Do you remember Conker’s Bad Fur Day? You know, back when Rare were the guys to look to if you wanted some of the most innovative and creative games the market had to offer. What a time that was, a time that Microsoft has been trying to shove down the proverbial toilet for the last few years, hoping the rest of the world will stop asking for Banjo Kazooie 3. Since the company took over Rare in 2002, after the founders decided to move away from Nintendo, things have gone downhill in a big way with a wave of uninspired, creatively bankrupt releases that really aren’t up to the developers previously stellar standards. But now things have reached a reach a worrying peak, where it is finally time to make a stand against the abuse Rare’s old licences have been under, but we only ask one thing; Stop trying to bring Conker back.
Who is Conker, you may be asking? Well to put it simply, Conker is an adorable little squirrel previously intended to be used in the Donkey Kong series, but with Rare being Rare, it was decided that he should take a different direction. What sort of direction? One straight into a bottle of 90% proof vodka and a stockpile of deadly weapons. This fluffy animal friend is not a children’s mascot, instead he is a drunk, greedy idiot who likes swearing, killing people and childhood scarring sexual encounters. Rare chose to parody the traditionally sweet and lovable characters Nintendo associated themselves with by making what could be a perfect Saturday morning cartoon show host into a paragon for all things debaucherous. The game itself featured an opera singing pile of festering poo with sweetcorn teeth, an army of Nazi teddy bears, a violent Xenomorph ripped straight from the Alien films and even a cow that craps itself to death. It was a wonderful game.
Conkers Bad Fur Day was released to critical acclaim, and became a beloved classic that highlighted the fact that video games were becoming a great deal more open towards an adult audience. Nintendo, afraid that it would ruin their squeaky clean image as a family friendly entertainment company, refused to publish the product at all and this final duty was left to the up and coming THQ. It was the start of a series of idealistic clashes between the two industry giants that resulted in the high profile split as mentioned previously. Rare was the gaming equivalent of a rock star, able to change their focus onto new projects with little to no inhibiting factors and always able to stay ahead of the competition. They were, in every sense of the word, rebels, and defiantly struck out at what they saw was a number of reductionist values placed upon the market they were trying to change. But despite Conkers blockbusting success, we haven’t heard from the cheeky little bugger in quite a few years. And the responsibility for this mystery comes right back to Microsoft.
There was a planned sequel for the game (Conker’s Other Bad Day) but if fell through for unknown reasons and ended up collecting dust for a little while. It wasn’t until Microsoft acquired the company that anything gained momentum, and Rare decided to test the waters with a remake on the original Xbox console. Conker: Live and Reloaded was essentially a scene for scene recreation of the first game, just updated visually and mechanically for the modern age of gaming, and while it wasn’t as well received as Bad Fur Day it certainly reminded everyone that Conker was alive and well. It would be wonderful, if things didn’t take a turn for the worst at this point, by which we are referring to the fact that Rare wasn’t keeping up with the industry like Microsoft had hoped. Sales from their games weren’t cutting it anymore, and it was decided that their creations were aimed at far too much of niche audience that didn’t fit the overwhelming demographic of Microsoft’s consumer base. The problem was that Microsoft really didn’t want to kill off Rare, which would be the gaming equivalent to shooting a unicorn point blank in the face in front of a group of six year olds, so instead they chose to silently poison the company for a slow, but quiet death.
Okay, we are being a little unfair to Microsoft here. They are a company, which needs to make money, and they are entirely within their rights to expect highly of a company like Rare, especially after they paid £375 Million for them. Rare produced commercial flop after commercial flop after the purchase, and with the huge cost of game development only increasing with each year, this clearly couldn’t be allowed to continue. Microsoft placed the company on life support, relegating them to a severe restructure, (also know as ‘shit-canning’ pretty much everyone on the team) reducing their marketing budget and sending them to work in the industries death camp; Motion controlled games. By this point, most of the original team had got out of dodge as fast as they could, including the companies founders Chris and Tim Stamper in 2007, and we all learnt that the world is a brutal, unforgiving place. The new age of gaming had come and Rare was never meant to be a part of it.
So with the unpleasantness dealt with and the executioners axe retired for a short while, Microsoft soon realized they were sitting atop an IP goldmine. How they didn’t think of this while they were ignoring thousands of gamers crying out for sequels to Banjo Kazooie and Conkers Bad Fur Day we’ll never know, but even so there was money to be made. However, people were furious about what had happened to Rare, and an attempt to resurrect projects people had been demanding for years after gutting the company wouldn’t just be a public relations nightmare, it would also be a very risky venture indeed. So in order to salvage a rapidly decaying property, that ugly little word that has defined the industry cropped up once more; Reboot.
This is where the insult went into over drive; Microsoft remains unwilling to take a bold risk with the properties they hold in a vice like grip thanks to painful memory of failures in the past, so instead the decision seems to be to drip feed Rare’s IP’s back into the market through other means. We saw a release of the Rare Replay Collection, which praised the company for their historical legacy of wonderful games. But coming from Microsoft (the same people who were responsible for dropping the guillotines blade down on the company) it was in many ways a pretty obvious attempt to ‘save face’. But Conker has received the worst end of the stick in this little arrangement, and this very reason is why we are pleading for someone to put an end to the futile resuscitation the poor git is currently suffering through.
You may remember having seen Conker suddenly appear in Project Spark (which was blasted with fan anger the moment it was announced), but we want to look at something more recent. Yes, we are talking about the ‘Young Conker’ HoloLens Game. You know, this:
‘So whats the problem, Conker is getting back in the game and is a flagship for a cool new holographic headset’ we hear you asking, but let us explain. This horrifying monstrosity isn’t just a lame reboot of the character, no, this isn’t even its worst offence. This reboot is…(shudder)…’family friendly’. It was the same idea with the Project Spark DLC, showing that Microsoft its trying to make Conker a children’s mascot despite his less than impressive record in the business. Not only have they missed the point of the character, they ended up warping it beyond any recognizable level. Making Conker tone down his antics so the whole family can enjoy him is nothing short of neutering him with a wooden spoon. It evokes the same troubling feelings we felt seeing Johnny Rotten, an open critic of consumerism in all its forms, appear in a John Lydon butter commercial. Everything is wrong here, the art-style, the platform, the design, but most importantly, the attitude. Conker was a shameless rebellion, that poked fun at the aggressively censored gaming world which was terrified a child might hear a naughty word or see a fake character get hurt. It offered a violent, scatological and hypersexualized world in an effort to break the cuddly conventions of the past and taught us that video games should be free to peruse whatever message they wanted.
The sad truth is that Conker is a product of the past, and just can’t survive in any format in this day and age. When they tried to bring him back properly in Live and Reloaded it failed. When they tried to make him cute and cuddly in Project Spark it again flopped and now they desperately trying to revitalize the property in the worst way possible. The truth is, children are unlikely going to have access to the wildly expensive HoloLens and the only people who will go out of their way to play this are overoptimistic Conker fans. If the reaction to this latest announcement is anything to go by, this project is dead in the water already and isn’t going to appeal to anyone who wants more of the foul mouthed squirrel.
Conker is over, there isn’t a large enough audience for a genuine sequel and the market this new iteration is aimed at isn’t likely to exist until long after the release. Rare has been dead for many years at this point, and no one is willing to risk the money to bring the series back to the gaming public, who is far too interested in Fallout and Call of Duty to take notice. Conker has had his day and is only suffering in this brave new world, truthfully it’s time for the long goodnight. It isn’t worth prodding this corpse any longer, just be merciful and pull the plug so we can remember the good times.