Sure, you'll get some really, really bad games on consoles, but for sheer stink power, nothing comes close to what's passed off as entertainment on handheld game systems when these little machines are at their worst. When you harbor nothing but bitter resentment for a cellphone game that you charged on your buddy's borrowed account for $1.99, you can never come back from that. The Game Boy line has been the unworthy sufferer for some of the most sickening games to come along since the Official Nintendo Seal of Quality was proven a misnomer with NES bombs like Total Recall. And sadly, our plucky little Nintendo DS system has not escaped this fate. You take the good, you take the bad, and oh man, are you ever going to be taking it bad if you pick up King Kong on DS this holiday season.
Saying that Peter Jackson's King Kong on DS is loosely based on Michel Ansel's flawed but powerful masterpiece for consoles is a slap in the ape-face of that game. This DS thing was rushed out the door to tag onto the movie and game releases, boxed up way before it arrived at any state of playability or visual style. Maybe they should have waited for the DVD to release a DS version, giving it time to be as great as it could have been? Or maybe they should have just done an updated version of the GBA Kong game (which is lo-fi but at least has some direction to it) instead of making a brand new game for DS? Unfortunately, it's too late to save Kong, and what we DS gamers are stuck with is not worth anybody's time. At its very best (and I'm not sure how I worked the word "best" into this review), King Kong on DS is a completely pointless FPS / button-pushing-punching-thingy that has not a single moment worth playing when you can experience the story and gameplay concept in its full form on PC or console. At its very worst (go ahead and get used to that word, "worst"), it's so pathetic and busted that you can't tell whether you're shaking with anger or laughter.
Looking at the screenshots of the game, you might get the idea that this is a poor man's Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, and so it might be of interest to FPS fans. Hmm, how to persuade you to ignore that thought. Well, across this game's 17 levels, I'd say I killed maybe 40-50 creatures. Even that might be generous, although I did kill a few annoying bees while trying to fight the junk-ass aiming system to shoot the hive ... and I did run past (or rather walk) a few creatures because I was so bored in fighting that I just cut out.
Either way, if you only fight off three or four critters per stage (or go through an entire stage without really having to fight because the creatures attacking are bats and little raptors, and you're freaking King Kong and can just walk over them) that's not a lot of action. And the action you do get repeats over and over. If there's a hole in the wall, a crab will crawl out of it. There may be another crab after that, or not. If you enter a clearing, a raptor will probably jump over the wall and come at you. If you see sky, there will be about six bats to shoot down. If you're Kong, there will be a T-Rex to punch either at the bottom of a ravine or behind a door you've smashed, and once you've beaten up that T-Rex (or simply walked past it), you're probably done with the stage. Enemies don't have any AI besides "get 'im!", and if you walk far enough away, they go back into their holes.
I'm not sure which is worse: shooting crabs and shooting crabs and shooting crabs and shooting crabs, or not having any crabs (or anything else) to shoot at for long sections of this shooter. I guess the gunplay isn't the worst it could possibly be -- there's only so far you can go wrong in using the DS touchscreen like a trackball -- but it's pretty bad. The DS version uses that "be the character" aspect of no reticules or on-screen indicators (except that the second screen, aside from one single giant and pointless big Skull Island picture, is taken up with ammo indicators, so moot to that concept), so you've basically got no clue where the hell your shots are going. That's not so much a problem though, because the developers have accounted for it by making most everything that's not shot at a distance register as shot. I was flinging spears with my eyes closed and hitting creatures. The only creature that ever caused me problems was the giant super-crab, but aiming wasn't the problem there. The thing just absorbed shots without reacting much (the trick seems to be to shoot him in his ... let's call it a face, until he rears up and lets you flip him over so you can shoot him some more. We're not 100% sure that it's the face where he can be hurt, but we've unloaded every round we had everywhere else on his body and he didn't die, so we tried the face and something seemed sort of to happen.)
What is bad about the control is that your character walks with all the speed of a zombie, and in firefights, the game will inexplicably slow down your movement (the graphics seem to still be animating, so either it's selective slowdown or else your enemies have coated their lairs with superglue.) The game is riddled with numerous bugs, so you may find yourself falling through the ground and into an abyss when trying to explore in the dark, or fighting a raptor who has jumped off a ledge, fallen through the floor, and is now battling you invisibly from underneath the ancient Skull Island temple tiles. The handling also isn't tuned for the thumbstrap and is hard to control with it, so you're stuck with tiring stylus aiming for the duration.
Puzzle portions don't do much better, because the word "puzzle" fits only if you cram it. The smartest section I saw in the game had me ducking between pillars while a Venatosaurus tried to chase me. That was mildly clever the first time, not so much by about the fourth time. That's contrasted with one of the most ridiculously stupid stages I've ever seen that goes a little something like this: there's a ledge that's about as tall as a park bench in front of me, but the hero of the game can't climb up it, so he has to call his partner over (who can climb it) so that he can operate the winch for the rope gondola, located on the far side of the level, to carry me up and over to the knee-heights of that daunting ledge.
And what about the star of the show, King Kong? He's barely in the game at all. You do play as him in a few stages, but there's no gamplay in these levels other than in pushing the button when you get to a barrier or ledge to have him smash or jump. You can fight the little critters that attack, but they just take one mighty swipe, and they don't bother you much if you avoid them. All of the tree-swinging is scripted, so no play there, and the biggest challenge with climbing along rock walls is in fighting to regain control when the camera loses track of the building-sized gorilla. You do get to fight a T-Rex now and again, but the developers completely botched the furious (albeit shallow) combat system for the DS version. Fighting doesn't feel fluid and is a pain to control, and it doesn't even use the DS touchscreen -- how can you make a game for DS about a massive creature like Kong and not find a use for that touchscreen?
King Kong on DS is ugly as hell, for the little of it that I could see. The game is murky, foggy and dark throughout, with no brightness setting. There are no lighting effects in the game. There are torches, but they just sit there on the wall, not even animating. Wall textures would be passable if it wasn't for the bright white seam along most edges that shows the corners of almost every polygon. Characters in the game are drawn with maybe four colors. Luckily, those four colors are brown and tan instead of black and dark brown, so at least you can see them. Not that you'd want to ... the game draws Naomi Watts as having one big, heart-shaped nostril in the middle of her triangular nose. Jack Black looks like a burlap bag -- not even a burlap bag with eyes, just a sack out in the jungle. And the gunshot bursts ... wow. It'd be more realistic if they had a flag with the word "Bang!" pop out when you shot than to have whatever-the-heck effect they did use. There's this brown, mushy, hand-drawn blotch that comes out of your firearm when you shoot, and I don't know why. Our guess is that they took the cartoon-style explosion effects from the Star Wars Episode III game and pasted them in here for some reason (the exact same cartoon explosion blows up when a bomb goes off, which looks ridiculously cartoonish in an otherwise realistic 3D world), and again, I have no clue why. The only thing that looks good in the game is Kong himself, since his animation is partially lifted from the console game (there might even be technology ported in this one 3D character -- when he falls down dead, there seems to be ragdoll in how he falls since we've seen him die while standing up against a wall.) The dinos aren't exactly embarrassing either; the buck-toothed giant bats, however, very much are.
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