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Interact with Michael Newman

Keep the kids away from R-rated 'Conker'

Friday, March 30, 2001

By Cindi Lash, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

He's cute. He's cuddly. He's also quite coarse, and he can be pretty funny -- in a decidedly grownup way.

Right off the bat, the flying squirrel hero of "Conker's Bad Fur Day" (Nintendo of America Inc/Rare Ltd.; N64; $69.95; ) lets you know he's not the typical lead you've come to expect in a Nintendo release. No gentle ape, amiable plumber or fantasy prince is Conker -- as soon as the game giant's logo boots up on the screen, this cranky critter whips out a chain saw and turns it into toothpicks.

Despite his winsome expression and his plush, stuffed-animal appearance, Conker and his Mature-rated game are meant to interact only with grownups who're old enough to see an R-rated movie.

This followup to the much tamer "Conker's Pocket Tales" features a hugely hungover hero who's feeling the aftereffects of a night out at his neighborhood pub. Never mind his veddy British accent, this chap is anything but a proper gent.

Conker cusses. He drinks too much. He barfs in the gutter, pees on walls and mutters witty but crude barbs. He encounters a singing pile of poop, a colony of bats that carpet-bomb enemies with guano and a bloodthirsty horde of armed teddy bears that shoot at anything that moves in a violent parody of "Saving Private Ryan."

Conker and his companions represent a major shift in focus for Nintendo, which until now had been primarily a maker of kid-friendly titles. But Nintendo officials say "Bad Fur Day" is a logical attempt to hang onto an audience of adult gamers who've outgrown the Mario, Zelda and other Nintendo franchise titles they played as children a decade ago.

"Conker's Bad Fur Day widens Nintendo's appeal to a mature audience," said Nintendo vice president Peter Main. In a market where more than half of game players and buyers are adult, Nintendo maintains it has little choice but to continue to grow up with its fans if it wants to remain competitive with producers of other adult-themed titles.

But Nintendo is keenly aware that "Bad Fur Day" is likely to raise some eyebrows, given that it features a main character whose adorable appearance appeals to the very kids who should not be playing it. Aiming to ward off criticism, Nintendo is taking great pains with its release of "Bad Fur Day," limiting commercials and ads to publications, shows and time slots that are less likely to draw younger consumers.

The company also is being explicit with labels and marketing materials, trying to ensure that store owners and parents don't miss that "Bad Fur Day" is a game that shouldn't be sold to anyone under 17. After seeing its contents, I certainly have to agree that "Bad Fur Day" is not fit fare for children or young teens -- no matter how much they whine or try to sneak it into their N64 console. (Believe me, they'll try. My children will be ungrounded in about three years, thank you very much.)

That being said, "Bad Fur Day" is entertaining, especially if you have a weak spot for the variety of rude, scatological humor that made the films "Blazing Saddles" and "Dumb and Dumber" such hits. And it's as lush-looking and finely detailed as you'd expect from a game published by Rare.

About the only drawback I noted -- and an admittedly minor one -- was a tricky camera view that, at times, made it difficult to discern where Conker was going.

Suspenseful 'Bouncer'

Creating an altogether different fantasy world is "The Bouncer," (PlayStation 2; Square EA; $49.99; ), a role-playing martial arts game that is usually rich in character and story development.

"The Bouncer" may be the best-looking PS2 game I've seen to date, with its brooding backgrounds that set an ominous tone and graphics so detailed that tiny tattoos, raindrops and dimples pop off the screen. It's also got an elaborate plot, complete with backstories for primary characters.

Set in a bar in a futuristic city, "The Bouncer" revolves around the efforts of Sion and his fellow bouncers to save their kidnapped friend, Dominique, from a special forces unit. Periodically, bouncers and soldiers engage in hand-to-hand battles that feature spectacular, "Matrix-like" somersaults and spins.

But the elaborate cut scenes that tie the fights together are what boost this game out of the realm of simple fightfests. The sight of a bullet train hurtling out of a dark tunnel onto a suspension bridge dangling above a storm-tossed sea made me gasp aloud.

These scenes, accompanied by voiceover dialogue, give "The Bouncer" the look and feel of a suspenseful minimovie rather than just a video game. I'll grant you, some of that dialogue does occasionally lapse into romance-novel cliches.

But hey, I'll settle for an occasional cliche when it crops up in such a worthy, absorbing effort.

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