Publisher GameMill isn’t particularly well known for releasing highly-acclaimed titles—in fact, most of the company’s output seems to largely revolve around licensed properties like Avatar: The Last Airbender – Quest for Balance, or Nerf Legends. The company’s latest release, developed by IguanaBee, is Skull Island: Rise of Kong. It’s very rare to find a game like Skull Island: Rise of King—a game so objectively terrible that it goes past the “so good it’s bad” territory straight into just being straight up terrible.
At its core, Skull Island: Rise of Kong is essentially a hack-and-slash action game with elements of platforming. The game revolves around the eponymous Kong, and his formative years after his parents are murdered by a vicious dinosaur named Gaw. From a gameplay standpoint, just about every aspect of the game feels like an exercise in poor design and implementation.
To start out with, Kong doesn’t have much in the way of special moves or attacks, limited largely to a shoulder tackle, a 3-hit combo, and the ability to use a heavy attack as a combo finisher. The game provides a taste of the potential abilities Kong will get by putting players in the shoes of his mother for its prologue chapter, which also acts as a tutorial. Some of the fancier abilities that you get teased with include an aimed jump, the ability to headbutt rocks, and the ability to pound the ground so hard that it gives way to the rest of the level.
"The game revolves around the eponymous Kong, and his formative years after his parents are murdered by a vicious dinosaur named Gaw."
Unfortunately, the combat in Skull Island: Rise of Kong, despite its efforts, is terrible. There is little to no reaction by the game’s various enemies to being hit, and it often feels like the enemy animations are skipping over some vital parts. For example, pick up and throw a small raptor and it’ll just about immediately get up with no indication that it was flung away from Kong in the first place. Considering how much of the game’s combat feels like an afterthought—a terrible idea when you consider the fact that combat is pretty much all the game has going for it—the standard 3-hit combo often tends to be the only real way to dispatch enemies, so you won’t really end up caring about any new abilities you unlock.
Speaking of combat, enemy AI is also horrendously broken. An early example of the enemy AI being terrible was the climactic boss fight against Gaw at the end of the prologue, where I was able to simply break Gaw’s scripting by constantly running around it in circles, essentially freezing Gaw in place, constantly turning to get a closer look at you. Smaller enemies don’t fare much better; raptors and crabs will do little more than charge at you in a straight line, with the former often looking downright hilarious doing it since they constantly kept spawning in and running towards me.
The ability to pick up and throw smaller enemies around is borderline useless if you want to use it for anything more than getting a quick laugh. The smaller enemies don’t really seem to take any damage, even if you throw them at walls, and like I said before, they’ll just get right back up and come at you again. The fact that the speed of the throwing animation is a potential upgrade in the skill tree also makes the very idea of trying to use the ability early on against larger enemies ridiculous, since you’ll often end up getting hit by avoidable attacks in your attempts to throw something at the enemy.
"I was able to simply break Gaw’s scripting by constantly running around it in circles"
Even the game’s camera is one of the worst I’ve seen since before developers started designing third-person games around letting the player control the camera. On its own, the camera already feels too far away from Kong, offering a massive field of view, but at the same time just about ruining any sense of scale or perspective the game might be going for. There’s also a lock-on, which pulls the camera back even further, and often allows level geometry—like branches or leaves of a tree—to get in the way of letting you see what’s happening.
Combat isn’t the only place where Skull Island: Rise of Kong fails itself, however. Even just the simple act of exploring its levels often turns into exercises in frustration and failure. At the very core level, the game doesn’t control well. Kong’s animations are selectively either too sudden, or too slow. Hit the jump button, for example, and Kong will shoot straight for the sky. A sprinting jump, on the other hand, seems to take a few frames to go off, and could often mean that you miss your jump because you ran out of land to sprint on, needing you to go all the way back to start all over.
The level design itself isn’t really anything to write home about either. Levels are split into small arenas where you fight things, and long corridors where you’ll be running around and platforming. In fact, the level design downright discourages exploration, since taking a side-path will likely ultimately loop back around into earlier in the level, essentially wasting quite a bit of your time without giving you much to show for it. Sure, there are collectibles to gather, but these collectibles are little more than 3D models in a menu; there’s no backstory or lore associated with them, and even the models themselves tend to glitch out, like showing you a skull while you’ve selected the chest in the game’s collectibles menu.
"Combat isn’t the only place where Skull Island: Rise of Kong fails itself"
Skull Island: Rise of Kong tries to be somewhat clever with its level design by throwing in some metroidvania elements here and there; there are a couple of abilities you need to be able to fully explore the game’s levels. That means that if you want to destroy a wall of rocks that might be hiding yet another useless collectible, you’ll have to come back once you’ve unlocked the ability to headbutt walls. The game even has a skill tree where you can expand on some of Kong’s capabilities. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t really make unlocking new abilities easy, and even just the base level upgrades cost 5 skill points. For the sake of context, it took me around an hour’s worth of play time, which involved finishing the entire prologue, and getting into a fair number of fights, before I got my first skill point.
Visually, the game can often look downright ugly owing to its art style, which seems to be going for something resembling a hyper-stylized look with the use of contrasting colors, sharp lighting and shadows, and bold highlights. Sadly, it ends up looking like what I expect a game to look like when it’s early in development, and making use of placeholder graphics.
Alongside its other ideas also being rather poor, a running theme with Skull Island: Rise of Kong is a lack of polish. The game has terrible visuals, some downright horrendous gameplay, and level design that seems to be more keen on wasting your time rather than presenting you with any interesting challenges or rewards. The level of polish is so low, that the game’s taskbar icon on Windows is just the standard placeholder icon any game developed in Unreal Engine has. Unless you’re a massive fan of monkeys, stay clear of this game.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
It has Kong.
Horrible combat; Pointless platforming; Level design that wants to waste your time; Broken enemy AI; Useless combat abilities; Lack of any real feedback during combat; Hostile camera; General lack of polish; Poor visuals.