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Congo Bongo (Sega)

DoctorSpuds

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We’re back in Sega territory today, and the game of the day? Well, how about Congo Bongo? Sure that sounds good. Congo Bongo is a fairly blatant Donkey Kong ‘rip-off’, I only put rip-off in quotes because is almost every way Congo Bongo surpasses Donkey Kong. The original 1983 arcade had an isometric perspective coupled with beautiful graphics; the arcade still holds up today, it’s absolutely gorgeous. Sega took initiative and decided to port Congo Bongo to the major consoles of the time themselves, the only versions I have available to me through emulators are the Atari 2600, Commodore 64 (tape and disk), VIC-20, Intellivision, and Colecovision. Almost all of these versions have the same problem… they’re way too hard for avoidable reasons, for example to jump is barely long enough to clear any gaps so you have to wait until the last second to jump but if you’re a millisecond off you’ll fall to your death, or the hitboxes of the giant coconuts and of your little dude are very particular and by being anywhere near a coconut you’ll get hit, for being and isometric three dimensional game the hitboxes are surprisingly 2D. The only version that I think is forgiving enough to be playable AND fun is conveniently the 2600 version, so let’s just get on to that.

 

This might just be one of the most graphically advanced games on the 2600, perhaps right behind Solaris, but for a non-red label game this might just be the best. The game actually manages to do a convincing representation of 3D on the 2600, so unlike Zaxxon Congo Bongo is actually isometric. Unlike Q*Bert, which also managed a 3D style perspective, Congo Bongo has everything solid and colored in and not relying of line of the same color alternating with black, like with what Q*Bert did. From what I’ve seen of the other games the first screen is accurate to the arcade, but the angle is off, the only two versions that actually had the correct ‘arcade’ angle is the Colecovision and C64 disk version, so I’m not going to whine about it. The sprite work is rather incredible, the level of animation on the hunter is on a level I’ve only seen from Xonox, and that is definitely one of the best gorillas on the 2600. Screen one isn’t static either; the water ripples and moves which is very nice touch. There is quite a bit of flicker between the falling coconuts and the pestering monkeys, but I’ll forgive that, the simple fact that the developers managed to cram so much into one screen on the 2600 of all things is just miraculous. But this isn’t the only screen, oh no, this game has three of them. Screen two, the Jungle River is a bit of a letdown when compared to the first, unlike with most all of the other versions, the Frogger style platforming screen is not in an isometric view, it seems they had to take a page from Zaxxon for this one. The view is top down with the hunter starting at the bottom and working his way up, all of the sprites are at least large, but most of them are very abstract, the only one I know for sure are the rainbow hippos but the rest are a complete mystery. Screen three is horrifically violent even by my standards (which are very high), you light Congo the Gorilla on fire… I read the manual and it says that it’s “play fire” and that “Congo can take the heat” but you just light a gorilla on fire, and that’s absolutely hilarious.

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This game doesn’t skimp on the music; there is a suitably catchy opening melody, as well as a constant jungle rhythm that plays in the background, there are a variety of beeps and boops when you’re jumping about the screens but none of them are ear grating or dangerous to your health so you should be fine. Musically inclined games are fairly rare on the 2600, so it’s nice to see a game of this overall quality getting treated well on all fronts. That’s all I have to say about that.

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Good looking games on the 2600 rarely have any substance to them, all of the effort went into making the game look as good as possible and not as fun as possible, that is not the case today. Congo Bongo is an incredibly fun game to play, it’s a standard avoid ‘em platformer much like Donkey Kong. You must navigate your hunter up the mountain, avoiding the falling coconuts, barrels need not apply here, you must jump over the precarious ledge before it crumbles beneath your feet, then there is the Monkey Plateau. These crazy chimps will hold on for dear life, and don’t even think about jumping the river with one of them on your back, you’ll sink like a rock. Once you’ve conquered the mountain you must then contend with the river, you’ll have to jump on lily pads, hippos, and giant fish, to make your way across, watch out the hippos and fish will boot you off if you stay on too long (whaddaya think they are? A Bloomin’ taxi service?). Once you get past the raging rhinos it’s off to get even and scorch that ape. This game has some of the most forgiving collision detection I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing, but it is rather random; most times you can walk right through the coconuts, which is good since they move fast and you don’t. The jumping is also a step up from the other versions, you are able to cross gaps with ease since you are able to jump so far, whereas in other versions you had to be pixel perfect or it was a life down the tube. If you thought the collision detection was forgiving in screen one… well screen two may just surprise you. This is where all your lives will be washed away, since you’re looking at this from a top-down perspective you can’t actually predict where your jump is gonna land, you’ll most likely undershoot or overshoot, thankfully you’re given plenty of lives to figure out the incredibly precise timing, it’s not a game-breaker but it does introduce a difficulty spike like no other. Also screen two has a habit of making the collision detection so erratic that you could be standing on water and nothing will happen but you could die standing on dry land, it’s a bit buggy.

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Overall this is a very fun game to listen to, look at, and play, sure the second screen is difficult and perhaps somewhat unfair but that doesn’t ruin my overall enjoyment of the game. Copies of this game are plentiful and cheap, you can easily find copies of Congo Bongo on Ebay for less than 10 dollars, but since this is a Sega game that means that the boxes are super expensive for no particular reason, the only boxed copy I can see on Ebay currently is sitting at 84$ buy it now, while you can get the game AND manual for 10$, it seems the box makes all of the difference. No Collector’s Zone today, let it pass.

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