It was a brilliant pitch. Fresh from its divorce from Nintendo, Rare, the newest member of the Microsoft family, would toast its new marriage by re-releasing one of its best-loved games in a new, improved form.
Conker's Bad Fur Day was always a strange fit for the N64 - a bleary, cheeky, alcohol and expletive-filled stag party of a videogame, complete with toilet humour and a surprisingly fully-featured multiplayer mode. What Bad Fur Day had always needed was a publisher unafraid of Rare's intentions, and a platform capable of letting people play that multiplayer mode in more than just split-screen. And when Microsoft announced a remake with the subtitle Live & Reloaded, that appeared to be precisely what was in store.
Bad Fur Day is a classic not just because of its silly gags and irreverent tone. It's a classic because of the whole genre it rebelled against. Until this generation, cutesy platform games with bug-eyed characters and collectible-obsessed gameplay enjoyed the comfy position of prominence we associate with third and first-person shooters today.
Bad Fur Day torpedoed expectations both narratively and mechanically - its cutesy characters got drunk and had sex, while the less fortunate among them had their limbs blown off at war. And the game itself stripped the collecting down to the bare minimum, sending players on an adventure that was really just a series of silly set-pieces tied together, picking up nothing but wads of cash along the way. Wads of cash that called Conker a greedy bastard, of course. Conker's remembered for those profanities, but it's the sheer audaciousness of the entire project that makes the game special.
Now, let's be clear: Live & Reloaded isn't a bad game. It's Conker! And it looks lovely - borderline Xbox 360 lovely, in fact. Conker was always a squirrel, but it took the power of the Xbox to give him an adorably fuzzy coat of fur. Seriously, we defy you to play the game and not want to give the little guy a cuddle. Meanwhile, Conker's most famous nemesis, the opera-singing Great Mighty Poo, had never looked quite so unpleasantly sticky.
Make the cut
But still, there's a reason they changed the name to Live & Reloaded. We're not sure which puritan over at Microsoft we should blame for this, but the Xbox version of Conker is more censored than the original, which spoils a few of the jokes. More annoyingly, the insanely characterful facial animation from the original didn't make it across: Conker looked nicer, but was much less expressive; it was as if the poor chap had been Botoxed.
There are little changes, too, like Conker using a baseball bat as his main weapon, rather than the much more quirkily British frying pan. It hardly spoils the game, but it's the sheer unnecessary nature of the tweak we don't understand. And then there are other things such as Conker wielding a single sub-machine gun instead of two in the later chapters, which spoils a late-game Matrix parody scene. Yes, there's a Matrix parody: it was a bit less ubiquitous and not such an easy target at the time.
Still, Live & Reloaded's multiplayer mode was the soul of the game. It offered third-person warfare between good, heroic squirrels and the evil, stuffed Tediz, and was surprisingly ahead of its time in its emphasis on class selection and customisable loadouts. There was a silly, stupidly violent fun to Conker: it's easy to forget, given the studio's recent output, that Rare practically invented modern console multiplayer - and the last glimpses of that brilliance were found here. Reloaded's multiplayer was also wrapped in a story that's as close as we're going to get, it seems, to a proper Conker sequel.
Stupid, juvenile and crass. Smart, silly and subversive. All these descriptions apply to Conker. It's not the wittiest game, but it shows a mischievous glint in Rare's eyes that we're not sure is there anymore.