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Comedy is hard, especially in video games. Sure, there have been some fun—and funny—comedy video games over the years. No More Heroes, and South Park: The Stick of Truth immediately come to mind, and more recently Tales From the Borderlands. But for a medium that’s based around “play” games also tend to take themselves super seriously. Comedy games aren’t nearly as numerous as comedy movies are, and I’ve always wondered why comedy video games aren’t more plentiful.
2001’s Conker’s Bad Fur Day may be one reason. The game, now playable in its original Nintendo 64 version via the Rare Replay collection on Xbox One, is an oddity by every definition. It was created by Rare, the same developers who made the colorful kiddy worlds of Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64. But Conker’s adventure is nothing like either of them—at all.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day has the same cute charm as Banjo, but twisted into gross crudeness. The ever-present googly-eyed anthropomorphic animals are still here—they just might have balls you need to whack a few times. It’s a great example of exactly why comedy in video games can be so hard to get right.
Let’s start with an easy example. Poop jokes are funny, right? Sure they are. But, after the joke is told, would you want to then be forced to climb up, and eventually into, a giant poop mountain? Welcome to Conker’s Bad Fur Day.
The game’s biggest problem is this: You get the joke, you laugh, and then you need to spend the next hour or so executing the joke through tedious and frustrating gameplay. One area, which had me getting Conker drunk off a keg to then pee on some rock-people to rescue his girlfriend (see, funny so far), was infuriatingly frustrating as I tried to aim Conker’s piss in the right direction, failing over and over and over. I knew what the game wanted me to do, and there was no reason actually doing it should be that hard to accomplish.
The no-holds-bar hodgepodge approach to each level in Conker doesn’t help. There’s almost no underlying theme or mechanic that unites the game, and each area has little relation to the next. One level, for example, has Conker transform into a bat. Not the funniest joke in the game, but the bat control are never explained and so poorly implemented that the whole area just isn’t enjoyable in the least.
These are all things that other forms of comedy don’t have to worry about. Once a stand up tells a joke, if it’s funny, you’ll laugh. You don’t need to replay the joke 100 times if you don’t get it right away.
The worst part is that I feel like Conker was made almost specifically for gamers like me. It’s an irreverent look at video games, and it’s got self-aware and meta-commentary in spades. And a lot of the set pieces are funny. You throw toilet paper at a giant singing piece of poo. The Grim Reaper is frustrated that you get multiple lives. There’s a lot of funny stuff in there, but it’s bogged down by the skill checks and repetition inherent to video games.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day had its moments, but shows just how hard it can be to make a game that is both funny and also fun to play. Even if all the pieces for a funny adventure are there, the mechanics for playing that adventure still need to be sound. Otherwise, sadly, the joke’s on the game. And for Conker, it was a bad fur day, indeed.
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