Saturday, 13 March 2010

Congo Bongo

Time to wage war on older stages of evolution with

Congo Bongo. A game by Sega that does exactly the opposite of what it says on the tin, unlike "Donkey Kong" which translates to "stubborn gorilla" or something to that effect. Bongo is an ape who has mastered FIRE, prompting our unknown protagonist to go on an isometric mission of revenge. It's a platformer where the object is always "get to the top right of the screen while avoiding enemies/traps" built on the engine that powered Sega's Zaxxon.

Congo Bongo has been haunting me for a couple of years now. I had always assumed it would be rubbish, and hence I've skirted my way around it whenever it reared its ugly head. But earlier today I decided to finally fire it up in MAME, and to my surprise it was actually half-decent. There are loads of isometric platformers out there, but they're a two way street; on one hand, they can be extremely good looking and interesting, but on the other, unless you're drawing each pixel of the screen in real-time, you suddenly find yourself with 4328043 more tiles in memory than you would with a standard 2D sidescroller. By the time computer standards had increased enough to support a good isometric platformer, people had started to experiment with 3D graphics and polygons. Yes there are loads on systems such as the ZX Spectrum, but I like games that have more than two colours on screen at once.

You might assume this is just "Donkey Kong 3D", but though it does have a lot of similarities to Nintendo's work it's very much a different game. The first stage, where you're forced to avoid coconuts and monkeys, is pretty much Nintendo's work, I'll give you that. But the second and third stages are more open, requiring tactics to avoid enemies and making use of that extra dimension of gameplay. The final stage is largely influenced by Frogger... in fact you could argue it's more of a Frogger clone than a Donkey Kong one.

There are no weapons unlike in Donkey Kong - you're just forced to jump and run, which means it's a tiny bit more difficult. The graphics, for 1983 anyway, are excellent, but since it's not an isometric screen, big chunks of the display are wasted. There is no music (aside from jingles) and the sound effects aren't worth writing home about, but this is to be expected for the day and overall it's not a bad game at all. Not quite as legendary as Donkey Kong, and a bit harder to get used to, but certainly more fun than Zaxxon was.

But then we have the home ports. Supposedly this game failed to capture a large audience in the arcade market... so what better plan than to have it ported to almost every console/computer in existence. Apple II, Atari 8-bit, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, ColecoVision, Commodore 64, Commodore VIC-20, DOS, IntelliVision, MSX, SG-1000, and TI-99/4A ports all showed up before the decade came to a close. None of them were as good as the arcade version. The Atari and Commodore ports went for an oblique perspective rather than an isometric one (because the hardware sucked), and those who tried the isometric perspective got it wrong because the low colour counts meant the graphics had to be re-drawn (and they were re-drawn poorly). Even Sega's SG-1000 port opted for a non-isometric view, and they had all the Congo Bongo resources in the world! On the plus side though, at least it goes to show that Congo Bongo was well ahead of its time upon release.

If you're feeling wacky and suddenly feel the need for a home port, the DOS version is likely the way to go (though do note I've not sat down any played any of these versions). Its CGA graphics ruin the game considerably but it still manages to look the best. And since you're not messing with loading times or poor controllers with an IBM PC, you should have a good game on your hands. Of course, there are several compilations for modern consoles that contain ports of Congo Bongo, so you could opt for that instead.


  1. This isn't related to Congo Bongo at all, but I wasn't sure where to post it since there are no Hummer Team-related posts on the blog... :-p

    Anyway, after looking at a number of pirate games, I believe the three-eyed sun logo (really, how else can it be described?) is *not* that of Hummer Team, but rather that of JY. JY was the publisher; Hummer was the developer. Cah4e3 also refers to this as the JY logo on his cheats page, so I'm not alone in believing this.

    This would explain why Mickey Mania 7 and Contra Spirits, two games that are clearly distinct from Hummer Team's credited work, still contain the logo in the ROM: they were developed by a different programmer but published by JY.

    Also, I have a suspicion that Hummer Team and Somari Team are one and the same. The font used in Somari is also used in Kart Fighter, and it's pretty obvious that the sound driver is the same.

  2. Oh, yes, and there is definitely some sort of close relationship between JY and Hummer Team, as you observed on the Tiny Toon Adventures 6 page. The shared staff credits are pretty obvious, and the font used in TTA6 is the same one used in both Somari and Kart Fighter.

    Nonetheless, JY had other developers, and Hummer also developed for other pirate publishers. The most notable is a company known as 'Ka Sheng' or 'NT'; they're the ones that published... you guessed it... Kart Fighter and Somari.

  3. Gah, I keep realizing things...

    Now that I look back, I'm not entirely sure that Kart Fighter is NT's work (though the fact that it runs on the same mapper as Somari definitely suggests it)-- I can't find any cart scans with a serial number to confirm it either way. However, there is *definite* proof on cah4e3's site that Somari was released by NT.

  4. Oh, and one last thing: Super Mario 4 for Game Boy is a hack of Shin-chan 4. A well-done hack, admittedly, but nonetheless a hack.