Rather oddly, the video game version of Peter Jackson’s $200 million dollar remake of King Kong is barely anything like the movie. The only thing it has in common is a giant ape that ends up in New York and climbs a building. Everything in each major hardware change is played out different, and depending on what system you’re playing it on, even the games themselves vary greatly.
For the PS2, GameCube, Xbox, and Xbox 360, these will be considered the same game. The only differences are graphical changes to reflect the specific hardware. Featuring both first and third person game play, players control Jack Driscoll as he treks through Skull Island. You’ll control Kong in third person, batting away various dinosaurs and creatures.
Both game play types offer solid mechanics, though marred by extreme repetitiveness. With an aim on survival, players will rely on spears and bones to defend themselves, along with a rare ammo crate. Puzzles are solved countless times, and are usually the same. You’ll need to burn weeds to pass using a conveniently placed flaming spear, find a lost piece to open a door, or distract a dinosaur while a NPC performs an action. Kong rarely has anything to do other than bust down a door, move a pillar, and jump around on branches.
The entire experience feels stretched out because of this. So many scenes are familiar, it’s hard to tell when a new section begins and the old one ends (aside from the load times). It’s a treat for Kong fans though, since many of this game’s levels are completely different than the feature. Creatures deleted from the movie are featured prominently, and it would have been interesting to see some of these moments in the film.
Playing as Kong should be wild fun, and it is. Fighting offers some fantastic raw power, and the sense of scale is wonderful thanks to some non-intrusive cinematic cameras. However, to keep players from dying constantly, it feels like it’s controlling itself a lot. In fact during the segments where Kong overcomes gaps and slides on walls, the player doesn’t have to do much of anything.
Easily the part everyone wants a chance at, New York devastation, is disappointing. The sequence is brief, frustrating, and Kong is too big given the enclosed corridors. It’s fun to throw cars around and eventually swat down a few planes, but it’s too short and hardly worth the effort to play all the way through if that’s the section you’re waiting for.
Yes, this is all a little disappointing given the hype, but it’s an ambitious movie title. The production values are great, and many scenes don’t follow the film. That’s a double bonus, making those who have seen the movie feel like they’re experiencing something different, and not spoiling it for those who have yet to head to a theater. It’s repetitive yet fun no matter your home console of choice.
PSP owners take a similar trip. However, it’s about half as long. Compared to an eight-hour adventure on consoles, it’s about four on the PSP. Levels are selected at random from the home versions, and all NPC characters have been deleted. This eliminates quite a bit of the “find the item to advance” style of game play. It also means this isn’t as repetitive, but also not as satisfying for a full priced product. First person sequences are handled as well as they can be given the lack of a second analog stick. It’s only a small adjustment to look around using the buttons.
Mobile phone game players get treated to an exclusive King Kong title. Sadly, it’s probably one of the shortest game experiences you’ll ever pay for, coming in at around a half hour at the most. Again, Jack Driscoll is the lead, taking Ann Darrow’s hand through the jungle. It’s slightly similar to Ico, just dumbed down and simple enough to work on a mobile phone. The only action seen on this end is a little spear throwing at angry natives. Most of the game play involves moving things or sending Ann to open locked doors.
Taking the role of Kong puts players in the same horizontal viewpoint. They’ll beat down dinosaurs of various sizes while trying to avoid a steep fall and keeping Ann within his sight. Controls are on the overdone side, involving the keypad to jump left or right. In the thick of a battle, it can be confusing. You’ll need to button mash to defeat some enemies, and on a keypad, that’s hard to do.
If you’ve played that, the Nintendo DS version will seem oddly familiar, only 10 times worse. This conversion is abysmal, and for a while, it looked like it would never see store shelves. There was a reason the media didn’t cover it: Ubisoft knew better than to show it to them.
In first person view with nice touch screen/d-pad controls, Driscoll again leads this ugly adventure. Ann begins the adventure alongside him (just like on the mobile phone), and that will change. The NPC characters only serve one purpose: open doors Jack could have reached if the developers gave him the ability and they also die. Skull Island is represented strangely here, complete with floors that look solid (you’ll still fall through them), small bees more deadly than a full-sized T-Rex (a late raft sequence that had potential is ruined by killer insects), and lots of crabs (the first few levels are full of them). Levels are straightforward and offer little variation.
Playing as Kong is a little better, but glitchy and ugly. He’s too big for the screen, and routinely blocks the view of smaller creatures that can sap life without the player even being aware of the threat. Players will still swing across branches and skirt across walls with little control or danger. As the final insult, you don’t have to worry about defeating bi-planes in New York. That plays out using the pitiful graphics engine (after showing grainy stills to move the story along not from the movie, but from the home version). The user has zero control over it. Given that Kong will get stuck in walls, fly for a few seconds at random, or fall off a branch because the camera doesn’t swing around, maybe it’s for the better.
Surprisingly, the Game Boy Advance is lucky enough to house one of the better renditions of the game. From the ground up, this is an entirely different take on the film than any of the others mentioned. It’s a top down adventure when controlling human characters, resembling a combination of Zelda and Secret of Mana. Multiple characters are controlled at the same time through a painless swapping system, and their individual abilities play a role in puzzle solving. There’s a little too much block pushing, too many areas have no purpose or dead ends, and the game doesn’t do anything to lead the player along, but with a little effort, you’ll pull through.
No version is complete without a giant ape rampage, and on the GBA, you’ll control Kong in a classic side-scrolling beat-em-up. Animation is fluid given the humungous size of the sprites, and the limited time spent in these great brawls is necessary to hide their obvious repetitiveness. You’ll feel like you’re in far more control of Kong here than in the any of the others. After moving through the standard versions, this should be your second choice.
Quite obviously, the Xbox 360 wins out. It’s a small margin though. The biggest difference is Kong and the dinosaurs, which have a far smoother and refined look. The V-Rex is especially notable. Backdrops offer some nicer lighting, but other sections look flat and muddy. In first person, there are times when you’ll need to look hard to spot differences.
Don’t think you’re being left out if you’re staying in the current generation. King Kong is still a fantastic looking game, and pushes the hardware. Frame rates are smooth, and the lighting, while not as sharp, provides some clever moments that trick the eye.
On the smallest of the screens, Kong performs admirably. Mobile phone gamers have a nice take on the story, and the New York scene is especially pretty to romp through. The ape is the definite highlight again, superbly animated and a change of pace from the miniscule Ann and Jack sprites.
DS owners again come up short. Looking like it’s a direct port of a game released in 1995, this dated, ugly, and barely even discernable graphics engine should forever be forgotten. Polygons have major issues with staying together, character models are hideous (it’s hard to even tell if they have hands), and it even has the audacity to slow down. Fog is thick, constant, and inexcusable.
Even on the PSP, polygons have trouble staying glued. There are severe frame rate troubles at times, yet oddly, not during intense action. Environments have a muddy look to them as expected, but it’s still an impressive translation given the hardware.
The brief New York rampage is definitely hard to look at on the PSP. Buildings rarely resemble anything that can be considered something from 1930s New York. Certain scenes elsewhere in the game are cut down too, most notably the stampede. King Kong himself is the most disappointing aspect, with a terrible attempt at giving him fur, but at least it’s a major step up from the DS.
Since the GBA is the recipient of an original game, the graphics are all new. There’s a crisp look to the sprites when playing as Jack and crew. Background details are nicely rendered and quite varied. The big beast himself makes for an imposing presence and his foes are rendered with the same care. This isn’t total 2-D bliss. However, it works out nicely and fares a lot better than most of the licensed titles on the handheld.
Voiced by the actors themselves, there’s a lot of dialogue in the console versions. It adds to a tense environment, though many of the lines are spoken with little emotion. The famous “beauty killed the beast line” is completely unmoving here. Audio cues, like stirring water or breaking branches offer an immersive jungle experience. It’s obviously going to stand out more on the Xbox and 360 given their 5.1 capabilities. Don’t underestimate the always improving Pro Logic II on the PS2 and GameCube though. Kong’s pounding and roar still packs intensity.
Barren is the only unsurprising way to describe the mobile phone exclusive. Aside from generic sound effects and a brief music clip, there’s nothing. It’s not even worth turning it on in the options menu.
The DS suffers as well. Dialogue is cut to just names and the heavily compressed and repetitious music never disillusions you into believing this is a good game. At times it becomes so annoying, you’ll need to step away for a while. This is a translation that does absolutely nothing right.
The PSP is capable of a solid performance, and that’s just what you’ll get. Booming bass when playing as Kong, a full orchestrated soundtrack without repetitiveness, and plenty of dialogue fill this trimmed handheld experience. It’s also easy enough to spot where an attack is coming from even without headphones (though they do help).
Like everything else on the GBA, even the music is all new. This provides wonderful ambience, and the generic sound effects work like they should under it. There’s no dialogue obviously (text balloons provide that), but it’s a simple presentation that oddly sounds more like it’s at home in the 1933 classic version of King Kong.
GameCube, Playstation 2, PSP, Xbox 360, and Xbox owners have a point system to play with. After beating the game once, you’ll have the chance to play through it again. This time, you’ll gain points for specific actions, and lose them for others. It’s somewhat ridiculous. You’ll gain points for killing creatures, yet have them deducted for shooting or spear throwing.
There’s a point to that madness. Extras are slowly unlocked, including a very cool gallery (not on the PSP) that you actually walk through. This group also shares an alternate ending that requires a lot of work to earn, and while it destroys the story and its purpose, it’s a nice thought.
At home, there are two extra video options. Once taints the video a sepia tone in an attempt to make the game look like an old movie. It doesn’t particularly work. The other flips the screen horizontally for no apparent reason. Neither do much for game play nor make the game feel fresh.
Xbox 360 fans can take advantage of some easy Achievement Points. For just beating a few specific levels, you’ll gain 100 points. The entire package offers 1,000, and you only need to beat it once. That’s not much of an achievement, and if you need a quick boost when you feel insecure, this is the game to play.
Cinematics on the PSP are taken from the home consoles, and played as video. For instance, the opening scene where the crew lands using a small rowboat is here, but not controllable. The same goes for the final few seconds of Kong’s life, which were played out slowly elsewhere. Here, it cuts the player control out, and it might even work a little better.
While each game separates itself from the film’s story, the Game Boy Advance feels a lot more like the 1933 original. The way Ann is captured is directly from that film (right off the boat) and the style fits for whatever reason. It’s hard to explain, but the aesthetic works at setting the era, with extra sections inside temples and unique detailing when outdoors. It’s a great sense of adventure.
Also note the title on the Game Boy is Kong: The 8th Wonder of the World. The other ones stay closely tied together with the carpal tunnel-causing Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie. Mobile phone owners should be looking for The Official Mobile Game of the Movie. It’s strange the Game Boy title is altered since there are two cheap competitors around: Kong – King of Atlantis and Kong – The Animated Series. If any of them needed the extra moniker, it’s on Nintendo’s handheld.
Even if the movie failed to grab you, there’s a chance the game will. If the movie is still with you, then this is an experience you need to have. The variances to the story make almost any of these unique games worth playing, except on the DS. That’s a game that should forever be forgotten. You’re safe with the rest, but maybe not at full price.
Xbox 360: (**** out of *****)
Xbox, GameCube, Playstation 2: (****)
Mobile Phone: (***)