What is it? A brawler/platformer starring a giant ape.
Release date October 17, 2023
Expect to pay £35 / $40
Publisher GameMill Entertainment
Reviewed on Ryzen 7 7700X, RTX 4080, 64GB RAM
Steam Deck No
Link Official site
I have a bit of a soft spot for terrible videogames. Rogue Warrior and Ride to Hell: Retribution, games that are objectively awful and were justly panned by critics, have offered me countless hours of enjoyment with their goofy dialogue and hilariously janky gameplay. If anyone was going to enjoy Skull Island: Rise of Kong, even if it was for all the wrong reasons, that person should have been me.
The jury is already in on Skull Island: Rise of Kong, so there’s no reason to beat around the bush—yes, this game is dreadful. But it managed to fall short of even the already rock bottom expectations I had after watching the trailer. Skull Island: Rise of Kong isn’t just a contender for the worst game of 2023, it may genuinely be the worst game I have ever played.
Skull Island: Rise of Kong is a beat ‘em up, platforming, exploration-focused adventure that sees you take on the role of a young Kong (not yet King) as he scours Skull Island for his parent’s killer. There is no further plot beyond this. You watch Kong’s parents get killed, then you kill Kong’s parents’ killer. Nothing noteworthy happens in between these two points.
But even this basic story set-up manages to be dysfunctional in its origins. You’d be forgiven for thinking this is a tie-in game to the Kong: Skull Island film universe and the Netflix animated show Skull Island, but no. This adaptation is based on the “King Kong of Skull Island” brand, a separate franchise seemingly based on a comic adaptation of the original novel that’s also spawned an in-development Disney+ series. Yes, there are now two separate King Kong universes running simultaneously, under the control of different companies. Trying to get to the bottom of this tangle of licensing and public domain disputes is, at least, marginally more fun than actually playing this game.
I’ll be fair to Skull Island: Rise of Kong by focusing on the positives first. The orchestral tracks, sparsely interspersed throughout the game, are pretty good. Also, the load times are very fast. There is no third positive.
(Image credit: IguanaBee)
90% of my play time was spent just walking around in circles until I eventually bumped into each stage’s boss fight.
I completed Skull Island: Rise of Kong in roughly eight hours, which might fool you into thinking that the game has eight hours of content to offer. However, it is in no way an exaggeration to say that 90% of my play time was spent just walking around in circles until I eventually bumped into each stage’s boss fight.
Instead of offering players a straightforward way of discovering where they should be headed, like a mini-map or a quest marker, Skull Island: Rise of Kong instead features the “Roar” mechanic. Getting Kong to roar will cause something akin to fireworks to shoot into the sky, which is supposed to show you that there’s an area beneath them that’s worth discovering. The main problem with this mechanic is that roaring doesn’t point you in the direction of the stage’s end goal, it just points you in the direction of anything in your immediate vicinity that you can interact with—whether that be a collectible or a chance to earn some skill points. To make matters worse, the Roar mechanic is also tied to the same button as your “Primal Rage” buff, which means roaring outside of combat drains the same resource, whether you want it to or not.
Exploration is also hampered by the game’s shoddy visuals. The one-tone palettes and the unremarkable layouts of each map make every surface and area indistinguishable. You can walk from one end of each map to the other, and swear you’ve already passed by that exact same location five times already.
(Image credit: IguanaBee)
There are enough bugs throughout to render the game almost unplayable in its current state.
It certainly doesn’t help that the platforming sections in the game are infuriatingly imprecise at their best and simply broken at their worst. Most distances need to be cleared by either sprint jumping—aggravating to trigger in a small space thanks to its mandatory run-up—or by making use of the incredibly inaccurate “Leap” ability. Climbing vines also has a one-in-five chance of completely bugging out and freezing Kong in place, forcing you to reset to your last autosave and potentially start an entire platforming section over.
There are enough bugs throughout to render the game almost unplayable in its current state. I lost count of the amount of times I fell through the floor or glitched out of bounds—collision seems to be an afterthought in these maps. Fights that required me to clear all of the enemies in one zone before I could progress often spawned enemies outside of the zones I was trapped in. Textures in the environment popped in and out at random. Finishing moves almost never triggered even when I was right next to an enemy. Parrying enemies seemed to only work about 50% of the time. Locking onto enemies had a habit of making the camera aim directly at Kong’s feet. Even simply trying to load a save has a good chance of making the game freeze unrecoverably.
(Image credit: IguanaBee)
The enemies that litter the environments are so passive they can be avoided entirely by just walking past them.
The combat essentially boils down to just clicking the left mouse button until all the enemies are dead, and none of the bosses are mechanically fun or interesting. The inclusion of features like a lock-on, parries, and dodge rolls hint at a Soulslike influence, but none of these mechanics are remotely useful outside of a couple of the boss fights—repeating the same one-button combos ad nauseum is usually the only effective strategy. Perhaps it’s a blessing, then, that the enemies that litter the environments are so passive they can be avoided entirely by just walking past them. They seem to serve mostly just as padding to make the world look less barren.
It’s clear the game was rushed to completion under less than ideal circumstances. I hesitate to even call the final product functional, let alone enjoyable. Indeed, a report from The Verge claims that publisher GameMill Entertainment gave developer IguanaBee only a year to develop it, and failed to properly support and finance the project, making the project near-impossible. I won’t claim there’s hidden potential here more time could’ve unlocked—the game is so conceptually uninspired that it’s hard to see how anything could’ve saved it from being a boring brawler outside of a complete rethink. But it might at least have saved it from being the buggiest, messiest, most widely mocked boring brawler of 2023.