Games are often left unfinished. Sometimes they’re too difficult, too vast, or too repetitive to see all the way through to the closing credits. To The Bitter End is The Gameological Society’s look at those endings that are worth fighting for—or at least worth reading about.
All I knew was that Leisure Suit Larry was “the sex game.” The goal of the game was to have sex. You friggin’ got points for it! This was a game my barely pubescent self had to play. In a time before porn-on-demand, Leisure Suit Larry felt somehow forbidden, the computer nerd’s equivalent of a Playboy under the mattress. Sure, the sex was 8-bit, but in my day, we used our imaginations.
I felt a similar twinge when I heard about the 2001 Nintendo 64 game Conker’s Bad Fur Day. It was a game for adults. It was gonna be dirty. The beer-swilling squirrel and chesty rabbit on the box were just a hint of the unspeakable filth that would spill from your console while you played. But Conker’s Bad Fur Day turned out to be a surprisingly well-made game. It didn’t skimp on the lowbrow blue humor—one of the early bosses is a literal shit monster that Conker defeats using a barrage of toilet paper rolls—but both its wit and its puzzles were clever enough to exceed my expectations. Who knew?
Bad Fur Day kicks off with a glimpse of Conker the squirrel sitting on a throne, king of his realm—a vision of what’s to come. Then we flashback to one day earlier, and the story begins in earnest with a closeup on the tight, aerobicizing buttocks that belong to Conker’s girlfriend, Berri. Wrapped up in her workout, Berri misses a message from Conker, who’s calling from the bar to let her know he’s running late (i.e., totally wasted). Stumbling drunk in the rain, Conker passes out and wakes up lost, nursing a hangover. Unbeknown to him, Conker has wandered into the realm of the evil Panther King. And as it happens, the Panther King’s table has a broken leg and it’s decided that the best possible replacement is a red squirrel with the exact proportions of a certain fuzzy four-legged alcoholic.
So Conker needs to find his way home while also avoiding the clutches of the furniture-impaired Panther King. In road-movie fashion, the journey is less a straight line than a series of sidetracks. You perform elaborate favors for citizens in need—favors that include urinating on fiery demons to extinguish them, helping a depressed bee “pollinate” a sexy sunflower, and feeding corn kernels to the aforementioned fecal monster.
Yep, this is the level of discourse we’re talking about. The game’s comedy consistently aims just below the lowest common denominator. In fact, for a game marketed on its wild humor, Bad Fur Day’s gags don’t hold up as well as the rest of the work. Pretty much everything here is standard gross-out comedy fare, tending toward the scatological, misogynistic, and profane. The game’s broad parodies of The Matrix and World War II movies have been done better elsewhere, and its supporting cast is crammed with stereotypes that play as ridiculous at best and offensive at worst.
So when Conker reunites with Berri in the final act, only to watch her get gunned down minutes later, you wait for the punchline. But there is no punchline. She’s dead, Jack. Before Conker can even react to his girlfriend’s murder, the final boss reveals his true form (an Alien ripoff), and the climactic showdown begins. Then the game freezes.
This kind of fourth-wall-breaking mischief is nothing new. There are shades of Duck Amuck, the 1953 Looney Tunes classic in which Daffy Duck is repeatedly humiliated at the hands of an unseen animator. But the shift from the game’s relentless poopy/peenie humor to a more sophisticated style of comedy is unexpected. Conker bargains with an omnipotent “software engineer” and agrees to keep the game’s disastrous glitch under wraps in exchange for some help. Our engineer friend whips up some badass weapons, Conker dispatches the big boss with a katana to the jugular, and normalcy is restored. Time to call it a day. And that’s when things get really depressing.
It seems all the baddies that Conker encountered on his travels weren’t too fond of the Panther King either, and they’re all rather grateful to him for getting rid of the guy. As they swarm our poor hero, bowing and scraping, Conker is struck by a cruel truth: Berri. She’s still dead. He forgot to bring her back to life, and now the software engineer has split, presumably to spare himself the soul-crushing misery of the game’s ending. Conker is pronounced king. He protests, but his former enemies hoist him onto the vacant throne anyway, plopping a crown on his head and praising His Newly Appointed Majesty.
And this is where we came in. Not with Conker triumphantly ruling over a vast and wealthy kingdom, but with a reluctant everysquirrel mourning a dead lover and suffering a court of sycophants when he just wants go home. His haunting final voiceover is played totally straight, a somber meditation on loss and futility. A brief coda, in which Conker drowns his sorrows in a bottle of single-malt scotch, does nothing to lighten the mood. In its waning moments, Conker’s Bad Fur Day goes from a silly PG-13 gagfest to an existentialist nightmare worthy of a poop-smeared Sartre.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day was originally planned as a family title called Conker’s Quest, but Rare, the game’s developer, got spooked by its own reputation for making cutesy games and revamped the project. I don’t know if the bleak conclusion was a deliberate way to make the game more adult or if the writers simply weren’t sure how to neatly wrap up a story that’s essentially 10 hours of fart jokes. Either way, they delivered a gut punch.
Rumor has it the original ending had Conker blowing his brains out in the bar restroom, but if that’s true, I’m glad it was scrapped. Bearing the weight of the human condition, living with regret, accepting loss, facing one’s own powerlessness—these themes are rarely addressed in games of that era, much less ones featuring an opera-singing mound of human excrement. In Conker’s Bad Fur Day, life is pain, and that’s the biggest joke of all.