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  • Writer's pictureJames Stephanie Sterling

Skull Island: Rise Of Kong - Ape Shit (Review)

Skull Island: Rise of Kong

Released: October 17th, 2023

Developer: IguanaBee

Publisher: GameMill Entertainment

Systems: PC, PS4/5 (reviewed), Switch, Xbox X/S

You might have heard of this game. It’s been compared unfavorably to Gollum. It’s the one that launched in such an incomplete state that placeholder JPEGs were used in cutscenes. It deserves every bit of hate it’s gotten, for it is a con.

I’m not without sympathy for the studio that developed Rise of Kong. By all accounts, they were underfunded and rushed by a publisher whose entire MO is to squirt out cheap unfinished crap. Even so, I have to question the thought processes of the studio itself because of the weirdest artistic decision I’ve seen in a while…

How do you make a King Kong game in which the titular ape feels so small?

Literally the most crucial trait of King Kong is that he’s big. That’s the entire point of him. He’s a gigantic ape that picks up women and swats at helicopters and climbs the Empire State Building. If you create a King Kong game, making him big should be the primary concern.

Rise of Kong somehow screws that up. In multiple ways. It’s amazing, really.

Our hairy hero is surrounded by scenery and creatures that dwarf him. He’s often the least daunting thing in front of a camera that’s been pulled back so far it only further emphasizes his lack of scale. If not for the game’s name, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were just playing as a regular ol’ gorilla.

For as much as Skull Island may be populated by giant prehistoric creatures, it seems a particularly masterful stroke of ineptitude that King Kong looks and feels so… dinky.

Even if this game were given the time and budget to not be such a horrendous pile of shit, the fact it can’t even get King Kong’s size right is a clear indicator that it never had a bloody chance. I’m not sure the folks designing it ever knew what they were doing.

Skull Island: Rise of Kong is truly detestable in how bad it is. A minimum viable product that only barely justifies the “viable” designation, there’s not a single aspect of the thing that could reasonably be considered finished. It’s all so threadbare, so clumsy, so pathetically tinpot, and the fact it’s been packaged and sold like a genuine videogame is honestly rather disgraceful.

It begins with a long tutorial laboriously going over abilities that are immediately taken away from you once the game starts properly so they can be dripfed back in over a matter of hours. I’m not sure why they did it this way, but I’m not sure why this game does anything.

The world of Skull Island is split between a series of zones that are hard to navigate because they’re full of mazelike little pathways, zero distinguishing landmarks, and a vague in-game map that doesn’t show you where you are or where to go. Many of the maps look like someone spilled spaghetti on the floor, a gibberish mess of winding paths with no distinguishing features whatsoever.

You’re supposed to find objectives by following the indicators that appear onscreen when you make Kong roar, except these indicators don’t seem to actually mean anything since they hover above fuck-all. So basically, you wander around these ugly little swamps and caves desperately looking for content and inevitably feeling disappointed when you stumble onto it.

The main thing you’re looking for are Ascension Events - specific battles against the monsters of Skull Island that award you skill points. You start with one or two points per event, even though the first upgrade costs ten points so you get to feel really unrewarded. Again, no idea why this was considered good.

Since Ascension Events are the only way you can increase your skills, any fight outside of them is a waste of time and best ignored. The resulting experience is one of abject boredom as you spend the majority of the game walking through bland environments and bypassing almost everything you see because engaging is pointless.

Fighting itself is fucking awful. It’s unresponsive, the animations of Kong and his enemies don’t properly interact with each other, and there’s barely any visual or audio effects to give a sense of impact. The jump attack doesn’t work, Kong glitches out of it right before reaching the ground so it only hits flying enemies. Enemy A.I. is hardly existent - they’ll just flail in your general direction on the occasions they don’t flail in other directions.

Because of how sluggish everything is, dodging and blocking are impossible to time, so it’s best to mindlessly attack while opponents do the same or perform the dash move over and over to keep dazing them. With a few level ups, you’ll get enough health regen and damage boosts to where “strategy” doesn’t matter anyway.

Boss fights are the same, just longer. Way, way longer.

It’s especially embarrassing to watch Kong execute his opponents with finishers - the character models clip through each other and the floor in all sorts of random ways. That’s if the grab move to initiate it even connects. The same is true whenever you pick up the small enemies to throw them - there’s no proper animation for holding things, so whatever you pick up is just kind of “glued” near his wrist.

Yes... wrist. Not his hand.

It’s hard to believe any physical elements inhabit the same plane of reality. There’s not a single piece of terrain that characters will make definitive solid contact with. Kong partially sinks into every rock, every log, every climbable surface, as absolutely nothing - the ape included - possesses true corporeality. Clipping is just a universal physical law.

Naturally, there is shitty platforming that’s shitty because Kong jumps like shit and ledges are shit at being solid enough for him to land on shit reliably. Pure shit. There are lots of vines to slowly climb up, but they’re usually not embedded correctly into surfaces so Kong gets stuck at the top and judders awkwardly before you wiggle him loose.

I can at least say Rise of Kong is free of texture pop-in. No, it’s somehow worse.

Textures don’t pop in at all when you approach objects, they don’t even fade in… they ooze in. Environmental details smear themselves down objects as you approach them, giving the appearance of textures melting into place with an offputting alien sliminess. It only adds to the overwhelming sense that nothing in this game’s world is truly solid.

Well, that’s not entirely true…

There’s a single rigid thing in the whole game, and it’s whatever invisible snare always snatches King Kong at random to render him completely immobile. I’ve had to regularly reload saves after hitting some unseen snag that freezes me in place and renders all movement controls obsolete. It’s appearance is unpredictable, and once it happens the only fix is a previous save file.

Fuck’s sake, the game can’t even get walking right. The speed at which things move isn’t properly synchronized with the speed of their leg animations, so everything looks like it’s slightly sliding around. Fuck’s sake.

Fuck’s sake.

For crying out loud.

If I could grindingly strain out some compacted feces of praise, I kind of like the dinosaur designs? The overall art style is almost good, with its vibrant colors and bold lines adding a slightly cartoony vibe. The bizarre textures, the muddy environments, and the awkward way in which everything moves offsets any plus point, though.

Do you know how the game does shadows? There are caves that are pitch black with darkness inside, and if you go in them, you’ll find they suddenly turn bright as if a light switch was flipped - yeah, the “darkness” is a flat black surface wedged into the cave mouth, and you can see the edges of it the moment you tilt the camera.

I’d call Skull Island: Rise of Kong embarrassing, but I’m not sure you can be capable of feeling such an emotion if you’re able to sell this thing. Ultimately, Skull Island is a scam. It’s not even bad in a funny way, it’s just insulting - it’s not been finished, it was roughly stitched into the vague shape of a videogame and given the price tag of a legitimate product.

It’s the kind of game that makes the case for some sort of independent trading standards body in the game industry. I say this with all due gravity - The Game Mill should not have been allowed to sell Skull Island: Rise of Kong. In an industry with adequate customer protections, it should be recalled.



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