On paper, Conker: Live & Reloaded is a parent’s worst nightmare. A potty-mouthed, borderline-alcoholic squirrel tries to find his way back home after a disastrous night out at the local tavern with friends before they depart for “some war” – as Conker so innocently puts it. Back when this game was released exclusively for the original Xbox in June of 2005, I remember the big label at the bottom that read, “WARNING: This game is not made for anyone under age 17”. It’s as if the M for mature label and the war-ridden squirrel with a cigar hanging out of his mouth on top of a tank weren’t enough of an indicator already.
On the back, the ESRB made it evident that Conker: Live & Reloaded included just about everything that would fall under the mature category – Blood, Drug References, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, and Violence. Yes, you read that correctly. There’s a big-breasted sunflower towards the beginning of the game who you need to convince to get pollinated by the king bee who had recently left his wife for her. Towards the end of the game, Conker finds himself entangled in a war with the evil Teddiz, that so lovingly plays off of the brutal nature of the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan. Conker: Live & Reloaded wholeheartedly deserves its mature rating, yet the developers over at Rare had the mindset of a pre-pubescent middle-schooler – and I say this in the most respectful way possible. It’s one of a kind.
Back in March of 2001, near the end of the N64’s technological life, Rare released this odd, irreverent, and completely inappropriate platformer/third-person shooter, called Conker’s Bad Fur Day, that went on to achieve a cult status. It was a great game that unfortunately released at a bad time for the wrong audience. A Nintendo system probably wasn’t the best choice to release a game like Conker’s Bad Fur Day, let alone any mature title, but it garnered enough praise for Microsoft Game Studios to publish the original Xbox’s remake, Conker: Live & Reloaded, back when they acquired Rare in 2002.
The game went on to be named IGN’s “Best of E3 2005”, culminating in a favorable Metacritic score of 78%. Originally titled Conker: Live & Uncut, Rare aimed to release it completely uncensored. Unfortunately, due to several restrictions the developers changed their censorship plans at some point in development. Personally, the *BLEEP* of more questionable words (at the time) added a great deal of humor to the dialogue. If Conker: Live & Reloaded was released today, I’m sure the developers would run into very few censorship issues.
Aside from the new paint job – which seriously brings the vibrant world to life – Live & Reloaded changed very little from the original. The game still pays tribute to all of its pop culture inspirations, and the British humor has never been so dated. Don’t get me wrong, Live & Reloaded is the funniest game I’ve ever played, albeit completely archaic in its political correctness. Aside from a few changes to certain challenges in the six-or-so-hour campaign and the addition of a mediocre online mode, Live & Reloaded is a faithful remake.
Conker himself continuously breaks the fourth wall right from the start. The Gargoyle, after Birdie’s amusing introduction to context sensitivity, blocks your path just like he did in 2001. Surprisingly, the frying pan is no longer a viable tool to trigger the cutscene for progression. In the original, one swipe of the frying pan left the Gargoyle tumbling off of the bridge. Live & Reloaded sees him scoffing at the sheer stupidity, until Conker reveals the spiked bat he had also retrieved from the previous room. These changes, although trivial, are always welcome.
15-years later, Live & Reloaded holds up more so than one would initially think of a 2005 game. At the time, it was praised for its technological achievements. The world pops with color and life due heavily to its memorable cast of characters, each packed with their own, arguably excessive and crass, vocabulary. One road could lead you back to your house, while another could lead you straight to a wise-guy hornet’s nest, or a level oddly obsessed with feces and foul-mouthed dung beetles.
It’s crude, irreverent, violent, yet unapologetically hilarious due in part to its fantastic writing and authentic voice acting performances. It’s as if the voice talent improvised off of the script, adding in subtle interjections, burps or rude remarks. Sometimes, most of the humor comes from the inaudible murmurs, leaving me questioning, “Wait, what did he just say?!”. The comedic payoff lands most of the time due to the stark contrast in tones from the script and the overall childish nature of the setting. A paint can and brush ruthlessly mock their pitchfork friend Franky into hanging himself, only to torment him more as he hangs from the noose after realizing that he has no neck to “hang”. Imagine your drunk, dead-beat uncle trying to read you a fairytale at night after four whiskey-sours, one too many cigarettes, and a trip to the local strip joint on ‘80s night. There are some games that try to mimic its sense of humor and style, but Conker is unlike any protagonist in the industry, and the experience is unrivaled. He might not be the hulking superhuman who is the Master Chief, but his mission is equally spectacular.
Though I am a bit biased as a lifelong fan of the game, it would be irresponsible of me if I didn’t cover its shortcomings. As much as I would like to tell you that Live & Reloaded is a perfect game from all aspects, I feel a certain injustice in doing so as both the original and the remake are marred by poor controls. As a platformer, it fails in more ways than it succeeds in style and presentation. I always found the controls to be flighty and, at their worst, unresponsive – especially at points when I relied on them to be the antithesis. Considering Conker takes a massive amount of fall damage from heights that seem insignificant, there are several instances where death is inevitable – literally. The first time you die, you’re introduced to the squeaky-voiced Grim Reaper who goes on to explain that once Conker runs out of the furry tails that he collects throughout the environment, it’s game over – a jest on the r-selected species that are essentially born to die. Boy, oh boy, do those tails go by quickly.
The horrible camera adds nothing to the experience but increased frustration as I constantly found myself fighting the camera more often than the enemies around me. One instance towards the beginning of the game forces the player to manoeuvre up to the roof of a barn to step on a lever that would ultimately unlock the door hindering progression. Simple, right? In theory, it should be. The camera is so finicky, clunky, and inverted that I never knew how to prepare for certain falls. Shortly after defeating Haybot – who is exactly as you would imagine it; a robot made of hay – I attempted to make my way out of the multi-layered barn only to fall an even greater distance to my untimely death. When you’re only allotted a certain amount of chocolates – that serve as your health indicators – the game leaves little wiggle room for error.
The most difficult sections are only classified as “difficult” unfortunately due to the constant, uphill battle with the camera and controls. When encountering an enemy, you press B to wield your bat, but the actual animation changes the camera angle, leaving Conker vulnerable for a second to take a hit or to fall. The swimming sections highlight the worst the game has to offer, with most including one-hit obstacles that are a nightmare to navigate both Conker and the camera through. Some fans of the original were upset by the fact that Rare removed some of the challenges in certain sections for the remake, but I consider these challenges to pertain more so to the similar issues in control previously stated. Some of the boss battles fell into an unusual trial and error loop, as I was trying to figure out how to reach the next phase, but people could argue against my lack of skill and intuition. Once the light bulb switched on, I felt like an idiot. This frustration, though unfortunate, rarely hinders the overall experience. I wanted to inform you of certain expectations rather than an early distaste for the game because of those issues. Remember, this is a game from 2005. People back then used to “beat” games, while now we arguably “finish” them.
Now that I’ve fulfilled my duty as a gaming journalist, let’s discuss one of the most memorable and outright disgusting levels in gaming. When I say levels, I don’t mean in the traditional sense. The player has free range in terms of where he or she wants to go, with the only hindrance being a short load screen. Some paths are blocked, while others offer new abilities that encourage progression to previously inaccessible locations. I don’t want to call this a Metroidvania because it isn’t, but in some aspects it resembles the genre. In the beginning of “The Slopranos” section – the name isn’t the best part, believe me – Conker unlocks a confidence pill after filling the sewers with, well, cow shit. Most of the level entails swimming through liquified shit, rolling a ball of shit up a mountain of dung beetles, and then ultimately battling a melodic giant shit monster known as The Great Mighty Poo. Think of every poop joke you’ve ever heard as a child, and I guarantee it’s here. The boss battle opens with Conker feeding the boss three sweet corns before triggering the best cut scene you never knew you wanted. His song goes something like this, *ehem*, “I am The Great Mighty Poo and I am going to throw my shit at you!” Might I add that the lyrics are accompanied by a small shit ball bouncing over them encouraging the player to sing along? Though the encounter is relatively short and simplistic – defeating him by avoiding his projectile shit balls, throwing toilet paper into his mouth as he attempts to regain his melody, and then flushing him – it remains one of the most enjoyable and nonsensical boss battles in video game history.
This piece is meant to celebrate Conker’s legacy from his inclusion in the 1997 Diddy Kong Racing for the Nintendo 64 to the mature, potty-mouthed pervert we know and love today. What a long and hairy journey he’s been through. Before Rare released Rare Replay, the 30-game culmination that included popular titles such as Battletoads (1991), Perfect Dark (2000), Grabbed by the Ghoulies (2003), and Conker’s Bad Fur Day (2001), you couldn’t find the original Nintendo 64 classic for under $500. Live & Reloaded was also comparable to finding a needle in a massive haystack, with original Xbox copies including the manual and cover art reaching prices similar to current generation releases. Okay, bad joke incoming. I guess it’s safe to say Rare’s game is a rather…rare find. Thank you for paying for parking, and make sure to leave a tip on your way out.
Keeping with the spirit of celebration, I remember watching the E3, Terminator-esque reveal trailer back in 2004 that showed off its slick new multiplayer mode. As an eight-year-old who played and watched things I probably shouldn’t have at the time, I used to hang up pixelated screenshots I got off of the internet of Live & Reloaded next to my bed like a Justin Bieber poster – or any other poster, this was just off the top of my head. You could say it was a bit obsessive, but I did that with everything that I wasn’t realistically allowed to play or watch at that age. Team America: World Police, the R-rated Trey Parker and Matt Stone puppet comedy, littered my bedroom walls for years. When I finally got the chance to play Conker, the game lived up to every ounce of hype that I had built up for it. They say to never meet your heroes, ladies and gentlemen, but let me tell ya, Conker was just as glorious “in person” as he was in a pixelated screenshot that hung up against my bed.
Depending on what kind of a player you are, Live & Reloaded could take you anywhere from six to ten hours in a first playthrough. There are no collectibles in the traditional sense to scour the environment for, but the game does encourage you to find Conker’s extra life tails to save you from a Game Over screen. As I had previously mentioned, the game rarely holds your hand, leaving the player a bit stumped on where to progress initially, but I do not say this as a criticism. Each locale is unique from the other, jumping from Conker’s colorful, cartoony hometown to the hell-bent, bloody trenches of war against the Teddiz. I want to avoid dramatics, but it feels like we’re getting nine different games in one, as we jump from a cute platformer to a third-person shooter in the penultimate “It’s War” mission and the bank “Heist” Matrix-inspired finale.
The fans are begging for another adventure with their favorite anthropomorphic red squirrel, but as of right now Rare has not confirmed any sort of sequel or reboot in the near future. If you are absolutely craving more Conker, you could watch Conker’s Big Reunion, a game released as a digital add-on for Microsoft’s ill-fated Project Spark. It takes place ten years after Bad Fur Day, and further expands upon the world and mechanics. It was originally released back in April of 2015 as a package deal that included the Conker character and level assets to create your own levels for $9.99, yet later became free in Q4 2015. I use the term ill-fated as Microsoft eventually announced Project Spark’s premature demise in May of 2016, where it was no longer available to download or play online subsequently as of August that same year. All of Big Reunion’s planned, episodic DLC was later cancelled. From a technical and control perspective, Big Reunion seems to be the better choice over the Dreams PS4 fan project.
Since the multiplayer was shut down, I wasn’t able to experience everything that the game had to offer. Luckily, I was able to play a friend locally through my Xbox, but it was about as fun as twiddling my thumbs. I could see the multiplayer being chaotic fun when it was still around, but the years since its launch have brought us other games that have revolutionized the genre. I took the time to scour the Internet and Reddit forums to research what people thought of the new multiplayer at the time of its release. For the most part, people loved the revamped multiplayer, while others felt it was a nice, albeit forgettable, addition to an overall package centered around the revamped campaign.
It’s been 15 years since Conker received his Xbox touch up, but don’t let this number frighten you – he’s as naughty and unpredictable as he was in 2005.