E3 2014. Conker appears on stage, chopping a logo in half much like he did back in the N64 days. I literally threw my glasses off my face in excitement.
“It’s here,” I thought, “the long-awaited resurrection of one of our beloved Rare franchises!”
Suddenly I was brought crashing back to earth with the realisation that it wasn’t really a new Conker game but instead an adventure built with Microsoft’s Project Spark game/toolkit.
My heart sank; another modern day Rare-related disappointment.
Conker’s Big Reunion, as it was later titled, in some ways quite possibly feels like a worthy successor to Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Let me explain.
I recently replayed both the N64 and Xbox versions of the game and to be honest, I didn’t feel that they held up terribly well.
The platforming is a bit wonky and whenever Rare’s sweary squirrel turns his paw to other genres through its many humorous parodies, these also felt limp and like they were thrust into an engine which wasn’t really made for them.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
The Project Spark toolkit recreates the rather eclectic mix of Conker’s wacky world and its potty-mouthed inhabitants rather brilliantly. However, much like its predecessor, the bits where you play the game are as limp as the engine its built in.
Running about familiar looking settings, rivers and bridges and grass-covered rock faces, fans of the original will immediately feel a warm tingle and install a grin bigger than Conker’s own.
The humour is as self-aware as you’d expect, and in one instance, it pretty much directly throws an insult at microtransactions, the very purchase model I used to buy the squirrel-flavoured expansion.
Is that what the kids call ‘meta’ nowadays? I can’t really tell any more.
Chris Seavor is back voicing the not-so fluffy-looking rodent again and the fact that that’s quite possibly my favourite thing about the product makes the whole experience somewhat bittersweet.
This first episode can be finished in about an hour, and most of that is taken up by a godawful stealth section.
The game even points out how bad this segment is, and that’s a crime in my lawbook, sunshine. If you’re going to mock a genre then you need to do it well – or at the very least show the player how to make a game more fun by simply eschewing such annoyances and having a funny one-liner instead.
Having said that, I was often tickled by Conker’s Big Reunion’s charming (if slightly broken) cut-scenes and wondering how they managed to pull these off within something like Project Spark was enough for me to warrant the £3.99 they’re asking for it.
Do I expect Conker to come back in any other form? Nah. It was always going to be this way. We were barking at Microsoft long enough for them to come up with some tangential ways of making the most of the £300 million they spent acquiring Rare Ltd. I mean, did they really need telling that much? It would appear so.
Will I play the next episode? Yeah, but let’s face it, I was always going to… but I wouldn’t want to see more of Rare Ltd’s quality IP being used this way.