Conker: Live & Reloaded

When Rare released Conker’s Bad Fur Day back in 2000, while the Nintendo 64 neared its obsolescence, they produced what would become the most original (and arguably one of the greatest) games ever produced for a Nintendo system.

Conker was rude, crude, humorously violent, and proved devilishly clever at parodying movies. Everything about the game was unique and highly entertaining. Fans have long asked for a follow-up, and they raised their collective voices when Rare announced they were porting Conker’s Bad Fur Day over to the Xbox — even though it was announced as a remake and not a traditional follow-up.

Remakes are nothing new to the gaming industry: the early Resident Evil games received beautiful makeovers for the Nintendo GameCube courtesy of Capcom, and they were tweaked to improve the gameplay and to give players a different, almost alternate version of the same game.

Sadly, Rare didn’t follow Capcom’s lead. Sparsely adding new material, mainly in the early levels to create the illusion of enhanced gameplay, they spent more time on the graphics — which, compared to the N64, are breathtaking — than on the actual game. What we get is a visually stunning game boasting surprisingly dated gameplay. This feels like a game circa 1999, and that is Rare’s biggest mistake. The gameplay should have gotten a complete overhaul — actually, it should have gotten a new story, too. As well as characters and environments, but we’re digressing, aren’t we?

As for the game, it is a multi-genre experience, offering the player the best of platformers, shooters, and puzzlers, while they control Conker, an uncouth squirrel who wakes one morning extremely intoxicated — having spent the night at the bar — trying to find his way home. Along the way, he encounters gargoyles and spike-laden robots who infringe upon his trip. Then, when the nefarious Panther King’s night table loses a leg and his glass of milk keeps spilling as a result, he enlists his resident scientist to fix it. The scientist, a madman who’s developing Tediz — evil, Nazi-like teddy bears — conceives a simple solution to the Panther King’s problem: get a squirrel to replace the missing leg. Seriously. That’s the plot. Which worked well five years ago, but in a post-Halo/GTA environment, gamers need more.

In addition to a traditional port, Rare focused considerable time and energy on the new multiplayer/online modes. Offering death matches and capture-the-flag-type objective based gameplay, the multiplayer experience is an often-confusing one. The onscreen display is cluttered and confusing, though not as confusing as the objectives, which can be so vague that you’ll find yourself wandering around, trying to figure out what you’re supposed to do — while getting frustrated and squeezing your controller. In the end, the multiplayer mode is a bigger letdown than the revamped Bad Fur Day. What we get is a hackneyed remake of a once revolutionary game.

Rare’s problem isn’t the development team, which has always made fantastic games, but its dreaded corporate mentality. Why spend the money developing an original game when we can retool a title that’s already been established? It’s the equivalent of Hollywood’s obsession with remaking old film and television properties: although one or two genuinely remarkable remakes appear, the majority are turkeys that shouldn’t be given the time of day — let alone, in the case of games, your hard earned $50.

Video games have come a long way since the days of Pong and Donkey Kong, but the past few years have become increasingly frustrating. Original games are slipping through the cracks while development teams focus their time and energy on sequels, remakes, film properties, and cloning other more successful/original games. And while the technology forces budgets to rise, we will see less revolutionary games like Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and more disastrous retreads like Live & Reloaded. Sure, it’s basically the same game, but the times are different. And for every company that’s extrapolated on Conker‘s original design, Rare should have added something new to the mix. Instead of adding to the industry, they are now subtracting from it, choosing to capitalize on earlier success in lieu of solidifying future achievements and ushering in new gameplay experiences.