King Kong 2
When it comes to video games in the war of the movie monsters King Kong has been grossly under-represented. How could such an iconic character as Kong, a giant ape who holds an entire city to ransom, have so few games? The very concept itself is ripe for adaptation. When we compare the meager list of games based on the franchise to those of his rivals such as Godzilla it is clear that a great injustice has been done to Megaprimatus kong, which may be explained by the dubious nature of the franchise's legality, highlighted in the furious copyright and intellectual property court battles that have been waged since his conception.
The disputes between Kong's creator Merian C. Cooper and RKO films weakened any legitimate claims either Cooper or any given studio had to owning the concept as a trademark. The culmination of this was in 1982 when Nintendo won against U.S. Copyright holder Universal Studios' lawsuit over the character of Donkey Kong, who had become hugely successful when his eponymous game hit the arcades in 1981. It can be argued that Universal's inability to retain the Kong character allowed Nintendo's own great ape to overshadow his predecessor in the world of video games and rendered any attempts by any other company to brave this legal minefield unfeasible.
In spite of this there have been a handful of King Kong games that had been made long before those adapted from the Peter Jackson movie. The majority of these have been LCD games or very early computer ports of little distinction. The first two Kong games worth mentioning were both developed by Konami and both contain "King Kong 2" in their titles: King Kong 2: Ikari no Megaton Punch for the Famicom in 1986, and King Kong 2: Yomigaeru Densetsu for the MSX the following year. You may be forgiven if upon reading this you begin to wonder what happened to the preceding King Kong game. King Kong 2 is the title that the much maligned 1986 movie King Kong Lives went under in its Japanese release, despite the many films produced by both the American studios and Japan's own Toho that preceded it. King Kong Lives is widely regarded as a poor entry in the franchise that, despite an interesting premise, was weakly executed, and was almost universally panned by critics at the time.
The only thing worth mentioning about this film is that it starred Linda Hamilton, best known for her role as Sarah Connor in the Terminator franchise. Yet this is the movie that Konami decided to adapt for the video game market. The fledgling company was making a name for itself on the MSX platform with the likes of Akumajou Dracula / Vampire Killer (better known as Castlevania), Metal Gear, and The Goonies to name a few and Konami gave the same level of quality in producing the King Kong 2 games. The companies best and brightest developed both games including Kenji Shimoide who worked on Life Force, Super C, Yume Penguin Monogatori and Bucky O'Hare. The games enjoy no less than four composers: Shinya Sakamoto, Satoe Terashima, Kinuyo Yamashita, and Kiyohiro Sada who between them have worked on the likes of Life Force, Snatcher, Castlevania, Wai Wai World, Ganbare Goemon, and Gradius, often in collaboration and all of them members of Konami's Kukeiha Club.
Both games follow elements of the movie's plot in which adventurer Hank Mitchell (played by Brian Kerwin) travels to Borneo to capture a female giant gorilla, whose blood is necessary to keep Kong alive (having survived being shot down off World Trade Center in the 1976 Dino De Laurentiis remake). A revived Kong then seeks to mate with the female Kong to continue his species. How do these games go about adapting this story? As we shall see although they both share the same source they are, if you'll forgive the expression, two very different beasts.
King Kong 2: Ikari no Megaton Punch (lit. "King Kong 2: Furious Megaton Punch") is the first King Kong 2 game by Konami, released on the Family Computer in 1986 in the same year the film was released. The game loosely follows the plot of the film, with Kong as the protagonist searching for the captive female ape named here as Lady Kong. Apart from this one aspect of the story the game itself bears no similarity to the film. Hank Mitchell doesn't appear anywhere in the game nor do any of the other characters, with Kong having already been revived. The player must guide Kong through nine worlds, each of which has a key guarded by a boss that the player must collect to progress to the next level.
Kong has three forms of attack. Pressing the A button allows Kong to jump which is not only useful for avoiding enemies and obstacles but also damages anything underneath him, which is immensely satisfying to perform and appropriately represents the destructive weight of a giant monster like Kong. The B button controls Kong's default punch attack as well as throwing boulders (in limited supply and dropped by enemies) which are equipped by pressing the select button. The levels themselves are composed of jungles and mountainous terrain, cities in various stages of the day, and labyrinthine underground laboratories, populated by Jeeps, tanks, balls of slime, mutant grasshoppers, ghosts, dragons, killer whales and even ducks. The choice of enemies is baffling, with the majority of them being completely incongruous to the source material. Although you would expect there to be human enemies in a King Kong game in Furious Megaton Punch they are conspicuous in their absence. One could make the point that they are the operators of the Jeeps and tanks however considering the fact they fight alongside slimes and dragons and given the overall cartoonish feel of the game it would not be implausible to suggest that the vehicle enemies are autonomous.
As far as obstacles go, a good part of the environment is destructible which is essential for revealing secrets such as power-ups, consisting of the usual fare of ammo capacity upgrades and temporary invincibility, and warp zones which allow players to skip sections of the game. On the subject of power-ups many of them are a nod to other Konami games, a concept which appears to be something of a trademark of the company. There is a Moai head from Gradius that grants an extra life, as well as the cross item from Gradius that destroys all enemies of the stage. It is also possible to pick up the Konami logo as a power-up. Touching it causes Konami Man to appear on screen and refill Kong's life.
In terms of presentation we will look at the visuals and the music. Firstly the visuals can best be described as being very cartoony. There is a range of bright colours that make full use of the Famicom's palette, everything in-game is drawn in a super-deformed style, and there is a lot of comic animation from Kong and family in the cutscenes. Considering that the game has very little to do with the actual movie it's clear that Konami had in mind a much more light-hearted adaptation of the film that appealed to children with its colourful action, whereas the MSX iteration was aimed more at the older PC-using scene who were used to playing an extensive library of RPGs. In the audio department, despite having only a handful of tracks, the music in the game bears all the hallmarks of a soundtrack composed by members of the Kukeiha Club, particularly the catchy overworld theme that plays throughout most of the game which will undoubtedly be stuck in your head after hearing it over and over.
The stages are maze-like in layout which, combined with the top down view, straight away draws comparisons with contemporary games such as The Legend of Zelda. The non-linearity in level design seems daunting at first but with multiple playthroughs it is easy to formulate the most efficient and optimal route and because of this experienced players can finish the game in a relatively short time (using a combination of the level select cheat and a glitch in the room before the boss renders the game beatable in a matter of minutes).
The game is quite reasonably challenging, giving the player only three lives for the whole game, though there is a code to continue from the stage you died in by pressing B, A, and Start on the Title Screen. When you do beat the game, having undergone a brutal gauntlet of Mecha-Kongs, you get an ending where you are reunited with Lady Kong (who is pink) and with Baby Kong (ostensibly the same one from the movie). Holding A + B through the whole credit sequence unlocks a secret message from the staff that congratulates the player varyingly according to how quickly they finished the game, with there being twenty-four different messages in total. After this you can then play the game again on a harder difficulty.
Taking this all into account, is there any reason to play this game? Looking at the game there is nothing about it that really distinguishes it from similar games on the Famicom/NES other than the sheer novelty of playing as King Kong. Yet this is why playing the game is recommended: it is one of the few games where you get to play as the original Giant Ape and if nothing else this makes the game something of a curiosity. As a Famicom game it was obviously never released outside of Japan, however, the game is easily accessible to non-Japanese speakers having little to no text in the actual game, though there is a translation patch for the little text that is there.
King Kong 2: Yomigaeru Densetsu (lit. "King Kong 2: The Legend Revived"), which was released after Megaton Punch the following year, could not be a more different game despite also being developed by Konami. To begin with the protagonist in this game is the human character Hank Mitchell, which may come as something of a disappointment to some who wanted to play as Kong.
After the title screen you watch Hank arrive on the island of Golnebo (as opposed to Borneo in the film) and that's when it should be made clear that this isn't going to be the light-hearted arcade-style fare of the Famicom game. Firstly on the right-hand side of the screen there is a panel with a list of statistics such as Life, EXP, Level, and Gold. Entering the hut in front of you you are told that in order to journey deeper into the island you must first consult the Village Elders for guidance, and this is when you realise that you're playing an RPG, an action RPG to be precise in a vein similar to Falcom's Ys, Telenet Japan's Exile, and T&E Soft's Hydlide series. If there is one genre that doesn't leap to mind when one thinks of how a King Kong game would play it is certainly an RPG; yet it works so well in this case that it's easy to get so immersed in the gameplay that you almost completely forget that you are playing a game with Kong in it.
Visually, compared to the earlier game, the color palette of this game is significantly darker, with more greens and browns to match the jungle environment. The problem is that the explorer outfit that Hank wears is khaki, which can be a real strain on the eyes when almost the entire screen is brown. This is not just confined to Hank's attire: almost everything in the game barring some enemies seems to blend into the background and if you are not paying attention it's all too easy to be assailed by semi-visible enemies coming from all directions. Technically speaking the graphics are adequate for a game on the MSX2, so the sprites are not overly detailed with the exception of some of the larger enemies and bosses, though like many MSX games it does suffer from some choppy scrolling. If it is any consolation the audio in this game is once again fantastic, boasting catchy themes arranged by Konami's in-house composers who would go on to make many of the recognisable tunes from Konami games that we fondly remember today. <.p>
The game handles as one would expect from an ARPG: the player controls Hank through different screens defeating enemies in real time to gain experience and gold. Experience is needed to level up with each increased level adding more hit points, as well as the ability to increase Hank's speed at 10 level increments, which is something of a Godsend as the regular walking speed is less than tolerable. Gold accumulated from killing enemies can be used to buy weapons each of which only certain bosses are weak to which makes purchasing them essential (we will come to this shortly). It can also be used to buy one-use items such as herbs that restore a portion of your life and entering certain huts will let you rest, and therefore heal, for a fee.
There are two other statistics in the panel that are worth noting: Days, each of which lasts 45 seconds of real time and act as a timer which influences which ending you receive when you beat the game, and Magic Points! What has magic to with King Kong you might reasonably ask. In this game Hank can utilise magic scrolls given to him by the villagers which are used to defeat certain enemies. The disadvantage to this is that only Bucklers and Grassogres can replenish Magic Points: dying and continuing doesn't reset your counter.
Golnebo is a fairly expansive island with much to explore, and more of it unlocks after you beat the bosses that roam the island. You don't have to play for more than a couple of minutes to encounter your first one: a huge bear that wanders around and is impervious to any of your blows while in return giving Hank a severe beating. Unless you have played the game before without a doubt you will die at this point and be forced to restart. Fortunately continues are unlimited and barring MP most of your stats remain as they were at your death. This does not mean however that dying has little consequence. The player must conserve the amount of continues they use because like the number of in-game days they too have an impact on the outcome of the ending.
With enough searching the player will learn from some smugglers hiding in a hut that only an axe can harm the bear and only a knife will harm the giant spider and they happen to have both for sale. Quelle Surprise! Trying to buy the axe at this point is impossible even if you had the funds, which makes the bear boss something of a beginner's trap. Getting the knife will still set you back 200 Gold, something which shouldn't be underestimated. Make no illusions to get this kind of money and still be in a chance to get the better two endings it is imperative to grind, which seasoned RPG players will be accustomed to but somehow comes out even more as a chore. You will find yourself between screens defeating enemies to get gold and experience and occasionally the odd herb or two. The enemies in this game are a little more appropriate for the setting than Megaton Punch's gallery of rogues. Warthogs, giant worms, and poison frogs are all animals you would believe to be lurking in a jungle even if they have some strange alterations such as size and colour. There are also what appear to be cavemen, though they may be supposed to represent tribesmen indigenous to the island.
The game has a consistent and natural progression: to defeat a boss you must acquire the necessary item to defeat it. How do you get this item? You follow clues from the tribesmen who live in the huts. How do you get more clues? You defeat bosses which unlocks more of the island to explore. Knowledge of the locations of items and weapons rewards the player by making it quicker to complete, which in turn increases the chance of attaining the best ending. There are three endings you can receive after rescuing Lady Kong: the bad ending if you take more than a year in-game to beat it, the good ending which you get from finishing the game in under 365 days and using 33 continues or more, and using less than 33 continues grants you the much coveted best ending.
With all this being said is the MSX2 outing worth playing? If you are looking for another RPG to play similar to Ys, particularly one that lies outside of the conventional medieval/fantasy setting, then yes. The fact that is a Konami title, in addition to boasting the King Kong franchise should only sweeten the deal. As an RPG it is more text-heavy than the previous game, and was never released outside of Asia. However since the late 1990s there have been several iterations of both English and Spanish translations, with there being an ultimate translation at the time of this article being written (the screenshots are taken from this translation) that also adds unused content from the game! Interestingly enough the game was released in South Korea under Zemina (of Super Boy infamy) with their own, albeit comically terrible, English translation, which also happens to supplant the Konami logo in the opening with their own.
While neither game hardly broke the conventional mould of their respective genres both are considered to be enjoyable games, being fondly remembered in their home country and garnering a cult following overseas with the growing use of emulation (the demand for their fan-translations should be proof in some way of this). The Megaton Punch iteration of Kong was one of the cast of Konami characters in the Famicom game Wai Wai World, such was his standing that he was considered as much a Konami staple as Goemon and Simon Belmont! Unfortunately it was also his last outing under Konami, and would have also been his last video game had the tie-ins to the 2005 Peter Jackson King Kong movie not been released, of which the Xbox 360 version is considered the definitive title.