Category Archives: 2001

#55: Conker’s Bad Fur Day

Format: Nintendo 64 Genre: Platform Released: 2001 Developer: Rare

Probably my favourite comedy series of all time is Spaced: not only is it very, very funny, you also get the impression that it was almost as much fun to make as it is to watch. Likewise with Conker’s Bad Fur Day – when you’re playing it you can almost see the developers chuckling to each other as they write the song lyrics for ‘The Great Mighty Poo’ or concoct a risque love story between a deadbeat bee and a busty sunflower.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day was one of the final games to be released for the Nintendo 64, and there’s a palpable last-day-of-term feel about the whole thing. On the game’s release in April 2001, no-one was really paying much attention to the N64 anymore – at the time it was regarded as a sort of  living fossil that encapsulated outdated ideas of what a console should be like. Its clunky, expensive cartridges seemed utterly out of touch with the Playstation generation, and by 2001 it was getting difficult to even find N64 games in the shops – my local Game store had reduced its N64 stock to just three paltry shelves on the end of an aisle.

Kerching!

All attention was focused on the brand new ‘sixth generation‘ systems – Sega had launched the Dreamcast back in 1999, Sony had unleashed the Playstation 2 (currently the best-selling games console of all time) in 2000  and Microsoft was planning the release of the Xbox by the end of 2001. Nintendo too was busy preparing for the launch of the GameCube, and seemed to be paying little attention to its current ‘lame duck’ console as it served out the end of its term (just 12 games were released for the N64 in 2001). In other words, the conditions were perfect for a game to be sneaked out that went against all of the notions of what a ‘traditional’, family-friendly N64 platform game was supposed to be like.

There was a fair old amount of swearing in the game, but the developers stopped short of the 'f' word.

The character of Conker the Squirrel had previously appeared in Conker’s Pocket Tales for the Game Boy Color, an unremittingly cute, kiddie-friendly platformer with some sort of twee plot about finding your girlfriend’s lost birthday presents. The N64 version – titled Twelve Tales: Conker 64 – was set to be in the same vein, but at some point during the game’s development, the programmers had a drastic change of heart. Possibly, they watched an episode of South Park and thought “Ooh, let’s do that.” Whatever happened, the result was a game that endeared itself to smutty-minded teenagers worldwide  – if they could find it in the shops that is.

Kids, look away now...

The humour in the game is undeniably puerile, with an emphasis on toilet jokes throughout, but most of the gags hit the mark, and parts of the game are laugh-out-loud funny. There’s also a bit more to it than you might think – film references abound, and as well as obvious nods to Alien, there’s a lovely Clockwork Orange pastiche near the beginning.

Importantly, the game buried beneath all the nob gags is pretty darn solid too. It borrows a lot from Rare’s excellent Banjo-Kazooie, and the graphics and sound effects are easily some of the best produced for the N64. In fact, the amount of speech in the game is truly staggering considering the limitations of the cartridge format.

Beats me kid, beats me.

If you missed this game the first time around, I’d highly recommend procuring a copy of it if you still have a working N64 (although due to its rarity, be prepared to shell out £50 for a boxed copy with instructions). Alternatively, you could try the Xbox remake Conker: Live & Reloaded, but be warned that it was heavily censored – who’d have thought, what with their reputation for producing consoles littered with bloody first-person shooters, that Microsoft would end up being more prudish than Nintendo?

Now brace yourself… for your pleasure and delight, it’s The Great Mighty Poo (not for those of a sensitive disposition):

And as an added bonus, here’s the infamous ‘pollination’ scene (listen out for the Withnail & I reference):

Lewis

(Screenshots from www.gamefaqs.com)

6 Comments

Filed under 2001, Nintendo 64, Platform, Rare

#44: Dog Walking

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Miscellaneous Released: 2001 Developer: Sega

As I’ve said before, this list isn’t just about the best games ever made – it’s also a chance to honour games that might not have won any awards but that nonetheless improved our lives, if only by raising a smile. Sega’s utterly random ‘Dog Walking’ coin-op (or ‘Inu No Osanpo’ to give it its Japanese title) is just such a game – hardly a world-beater, but bonkers enough to merit induction into the 101 Video Games hall of fame.

A wonderfully random promo pic for Inu No Osanpo.

I first encountered the game in 2004, when I was living in Japan. It became something of a hobby of mine to search out random Japanese arcade machines and, despite fierce competition from various taiko drumming simulators and trading-card-based soccer games, Inu No Osanpo stands out as one of the most bizarre – and compelling – coin-ops I’ve ever played. Naturally, it was only ever released in Japan.

The aim of the game is to exercise a dog by walking (or running) on a treadmill. The on-screen dog is controlled by a lead originating from the neck of a plastic dog in front of you, and the aim of the game is to steer the dog away from danger (like cars or other, bigger dogs) and towards points of interest (like cats). The idea is to get the pace just right so that the dog is happy – walk too fast and you end up dragging the dog along behind you, but walk too slow and it pulls at the lead impatiently.

Here's me suffering on Inu No Osanpo back in 2004.

In practice, playing the game is utterly exhausting. (See? Way before the Wii came along games were keeping people fit.) The treadmill is quite stiff, so getting up to speed is quite an effort, and slowing down is just as hard. The controls are also fairly lackadaisical – your dog never seems to go in the direction you want it to (a bit like the real thing I suppose).

But whether or not the controls are any good is rather beside the point – this game made it onto the list because it’s totally unique and brilliantly fun to play (and even more fun to watch, especially if someone falls off the back of the treadmill). Sega, we salute you. Now can you release this game in Europe please? Thanks.

(Here’s some (American?) guys playing Inu No Osanpo. They haven’t quite got the hang of it… The dog starts barking when you’re walking too slow or fast, and the musical notes appear when you’ve got it just right.)

Lewis

3 Comments

Filed under 2001, Coin-Op, Miscellaneous, Sega

#43: Skies of Arcadia

Format: Dreamcast Genre: RPG Released: 2001 Developer: Sega (Overworks)

Yes, that’s right another Dreamcast game for the list – no complaining back there. Hey, look, it’s not my fault that a signficant proportion of THE BEST GAMES EVER MADE were released on one particular console. (Funnily enough, I was never a big fan of Sega consoles before the Dreamcast came along, but I became a bit of a DC fanboy after I got one. Ah, Dreamcast, you were taken far too young! May you rest in peace in forgotten console heaven…)

In terms of set-up, Skies of Arcadia is pretty much your standard Japanese RPG fare:  a young boy from a small village is summoned by destiny to save the world by fighting random, turn-based battles across strange new lands filled with a multitude of manga-style characters, and so on, and so forth. We’ve been here before (Grandia, Final Fantasy, etc. etc.), but the difference with Skies is the sheer imagination that has been poured into the game world, along with the strong sense of ownership you feel over the characters.

The game world is composed of a series of floating islands that you navigate between using your trusty flying pirate ship. I couldn’t really find the screenshots to do it justice, but this floating world looks fantastic, and there’s a real sense of wonder as you explore new continents and find hidden treasures. In fact, finding the hidden ‘discoveries’ became such a distraction for me that I regularly abandoned the main plot in favour of locating these hidden gems, which were revealed by vibrations of the joypad.

Then there’s your ship’s crew – as you progress through the game you can recruit more and more members to your crew, each of whom provides some sort of boost when battling an enemy ship. (Incidentally, the ship battles are fantastic, and make for a diverting change from the usual monster battles – see the video below for an example.) The personalities of each of the characters really shine through, and by the end of the game you find yourself becoming quite attached to your motley crew of air pirates.

The big downside to the game for me was the random battles – I’m not totally against random battles per se, but there should be an option to avoid them if possible. Later on in the game you can purchase items that let you avoid all confrontation, but earlier on you have no option but to plough through whatever the game throws at you, which got frustrating at times. The hardest part of the game occurred about a third of the way through, when you were tasked with finding an item among a series of floating rocks. The trouble was, you were constantly attacked as you flew your ship between the rocks, and this one section became so frustrating that I almost jacked the game in right there. Thankfully I perservered, which was a good thing since the game got a whole lot better from then on in.

It’s difficult to say exactly what sets Skies of Arcadia apart from its JRPG ilk – it could be the imaginative setting, or the neat mixture of ship and monster battles, or perhaps the excellently crafted characters. Whatever it is, it had me totally hooked, and if you’re an RPG fan it’s an absolute must buy. (NB. If you’re planning to get it, you might want to look out for Skies of Arcadia Legends, an improved version that was released for the GameCube/Wii.)

Lewis

4 Comments

Filed under 2001, Dreamcast, RPG, Sega

#2: Phantasy Star Online

Format:Dreamcast Genre:RPG Released: 2001 Developer: Sonic Team (Sega)

I obviously play a lot of video games (I can’t think of too many other people I know who have a blog dedicated to reminiscing about old games), but there aren’t that many games I would say I’ve been truly addicted to. Phantasy Star Online, however, is one of them.

I must have been addicted to it – how else can you explain the fact that I spent nigh on 80 hours hacking and slashing through repetitive enemies, all for the dubious glory of occasionally finding a ‘rare’ weapon – which was usually the same as the normal weapons, albeit with slightly higher numbers attached to it. Let’s face it, PSO has got to be one of the thinnest RPGs out there – no extravagant plot lines, no branching skill trees, no complicated levelling system, no option to do anything but hack, slash, hack, slash, ad inifinitum.

Ah, those Sega-blue skies...

But it was brilliant, and perhaps its simplicity was the reason why. It was the first MMORPG for consoles, and as such it was designed for the masses. Compare it to something like EverQuest or Ultima, the PC equivalents at the time, and you can see what a breath of fresh air it is: with no fiddly navigation through reams of meaningless menus it was an RPG that anyone could pick up and play. What’s more, it looked fantastic (and, in my opinion, still does today). For a start it was set in space, which makes a change to the usual parade of orc-filled dungeons and castles, and the whole thing was awash in classic Sega-blue skies and crisp green meadows. Lovely.

I have three stand-out memories of PSO. The first is the (almost) brilliant translation system, the idea being that anything you typed in was instantly translated into the other users’ language. I remember the first time I went online and ended up hanging around with some Spanish guys – I thought it was absolutely amazing that I could be having a conversation with someone who spoke a different language and who lived hundreds of miles away… It was at that point that I first glimpsed what Sega was attempting to create – an online community of Dreamcast gamers, unseparated by language or country. Of course, it wasn’t perfect – I remember having some amusingly unintelligible conversations with a few Japanese gamers (although whether or not that was because I’d just got back from a night out in the pub is open to debate), but overall it worked pretty well, and the implications were huge. I suppose the technology has now been surpassed to some extent by headsets, but it’s a shame that the translation ability has been lost.

There were millions of these gits all over the place - and they just kept coming. Well, respawning.

The second memory is the worm-type boss thing on the second level – which took FORTY-FIVE MINUTES TO KILL. No joke. I suspect that it took so long because my character wasn’t sufficiently levelled-up to fight the boss at the time, but even so it ranks as one of the most simultaneously intense and frustrating gaming moments of my life (punctuated by shouts of disapproval from my house mates, who had wandered into the lounge to watch The Simpsons and were instead treated to watching me club a giant slug to death).

The worm boss thingy

My third memory isn’t so rosy. PSO was notoriously easy to hack, and this caused several problems when playing online. I remember one bizarre episode where another player ‘lost’ a weapon and accused me of stealing it. Of course, I’d done nothing of the sort, and I’ve no idea what happened to said weapon, but he didn’t believe me and soon the situation escalated to the point where I was surrounded by several players who were threatening to ‘wipe the save game from my memory card’ (I’m not even sure if that’s possible, but after all the other dodgy hacks I saw in PSO it wouldn’t surprise me if it was). It was a pretty nasty episode – it felt a bit like I was being mugged. However, unlike a real mugging, the problem was easily solved by simply switching off the console. If only real life was that simple.

It was partly because of several incidents like that and partly because of the repetition that I eventually stopped playing the game, but Phantasy Star certainly ranks up there as not only one of my favourite gaming experiences but also a game that was way ahead of its time.

Lewis

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Filed under 2001, Dreamcast, MMORPG, RPG, Sega