Find out why one writer thinks that Microsoft’s recent offerings featuring Conker the Squirrel may be tarnishing the platforming icon’s gaming legacy.
I probably shouldn’t have played the M-rated Conker’s Bad Fur Day as a kid, but I did. Even as a kid, however, I appreciated the game for a lot more than its trademark vulgar humor and bevy of swear words – it was a well-made platformer with fantastic multiplayer functionality that still holds up to this day.
I spent almost an entire summer playing Conker’s Bad Fur Day nonstop, perfecting my sniping skills by exploding the heads off unsuspecting squirrels in the Beach mode. I went through the raunchy story numerous times, and also enjoyed endless hours of laughs and fun with my friends playing the game’s other multiplayer modes, like Heist and War.
Some might think that I am blinded by nostalgia, and I look back on Conker’s Bad Fur Day as being a lot better than it actually was. However, I found that as I continued to pop the game in now and again in my Nintendo 64 over the years, that I still was able to draw significant enjoyment from it each and every time. Furthermore, when Rare released the Rare Replay collection just this past summer on Xbox One, I was once again able to confirm that I wasn’t just looking at the game with rose-tinted glasses. On the contrary, Conker’s Bad Fur Day is, in my opinion, an expertly crafted game that is one of Rare’s finest works to date.
The reason I am telling you this is because I want to convey just how much I truly adore Conker’s Bad Fur Day. It is genuinely one of my favorite video games of all time, and I have been playing it for over a decade now. Knowing my deep rooted affection for the game is necessary to understand how bitter I am about how Conker the Squirrel is treated nowadays. Outside of re-releasing the original through Rare Replay, Microsoft has done nothing but ruin the legacy of Conker’s Bad Fur Day with each move it makes since it acquired Rare in 2002.
First, there was 2005’s Conker: Live & Reloaded on the original Xbox. I will give Live & Reloaded some credit, in that it features stunning visuals, but it was a disappointment in basically every other capacity. The varied multiplayer modes that I grew to adore back on the Nintendo 64 were replaced with something that, while not necessarily bad, were just way too different for my tastes. Apparently the cancelled Conker: Gettin’ Medieval game would have been multiplayer-only and in the vein of Live & Reloaded, so I’m almost kind of glad that particular representation of Conker landed on the cutting room floor.
Something else that really bummed me out about Live & Reloaded was how censored the game was. Despite the Nintendo 64 and Nintendo consoles in general being regarded as the destination for kids’ games, Conker’s Bad Fur Day is significantly dirtier than the Xbox remake. I am not entirely sure who made the decision to censor Live & Reloaded, but it made little to no sense, especially when one considers that the Xbox is the same system that housed games like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
After Live & Reloaded hit store shelves in 2005, Conker the Squirrel wasn’t seen again until E3 2014. I was watching Microsoft’s press conference live that year, and I jumped out of my seat when Conker suddenly appeared on the screen, brandishing the chainsaw that was once used to murder the N64 logo. I was so elated because I thought that Conker was finally going to be brought back in an effort by Microsoft to better utilize Rare’s IP on the Xbox One – something that the company didn’t do on the Xbox and Xbox 360.
And then a Project Spark logo came on the screen, and my interest plummeted. Project Spark, for the uninitiated, is a game all about user-generated content, similar to titles like LittleBigPlanet and Super Mario Maker. It has nothing to do with Conker, and furthermore, it sports a T for Teen rating, which simply doesn’t fit the tone or style of Conker’s Bad Fur Day.
Even so, the Project Spark development team, Team Dakota, could have done something remarkable with Conker, but they didn’t. Instead players got some creation tools based on the franchise, which allowed Team Dakota to recreate Conker’s Bad Fur Day in Project Spark, as well as produce a disappointing new Conker adventure. This episodic Conker’s Bad Fur Day followup was criticized right out of the gate for being shackled to Project Spark, sporting a different art style than the original game, and for just generally not being all that compelling. Apparently most Xbox One owners shared this sentiment, as the lack of interest in the game resulted in Conker’s Big Reunion to be cancelled after just one episode. Ouch.
I was afraid that the failure of Conker’s Big Reunion would send the wrong message to Microsoft, and convince the executives at the company that gamers aren’t interested in any more adventures starring Conker the Squirrel. Since it took nearly 10 years for Microsoft to bring up Conker again after Live & Reloaded, I wasn’t holding my breath for anything new on the Conker’s Bad Fur Day front coming any time soon after the Project Spark blunder. But then, some leaked info pointed to a new Conker game, this time a presumed Conker’s Bad Fur Day prequel called Young Conker.
I tried to keep my expectations in check, but my enthusiasm for the foul-mouthed squirrel got the better of me. I let my mind race about the possibilities of what Young Conker could be on the Xbox One. I was very interested in what the game could be – keeping my fingers crossed following its leak – and gamers may have finally been given the opportunity to look forward to a new and proper platforming adventure starring Conker the Squirrel.
I should have expected Microsoft to run those expectations into the ground. And so they did. When Young Conker was revealed to be a HoloLens game, with Conker having been redesigned into a horrific abomination that will probably end up topping lists of “Worst Character Redesigns Ever” in the future, at first I was irritated. I foolishly let myself get my hopes up for a Conker comeback yet again, and yet again, my hopes were dashed.
That irritation became anger over how Microsoft has handled Conker’s Bad Fur Day and other Rare IP since the 2002 acquisition. I’m not saying that Microsoft is solely responsible for Rare’s decline in quality, but it does seem as though Rare quit being the company it once was after Microsoft stepped in. In any case, that anger became sadness, and now I am just sad that the gaming world has yet to see a true follow-up to Conker’s Bad Fur Day since it broke on the scene in 2001.
People want those classic Conker’s Bad Fur Day-like experiences that Rare used to provide. It’s why Yooka-Laylee, a Banjo-Kazooie spiritual successor, had such a successful Kickstarter campaign. And that might be what needs to happen with Conker the Squirrel. If Rare and Microsoft absolutely refuse to give gamers a traditional 3D platformer starring a foul-mouthed, alcoholic, anthropomorphic animal then perhaps another developer needs to step up to the plate. Or maybe if Yooka-Laylee is a sales success, developer Playtonic Games will move on to creating a game in the same spirit of Conker’s Bad Fur Day. One can dream.
But in the meantime, I’ll continue returning to the original Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and try to be happy that Conker had at least one classic adventure before being squirrelled away in Microsoft’s ever-growing library of IP. With that said, here’s hoping that Conker has another Bad Fur Day to tell us about before too long.