The concept of the game remake is still somewhat new. Sure, there have been plenty of sequels that felt like simple remakes, but the actual act of taking an old (and usually classic) game and redoing the whole thing with modern technology is still a notion that feels more familiar to modern-day Hollywood than the modern-day game industry. However, remakes are happening, with the latest being Conker: Live & Reloaded for the Xbox, a reenvisioning of 2001's Conker's Bad Fur Day for the Nintendo 64. It was one of the very last games to appear on the N64, and it is widely heralded as one of the system's best and funniest games. It takes a would-be platformer, combines it with a third-person shooter, and throws in a lot of cursing and toilet humor to turn the whole thing into an M-rated extravaganza. On top of the remake of the original game, developer Rare has thrown in an all-new and completely disparate multiplayer component that features Xbox Live support. So, with all of that said, is either aspect of the game any good? The answer is a definite yes, although there are a few hurdles you'll have to leap over in order to truly appreciate what Conker: Live & Reloaded has to offer.
Conker's back, b****!
Let's start with the single-player portion of Conker, which is the stuff that originally appeared on the N64. For those of you who missed out on the previous release, Conker's Bad Fur Day was basically the video game equivalent of Animal House for its time. Essentially, Conker, a generally self-absorbed and borderline alcoholic squirrel (who somehow manages to make blackout drinking quite adorable), gets royally wasted with some buddies of his at the local pub. He tries to stumble home to his aerobically zealous girlfriend, Berri, but he gets lost and ends up crossing paths with some of the weirdest characters ever put into a platformer. These characters range from a temperamental panther king who lords over a number of inept weasels and, for some inexplicable reason, demands a red squirrel to use as a replacement table leg, to an operatically minded impresario of excrement named the Great Mightypoo. The story makes just about no logical sense, but it kind of doesn't need to, since it was just a vehicle to take a cute and unassuming character like Conker, and throw him into a mature adventure filled with bad words, public urination and, shall we say, adult situations.
Part of what made the original Conker such a big hit was the fact that there wasn't anything else like it at the time, especially not on the N64. In fact, you could probably say that a fair portion of its shock value came simply from the fact that this game existed on a Nintendo system. The rest of it came from the fact that the game was legitimately funny in a deeply crude and rude way. But in 2005, crudeness is not an altogether unfamiliar concept in gaming, and so much of what made Conker seem so nonconformist during its time is really quite the norm in today's gaming world. Of course, that isn't to say the game isn't funny (you're definitely going to find quite a lot of off-color and generally offensive humor here), but it's just that some of the game's gags have held up better than others. For example, the series of random movie parodies for which the game is so well known, like The Matrix and Saving Private Ryan, were absolutely hysterical four years ago, but now they feel a little dated, especially if you've played the game before. Though other bits, like the whole thing with the Great Mightypoo, are still very funny. Whether or not that says something specifically about this game, or just about the staying power of scatological humor, one way or another you're going to find quite a bit to laugh about in Conker...just maybe not as much as you would have in the N64 days.
The actual gameplay can be described in much the same way as Conker's general sense of humor. Though Conker's Bad Fur Day did what was considered a masterful job of combining two seemingly incompatible genres back in the day, in 2005, Conker feels like a game with some serious pacing issues. The first two-thirds or so are pure platforming, with Conker jumping around various environments, collecting items, occasionally engaging in combat with grunts, and solving periodic puzzles. For the most part, this whole section plays quite well, if a bit simplistically. Mechanically, there's really very little to master, save for the feel of Conker's jumps (and his subsequent hovering ability that comes with his tail-spinning maneuver), as well as the use of the B button as a contextually sensitive action button. Essentially, the levels are littered with B pads that you can just hop on top of, press the B button, and immediately jump into some kind of random action that can range from busting out a slingshot to nail a nearby button to actually turning yourself into an anvil, causing you to crush whatever's below you. It might seem like kind of a dull-sounding mechanic, but it actually works pretty well.
However, other aspects of the platforming portions aren't quite as much fun. For one thing, the basic combat absolutely sucks. All you do is run up to your foe with your trusty baseball bat in hand, hit him, run away to dodge the predictable counterattack, and repeat five more times until he's dead. To be fair, you actually engage in very little combat at all during these sections, as it's more about ducking enemies than fighting them. But when you do have to fight them, it's not fun at all. Another problem is that controlling Conker can be somewhat of a hassle. Jumps can feel a little unresponsive in certain situations, and trying to position him on ledges and other narrow spots can lead to more than a few accidental falls (simply because Conker wouldn't stop moving). Also, the camera is just a terrible pain in tight areas to position properly. The camera's a smidge better than the N64 game, but just barely. The last and perhaps most frustrating issue is that the game never does a good job of giving you even a slight clue about what you're supposed to be doing half the time. Certain objectives are plainly obvious, but the ones that aren't are downright opaque, and it usually takes 10 to 15 minutes of wandering around to figure it out. But had Rare just added in a few little guides to try to make things a tad clearer, the game would have benefited greatly. On the plus side, the fact that the game does have some challenge to it is nice, and you won't just blow past all the puzzles and scenarios indiscriminately.
Bad Fur Day holds up pretty well, despite being a nearly 5-year-old game.
Once you get to the last levels of the game, Conker becomes a third-person shooter, and these portions are a lot more fun than the basic platforming areas. There really isn't a whole lot to them, save for you blasting away at zombies, the evil Tediz (they're like Nazis, but with teddy bears instead of Germans), and other nasty bad guys...and doing it all in a fast and frenetic fashion. In fact, the action in these sections almost makes you feel like you're playing a totally different game than you were just a scant few hours before, since the platforming sections, while good, are also much more slower paced. Jumping from the platforming to the shooting can be a bit jarring, but the end portions of the game are more than satisfying enough to make up for the weird shift in gameplay.
So, let's say you're a Conker's Bad Fur Day expert, and you already know most of this stuff. You're probably wondering what, if anything, Rare has changed from the original game to make it a fresh, new experience. Well...OK, surely enough, certain aspects of the game are definitely different. Mostly, it's little details, like placement of certain collectible items, as well as frustrating aspects of the game design being altered slightly to make them more forgiving (or just being axed altogether), and a few aesthetic changes, such as the Mansion level, which has been given the Van Helsing treatment (though not really changed in any other major way). As it is, it's largely the same game you might have played nearly five years ago, and it's still only around 10 hours long. But if you never played Bad Fur Day, this version of Conker is probably the one to play, if only because the few changes that were made and the few bits that were cut weren't anywhere near the best parts of the game, so you won't be missing any of the good stuff. For those who already know Bad Fur Day inside and out, this is where the multiplayer comes in.
The other half of Live & Reloaded's package is an all-new multiplayer game, featuring team-based battles of objective-based and deathmatch varieties. Sorry Bad Fur Day fans, the old game's multiplayer is nonexistent here. But the good news is that this new multiplayer functionality is quite good, though it does have a few qualifiers that make it so.