Conker's Bad Fur Day is an action-platform game where the player controls Conker the Squirrel through several levels. The game also features an overworld in which the player can transition from one level to another, although many of which are initially blocked off until Conker earns a certain amount of cash. Each level is an enclosed area in which the player can freely explore in order to encounter tasks to do. The gameplay mostly relies on figuring out a way to help several characters by completing a linear sequence of challenges. These challenges may include defeating a boss, solving puzzles, gathering objects and racing opponents, among others. The result is always a cash reward, which aids access to other areas in the overworld.
Conker's abilities are far simpler than those of previous Rare platformers, such as Banjo-Kazooie or Donkey Kong 64. The player can run, jump, and smack enemies with a frying pan. Besides this, he also has few other physical abilities. He can swim underwater for a while until he runs out of breath, climb ladders or ropes, and is strong enough to push heavy objects. To regain lost health, Conker can eat pieces of "Anti-Gravity" Chocolate that are scattered throughout the levels. Additionally, the game employs "context sensitive" pads that allow Conker to gain different, temporary abilities when pressing the "B" button atop them. For instance, in the beginning of the game, by pressing the B button on the first pad he encounters, Conker drinks some Alka-Seltzer to wipe out his hangover, at which point players can proceed forward. Some pads can turn Conker into an anvil in order to slam into the ground, and some are also used to pull out his shotgun, to activate his throwing knives, slingshot and so on.