every character in the game (and absolutely including Conker) is an asshole. Just within the opening areas, there is a bee that is notably cheating on his wife, some farm equipment that is constantly insulting each other, and a talking box that immediately launches into a fatphobic tirade. Are these characters funny? If that is your thing, sure, it is funny to see these “cute” anthropomorphic animals and objects act like jerks. But it also affirms that everything with googly eyes in this universe is on the highest echelon of terrible. If you would like to spend the day enjoying a videogame free of body shaming, sorry, you will have to look elsewhere, even if the creature body shaming does not even have a body.
And, yes, if you are a child/teen that somehow managed to score the M-rated game off a clueless family member, it certainly would leave the impression that all adults ever do is insult each other. And that’s not true! It only happens when we get upset about whippersnappers being on our lawns!
But the inexorable march of adulthood being a gauntlet of misery continues. Conker has a beautiful (for a squirrel), capable girlfriend. So how does the game start? With Conker lying to her so he can stay out drinking. After that, technically, the entire game is the story of Conker trying to get back to her after all that drinking, but, when they are finally reunited, she is quickly fridged by the main villain. However, Conker gains god-like control of his world through conscripting a programmer! And does he bring Berri back to life with his newfound powers? Of course not! He forgets all about her! And that’s the joke! Ha ha! Funny squirrel! Could have saved a loved one’s life, but he got obsessed with slicing up an alien instead!
But adulthood isn’t just about being a jerk to everyone in your immediate area, it’s also about making references to pop culture! That previously mentioned alien is absolutely a chest-bursting xenomorph, and you’ll have to battle a Terminator parody before you get out of the first area. Saving Private Ryan was the talk of the town back in the late 90’s, so it gets the “war” level and an entire section of the multiplayer. And did you catch The Matrix? Conker hopes you did, because the final level makes absolutely no sense without that clarification of Keanu Reeves being why everyone is suddenly carrying guns and wearing trench coats. The wee young’uns can only dream of parodying R-Rated movies!
Speaking of paper-thin parodies, women are little more than their chests in Conker’s world. Jugga the Cavewoman has a pretty straightforward name for a woman that is about to make a penis size joke, and Sunflower the sunflower looks like a children’s drawing of a plant… save for the enormous gazongas. And, yes, you can use her breasts as a trampoline. Men can be monsters, gangsters, monster gangsters, scientists, and kings in this game. Women are almost unanimously walking anatomy jokes.
Oh, and if you’re curious, the ending sees Conker becoming king, but he has now learned that he hates everyone that lives in the country he rules. So he just goes to the bar where this all started to become a depressed alcoholic.
Adult videogames, everybody!
Put this all together, and it makes adulthood out to be miserable. Mario barely says a word through Mario 64, but all those “woos” sure do sound like the guy is having fun. Banjo & Kazooie might have a little more of a coarse edge to their dialogue, but they are still rescuing a loved one, and interacting with fun characters while doing it. If the “mature” version of those adventures is a game wherein the hero loses everything and discovers he hates literally everybody left alive, then what is the point of growing up? You want to be old enough to drink just so you can drink yourself straight into the gutter? It seemed to work for Conker!
Or maybe it is simply this version of “maturity” that makes adulthood look awful. The medium of videogames has grown a lot since 2001, and “Mature” doesn’t just mean a game includes fatalities anymore. Now we have games with super violent, sexy robots twirling about with swords but also taking the time to acknowledge the emotional needs of their buddies. We have the hyper violent franchises where things might be horrible all over the place, but at least our protagonists take time out of their day to be sad dads. And speaking of sad, Conker’s tale may end on a depressing note, but one of the best games out there is all about depression. In all of these situations, adults are the focus, and adulthood does look like an endless gauntlet of challenges that are designed to wear you down, but there is hope. From 2-B to Kratos to Madeline, everyone has problems they need to overcome, but they also have friends, support systems, and achievable ambitions. They do not simply make a flippant comment and move on to the next movie parody.
Oh, and none of them have to venture through a level covered in shit.
Is Conker’s Bad Fur Day a bad game for the way it offers a “mature” video game? No. There is room enough in this world for the “Bathroom Reader” of videogames. But its presentation of what it is to be “adult” is significantly lacking. While there are trials and tribulations as an adult, that does not mean it is all despair, all the time. There is joy. There is love. There is more to life than hitting rock monsters with frying pans. Conker’s Bad Fur Day is meant to platform one of Conker’s worst days, but that does not mean he has to live in the worst world.
It sucks to be an adult sometimes, but it doesn’t suck all the time.
FGC #636 Conker’s Bad Fur Day
- System: Nintendo 64 to start, then miraculously migrated over to Xbox with Conker: Live & Reloaded. Then we got something close to the original again as part of Rare Replay on the Xbox One. If you are curious, this is all because Rare drifted to Microsoft. I am sure that has nothing to do with Conker chainsawing the N64 logo at the start of the game.
- Number of players: There is a complete multiplayer mode in Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and it even has online functionality in the Xbox version. Or it did, back when that was still viable. What’s important is that there is a multiplayer mode completely separate from the single player adventure.
- Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: There is more to a videogame than story, presentation, and writing! We also have gameplay! And it is… passable. Look, you can see the seams of exactly how this Conker title would work out if it were a “traditional” Rare N64 title, and every couple of (inexplicably sentient, talking) bucks hidden around the area being transformed into “collect the shines” would be a very short trip. That said, while the various activities involved are interesting and eclectic, the actual “control” of Conker isn’t on the same level as Banjo or Mario. Or, put another way, any time you have to complete an actual platforming “challenge” with this squirrel, you are going to have a bad time. I said it before, but Conker’s Bad Fur Day is “middle to high” on the ol’ N64 scale.
- Just play the gig, man: I am highlighting the song made out of farts once again. The Great Mighty Poo anthem also gets a trophy. You just don’t see many flatulence-based songs anymore.
- Won’t someone please think of the children: The above-mentioned shit song got censored in the Xbox version, though. Also, for some reason, there are a lot more bleeps on Conker’s remade adventure. Considering the “kiddy” Nintendo 64 version allowed everything short of the nefarious f-word, this is an amusing change between systems.
- Favorite Level: I used to enjoy “It’s War” for its humor, but, in retrospect, I think that may be because I am an idiot. It is a really annoying level! So I will go with Uga Buga now, as the cave/dinosaur/rock thing going on there is a lot more comfortably platform-y for this platformer.
- Did you know? Conker’s Pocket Tales was a legitimate Gameboy Color title that put Conker in a Zelda-like fantasy world that was 100% kid friendly. Damn near no one was buying Gameboy titles that didn’t feature Pokémon at this point, but if they did, hoo boy, that would be some kind of transition between games.
- Would I play again: Not likely. Conker’s Bad Fur Day was impressive in its time, but its time has long since passed. And until we see another day featuring this ornery squirrel, he can stay mothballed with the rest of his Rare buddies. You don’t see Sabre Wulf getting out there anymore, either…
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tekken’s Nina Williams in Death by Degrees! Yes! It’s that game I played like a year ago on the stream, now finally getting an FGC article! Please look forward to it!