CBFD – Scrapped Scraps

{Disclaimer:  I started writing down my thoughts about Conker’s Bad Fur Day with a very negative slant, before realizing that I didn’t actually feel negative about the game the more I thought about it.  I’ve decided to rewrite my formal opinion, but I thought I’d share what I HAD written before I scrapped it.  I think there’s some merit in them despite the negativity, and I still agree with some of the core conceit.  Just keep in mind this is pretty piecemeal and unfinished.}

The overworld and theme stages are instead mushed together into one giant cartoonscape with very little transition in between.  For any who have played the majority of Banjo Tooie, think back on the final stage: Cloud Cuckooland.  The entirety of Bad Fur Day is essentially that, and not once do the characters ever question it.  It’s quite jarring compared to most other adventure games, which tend to justify their strange themes by putting them in a little pocket dimension removed from the main world.  However, it’s not so much of an overworld as it is an overpath.  CBFD is for the most part a linear game, with subsequent missions only becoming available once a specific mission before it is complete, and very few branching paths to the side.

Power-ups are instead replaced with context-sensitive, location-specific button prompts that feel suspiciously like the infamous quick-time events of today (though admittedly, Shenmue—the progenitor of the QTE—predates Bad Fur Day by two years).  You’re given a basic attack and hover-jump ability from the very beginning, and learn how to swim underwater within the first hour or so of the game, but aside from this simple arsenal of skills Conker is at the mercy of these B button prompts to give him what he needs to complete puzzles.

Now there’s multiple ways to look at this design choice.  On the negative, it limits creative experimentation with abilities and forces you to think inside the box, dumbing the game down.  Instead of thinking “How can I use Ability X, Y, and Z to solve this problem?” you’re thinking “Where’s the action pad I have to press B on to solve this problem?”  On the positive, it simplifies cumbersome mechanical aspects of the game and lets you focus on the puzzles themselves.  Why give a player half a dozen special moves to remember that are really just a means to an end anyways, when you can give them one move that alters itself to suit the context and achieve the same purpose?

I’m of the thinking of the former, for one primary reason:  this is supposed to be an adventure game.  The purpose of these sorts of games is to explore and figure things out for yourself; to feel like you’re actually going somewhere and doing things on your own.  Part of the childlike joy in an adventure game is coming across a new obstacle and blundering about for a while trying to figure out how to pass it; not too long, of course, but just long enough.  To me the context-sensitive actions are a slap in the face, showing me something I know I should have without actually giving it to me.  It all boils down to genre; I would have zero problem if these prompts were in, say, a first-person shooter, or an RPG, or even a hack’n’slash (hi God of War), where puzzles are ancillary to the focus of the game.

Collectable MacGuffins are disappointingly few, and ultimately irrelevant.  Like Donkey Kong’s golden bananas and Banjo Kazooie’s puzzle pieces, Conker is rewarded for mission completion with fat stacks of cash (because now that we’re rated M for Mature we can call the unending quest for material possessions exactly what it is: greed).  The size of your wallet is used, wait for it, okay you can stop waiting now, TWICE in the entire game to pass arbitrary checkpoints, but since the game is essentially linear in the first place there’s little challenge in having the required funds to pass.  Now maybe the designers were just married to collectables through thick and thin, or maybe they felt that Conker needed an in-game justification for solving everyone’s little problems, but ultimately it feels like a ham-handed design choice.  The whole point of having numerical MacGuffin requirements in adventure games is because the game is open-ended: you’re allowed to pick and choose which MacGuffins you want to get, and when.  The periodic checkpoints give structure to that open-endedness and force you to eventually continue progressing in the game, but at your own pace and level of skill.  When the game is linear and there’s no option but to pick up every MacGuffin you come across, a numerical requirement becomes redundant.

Oh yes, and CBFD sadly suffers from “You have limited lives and can collect more but if you Game Over you just start in the same place anyways because the game has autosaving” syndrome.  See my “Lives” post a few days back for more on that topic.

Movie parodies.  Done subtly, I love them; it evokes a childlike whimsy for fond memories gone by, and brings a wry smirk to my face as I think, “Oh ho ho, I see what you did there, and I like it!”  Done blatantly, I hate them; it feels like the director is shouting through the screen, “Hey, hey, you liked this movie, right?  Well here it is!  Here it is again!  I’m going to shove it right against your face so you can’t possibly miss it, because this joke is going to be funny, honest!”  Bad Fur Day regrettably does the latter.  For the most part the game steers clear of direct parody, but when it does it it does it hard.  The final third of the game in particular strings together Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Saving Private Ryan, The Matrix, and Aliens in such rapid succession that I just couldn’t accept it.  Any one of these parodies individually wouldn’t have been so bad (though I wouldn’t exactly call them good), and I’d have even been fine with all of them if they’d have spaced them out, but the sheer density just brought my out of the game.  Quite honestly I got a sort of Scary Movie/Epic Movie feel to these parodies, as if they were thrown in without a second thought because “this joke is going to be funny, honest!”

I feel my root problem with the tone of the game is, strangely enough, that it takes itself too seriously.  Dialog and characters tend to be played straight even when the visuals look anything but.  To me, this is a wasted opportunity:  dialog should complement the absurdity of the medium, not work against it.  Perhaps the juxtaposition of silly and serious is the joke, but it’s hollow laughter at best.  All in all, Bad Fur Day’s tone seems very schizophrenic to me, like the developers said “We want to make a mature video game” but never really agreed on what “mature” was going to mean.

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