Retro Rambling On… Conker: Live & Reloaded

Developer: Rare
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Genre: Action-Adventure, Platforming, Third-Person Shooter
Platform: Xbox
Release Date: June 24, 2005

I am well aware that this title is a remake of the classic Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and so this should probably be taken as a Ramblings On that, due to my lack of mentioning the fairly dull Multiplayer, which I basically see as Team Fortress with Animals.

For me, at least, Conker: Live & Reloaded came at the perfect time. My parents, whom up to that point had been content to let me play pretty much whatever I wanted, were becoming concerned at all the negativity aimed at the Video Games Industry. Therefore, when they resolved to make me play less volatile, less gruesome or complicated games, they were delighted to see me playing a title which looked as though it was designed for someone several years younger than I. That may make me sound like, even as a child, I was permanently stuffed with Werther’s Originals, Battenberg Cake and Tweed Jackets with leather patches on their elbows, but it was the way I thought.

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The art-direction in this title is the only reason that my parents were under the belief that this was an ‘acceptable’ game, for someone of my age. An overly-cartoonish world, where you play as a Squirrel called Conker, was their idea of ‘acceptable’. Of course, it was purely by luck that they entered the room a few minutes into the game and not either at the title’s start or even a few moments after they left.

The game starts with the player struggling to guide the unbelievably hung-over Conker back to his house after a night drinking in some seedy bar with those of your friends whom are leaving for the Army. Of course, even the idea of the war seemed cute, had they have paid attention to that particular plot point. An army of Squirrels versus an army of Teddy-bears? I don’t know a single parent whom would not approve of that level of violence. At worst, the child might see a little bit of fluff escaping from a ragged hole in a cuddly-toys leg, that can’t make them violent surely?

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Obviously, the idea of games making people violent is complete and utter horse-shit, if you will excuse my language, but that is how my parents thought, and I’m sure, many other people’s did. Despite everything in this game looking cute and cuddly, it was certainly not ‘acceptable’, by their definition of the word.

A drugged up, drunken scarecrow spouting obscenities, a sunflower with a chest big enough for your character to use as a trampoline, Scouse Dung-beetles throwing balls of filth at you, and one of the first bosses was a character made entirely out of ‘poo’ were the basis of the comedy that I found hilarious at the time and, on occasion, still do, making me wonder whether the game actually was aimed at people my age. In addition, mixed in with these hilarious characters and situations, were some actually genuinely interesting ideas. Context sensitive buttons, Conker talking to the camera and a Gargoyle talking directly about the player were some of my first introductions into what I would, somewhat hesitantly, call ‘Post-modern Gaming’ and have left somewhat of a lasting impression on me. I don’t know why, but I still actually crack-up at the thought of Conker and a Drunken Scarecrow explaining the meaning of Context Sensitivity to a much younger version of myself, and then actually using that as a mechanic within the game was somewhat of a revelation, though I doubt I knew what the word revelation even meant.

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Even the gameplay, shifting about from one genre to the next as it did, still sticks with me. Most of the title was spent in a kind of Third-person, Action-Adventure/Puzzle style (it was one of those, the ones you struggle to explain without the other person having played the game), but in several areas the format of the game would shift. There were FPS sections, including a section were you become involved, against your character’s will, in the war between the Squirrels and Teddy Bears, whom are actually robots. It had flight sections, where you had to play as an over-sized squirrel/bat, and a Third-Person shooting mission which was highly reminiscent of a certain Keanu Reeves film. Here’s a hint; sunglasses, black trench coats, slow-motion, and a bomb going through a security scanner.

Conker was a brilliant character, funny and sarcastic, vain and selfish and seemingly the only person in the world whom could use his brain effectively. He is one of the few protagonists that knew they were the star of a game and, as a result, became arrogant and conceited, whilst maintaining a likeability that is present in very few characters, whatever other positive or, indeed, negative qualities they happen to possess.

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The over-arching narrative in the game was, as far as I can remember anyway, basically non-existent. But, in a rare turn of events for me, I didn’t really care. I had fun with the game, I laughed and struggled and grinned every time that the Scarecrow appeared or Conker turned to camera and rolled his eyes as though we shared an unspoken bond at how stupid the situation we found ourselves in, actually was.

Conker: Live & Reloaded is one of those games that has stuck with me over the past few years. It has remained in my conscience when other titles have faded, despite its forgettable narrative, as an example of what is possible to create. It may be more of a niche title than, say, Call of Duty or Battlefield would be, but it feels as though it is the Gaming equivalent of something like Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, as compared to the Call of Duty’s, A Detailed Study of the Manor-Houses of 19th Century England.

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