Congo Bongo


Review by Review Contest 2003!



Graphics: ?

Sound: ?

Gameplay: ?

Overall: ?

I figured that now was a good time to pull out this well-known many-faced classic. Unfortunately, Sega (and/or their programming team at Beck-Tech) may have done the worst home conversion job ever, porting this title badly to so many consoles. The most common versions, the Atari 2600 & C64 cart certainly didn’t help make me a Congo Bongo fan. But don’t be completely turned off like I was. Read along, and/or play along at home and see if you can tell which 2 versions merit some PT every once in a while.

You control what appears to be a pacifistic (he’s weaponless) hunter through 4 jungle areas, overcoming the terrain and other hazards, mostly caused by the wildlife that he should be out hunting. Some reckless simians and their leader Bongo the gorilla. The game start’s with an intermission scene where Bongo sees you asleep at your campfire, he grabs a log from the fire and gives you the "old hot foot". The action scenes then begin and you chase him through the jungle in hopes of revenge. Maybe that’s why you have no gun. Anyhow, you begin at "Primate Peak", then "Snake Lake", "Rhino Ridge" and finally, catch him at "Lazy Lagoon". All scenes are done in three-quarter perspective, plus there’s further intermissions as well. Once you catch him, the whole chase scene starts again, and in each harder level (run through the jungle) the hazards are worse – probably more animals have been alerted to your presence - chasing their beloved Bongo.

My collection of "Snake" & "Scorpion" artwork.

by Sega Home versions: nearly all by Sega – no programming credits found. Most titles screens note 1983, but these some are unconfirmed: 1983: (AP II, Atari 8 bit, 5200, C64 2 vers - cart (C64C) & disk (C64D – US Gold), INTV, TI-99, Vic 20. 1984: (Atari 2600, CV) Classic Sequels: None

Home Version Similarities:
Except those in <>, all versions have: an option to use keyboard control <5200, CV, INTY, 2600>; background (tempo) music throughout each screen; a life timer for each screen, with more time added as the levels increase; safe areas (initially) where nothing can harm you; a jingle when you die, followed by an angelified version of you flying heavenward; a musical interlude congratulating you as you finish each stage; all 4 arcade screens ; a bonus life at 10K ; all motion and paths are aligned either 45 or 90 degrees ; there is an audio effect with every move you make (representing scoring points); and another heard any time you jump ;

At "Primate Peak", Bongo overlooks his animated waterfall and casually tosses 2, 3 coconuts at you. Then there’s a one way sloped path downward followed by a chasm that is tedious to cross. A landslide makes this a one way crossing that leads to 3, 4 overactive monkeys . Jump repeatedly to shake monkeys off your back or they’ll send you over the cliff. At "Snake Lake", you’ll have to hop on a moving hippo’s back to reach Bongo, but not after crossing a series of small islands filled with Scorpions and Snakes. At "Rhino Ridge", you must react and move quickly across the prairie. There are 3 charging rhinos that must be dodged, outsmarted or jumped. In the process, be sure to avoid the deadly puddles and jump over or hide (from the rhinos) in several mole holes. But hurry up, because a head hunter can bury you alive inside those holes. At "Lazy Lagoon" the action slows down and even Bongo takes a nap. The tedious task of leaping across the lagoon using lily pads, standing rocks, floating hippos, and gigantic fish is very frustrating, but rewarding. Once you get across, you can grab that fire log back and give Bongo the works. But, whoa, watch out for that charging rhino, who comes out of nowhere – he must have been following you and Bongo from the prairie.

The CV is the only version where you select a starting level (1 thru 4). This is great for practicing the harder levels, like taking on 4 rhinos at once. Some versions are programmed so rudely, as to begin the game, or a mini demo before you have decide if 1 or 2 players will partake in the chase. The pseudo demo on the C64D and APII simply loads and views each of the screens in succession (10 seconds without any action), until you can begin a new game at the title screen. Nearly all versions have NO pause, and most do not display a high score, and in fact, your score is not considered important, and it is removed from sight, in deference to the title screen. A few versions make the best of their limited machine capabilities, mostly graphical, by having 2 sets of characters per screen. One set is always off, and then at the right point (across the screen), the first set goes away and the second set is activated. This may seem cheap, but it is a clever programming tool, and thus on the <(2600) coconuts are replaced by monkeys, (APII, C64D, TI & INTV) lily pads & hippos are replaced by fish & rhino>. Likewise, the 2600 and INTV alternate between displaying the score and countdown timer. A few versions are more like the arcade – displaying the score, bonus timer, level and lives all very nicely. There’s even the arrow on the screen pointing at Bongo (i.e. the exit for that screen). The Intellivision & 2600 are the only versions with an intermission screen. Note the prominent cartridge artwork of the scorpions & snakes, only to find the disk versions (C64D & Apple II) are the only 2 that have them in the game. Overall, most classic home versions will frustrate Congo Bongo fans.

Disqualified: C64 Cart version (32) My First reaction is that there are only 2 game play screens so how can SEGA call this an arcade remake? ‘tis not a terrible game, but it gets DQed this month, since there is a much better version for the C64, on disk, by US Gold. Gameplay is respectable (6), with all the basic elements in play, but I subtracted 1 pt. per missed screen. The Addictiveness is mediocre (5), with too much difficulty and frustration in jumping all the way across the Lazy Lagoon. This is somewhat difficult on all versions, but perhaps harder here because the 45 & 90 deg angles are off, not as much as the TI, but do require adjustments along your path. You’d stop playing this version even before I tell you that the disk version is superior in all ways. Graphics are good enough (6) to enjoy, but lack color & animation. Controls are well done (9), as good as it gets with this three-quarter perspective alignment. You may get pretty good, but you’ll still fall victim to the angles from time to time. This cart is pretty easy to find, but pass on it - unless you are a collector.

Have Nots: Atari 2600 (28) My first reaction was choke and puke. But then I started to realize how hard it would be to make the 2600 do what is accomplished here. Oh well, it is still pretty bad attempt at Congo Bongo, but kind of unique none-the-less. The second screen is actually fun to play, and perhaps they should have just made the first screen simpler and more fun as well - not three-quarters perspective. Gameplay is blah (5), with most of the basics in place, but missing 2 screens. The first screen is hard to discern what is what and where you are allowed to go and where not to go. After a lot of trial and error your appreciation and Addictiveness may not seem too bad, almost good (6). If you can hang in there, you’ll enjoy the second screen more and then hopefully get to see the cute intermission. There are start options of slow and fast control, and 3 or 5 starting lives, but these options do not really add anything to the game or your enjoyment. Collision is a mystery. The Graphics are helped by the animated river, but otherwise feeble (4). There’s not a lot of color variation and the details are chunky and coarse. Again, Screen 2 looks better. The Sound is barely passable (4) with no sound effects from start to finish. You enjoy the chimes and tunes for starting, dying & finishing a screen, but the background tempo music is pretty annoying. Controls are as good as it gets (9). The best feature of this title is that screen 1 scrolls to 2 downwards, providing a great transition - and you actually scroll with it.

Have Nots: TI-99 (32) My first reaction was that if there’s no timer, then why keep score? With only half of the screens provided, the Gameplay is marginal (4) at best - heck there’s only 1 coconut & no monkeys on level 1. By level 3, the monkeys do arrive, and I tried playing with them, but they did not hinder me at all. Finally, a weird control / layout scheme, with paths that are not quite 45 or 90 degrees makes you constantly adjust your angle. The Addictiveness stinks (4), since the difficulty is way too hard to consistently make jumps over the Lazy Lagoon. The terrible collision detection is the final straw to guarantee this baby sees very little PT in your TI cart slot. The Graphics are fair (5) but fall well short of the TI’s capability to depict Bongo’s world. Bongo looks like the devil on the Lazy Lagoon. The use of solid colored white & black objects are an eye sore & hint a rushed programming job, or lack of effort. The Sound is a misfit, being quite crisp (8) and refreshing. The music is pleasant and the effects are all there making it among the best. Controls are a little off (8) and not consistent - possibly due to the angle thing or just the difficulty again.

Have Nots: VIC-20 (29) My first reaction was this is playable, but childish. Bongo looks like "Pizza the Hut" [from "Space Balls"] Gameplay is decent (6), just missing 2 screens. The Addictiveness is OK (6) but frustrating that the game is over the score gone and you’re back to the intro screen - in like 3 seconds. So much for the score again, and then level 2 does not seem any more challenging (different) than 1. The graphics are so simple that you can clearly tell where you are, where you want to go, and where not to go. Bad news is that this is due to the blockiness and lack of detail. No hidden tricks, but no color, no nice jungle looking colors (hello! - where’s the Green?), no detail either. Thus Graphics are passable (4), and let’s not forget the simple white & black characters again. Oops, almost forgot, the river animation is great for the Vic, but probably not memorable at this point. The Sound stinks (4) - just like the 2600 - no effects, just music is plain wrong. Yech. Controls are as good as it gets (9). Jan 1985 Computer Games mag completely trashed this version - not a surprise, but they should have noted that most all SEGA versions of CB were terrible.

Have Nots: Atari 5200 (30) My first reaction was that this looks like crap for the 5200/8 bit, and why is there a delay from the time you die to when it let’s you know that you died. The Gameplay is adequate (5), but suffers from only 2 screens and is a strong contender for the worst physics ever - in a commercially released VG. Where did they dream up this stuff. How does our hunter jump and curve in 3 directions at once? This may explain how hyperactive jumping can get you into no man’s land. You end up under, behind, next to the path or something. You can keep moving, scoring points, but never make it back alive. This glitch and having died several times on the monkey plateau from "nothing in particular" are annoying. The INTY also has some screen path glitches, but you can learn these nuances and return to normal space. Despite all the glitches and setback, the Addictiveness is fine (6) as the difficulty starts off more easily and builds more gradually. But, I doubt you’ll keep playing until you figure out the collision detection. If that isn’t enough, SEGA went and took away the standard features of the controller, including the pause. Dooh! The Graphics are good (6) compared to the previous losers, but a big let down for this system. The river animation is OK, but there’s little graphic detail or variety but plenty of poor color schemes. Sound is good enough (6), but there is no sound effect for scoring points, i.e. moving. Controls are pretty good (7), but the analog control bytes. Try NOT moving and falling off a wet hippo’s back.

Have Nots: Atari 8 bit (32) My first reaction was this is identical to the 5200, and gets the same scores, but has a better control scheme - digital. Controls are thus as good as it gets (9). Available on cart and disk.

Bronze Medal: Apple II & Intellivision (35) A tie this month earns us a bonus fourth medal winner.

Apple II: My first reaction was "all white characters again?" And, a good laugh as Bongo the ape looks like Super Mario. I think the rhinos are way too large, but maybe this is to make up for them being slow & stupid. The Gameplay is impressive (8), pretty much all there, including all 4 screens. This trend continues with enjoyable (8) Addictiveness. This title may drive you insane until you realize that the collision detection requires you to jump/land/walk 2 pixels inside whatever the boundary is, not just 1 pixel clear. Despite this malady, there is a fully functional pause , and a demo of sorts. After a brief stretch of inactivity, your disk drive will sequentially load each of the 4 screens, then back to the Hi-Res title screen. Graphics are mostly very good (7), with sufficient detail, color choice and multi-colors. But there are those ugly, single colored (white) characters almost everywhere. The mediocre (5) Sound almost knocks this title off the medal stand. Despite the full set of musical scores, there is no sound effect for jumping, and then there’s those darn internal APII speakers. The Controls are less than fantastic (7) with a bit of a struggle to achieve digital control with analog sticks. As usual, available only on disk, and despite repetitive screen loading, it only takes 5 seconds to load the screen (and view it), & then another 5+ more and you’re playing it.

Intellivision: This version is so darn rare that I wanted to DQ it, but then IntelliSteve came to my rescue and answered all of my detailed questions on every aspect of the game. I intend to play this title in person some day, and hope that these review scores are pretty accurate. Gameplay is decent (6) with the basic elements but missing 2 screens. The Addictiveness is fine (6), helped by the intermissions, but then set back by a rather challenging version to play. Then there’s the same old story - poor collision detection & SEGA once again stripped away a standard pause - built into a controller. Graphics are exciting (7) with good animation and use of multi-colors. Details are lacking, but color choices are great. Sound is sharp (8) probably among the best. Controls are a bit off (8) where L=L, & R=R, but U & D are aligned 45 degrees - huh? This will take some time getting used to, not to mention wanting only 4 directions out of the 16 directional controllers. Fat chance. Cart is so rare that you need not worry about ever finding it.

The C64 Disk version is truly a lost classic.

Gold Medal: ColecoVision & Commodore 64 Disk (41) These 2 titles really stand out from the crowd - and both deserve the gold.

ColecoVision: My first reaction was surprise to see 4 skill level choices - maybe the CV programmers, not SEGA did this game. Turns out these are start level options, which helps the Addictiveness to be outstanding (9). Practicing each of the skill levels is a great fun, and a bonus pt is earned since the standard CV pause <*>, was left in-tact. The Gameplay is cool (7). Pretty much all there, just missing the easiest screen to program, "Snake Lake". Dodging 4 rhinos on level 2 is quite a challenge. But be forewarned - the end is near once you see yourself dance like Fred Flintstone driving his car. Slipping your feet, like on a banana peel, right after you kick the Green monkey off its resting spot. You feet keep moving, but it is still possible to move and jump and squirm and somehow jump across the chasm - but just cruel to keep dying over and over. Graphics are sharp (8) with nice animation, coconuts bouncing on the dusty hillside, plenty of colors & detail. Sound is crisp (8) and possibly the best. Controls are as good as it gets (9), with no further points lost for using the CV controller to still have a pause.

Commodore 64 Disk by US Gold: My first reaction was how did I not know about this version. I guess the Europeans got it first. Gameplay is the best & very nice (8), with all 4 screens and even the addition of a snake on screen 1 in higher levels. Addictiveness is highly fun (8) with a way to pause the game that may not have been intended. Plug both sticks in & then move down once on the stick that does not control the game and this toggles a pause. I’m sure this is a software glitch (er uh feature of the code), but it works like a charm every time. Sure, it’s weird & awkward, but it works without locking up the game. On the negative side, the disk loading time between levels is too darn long & takes its toll on your enthusiasm. But there is the same pseudo demo as the APII - a tour of all 4 screens. The Graphics are beautiful (8), with lots of color, variety, detail, shadows, depth perception & animation. The main character is the worst feature and a bit dorky looking as well, but . . . Sound is also crisp (8) and is all there. Controls are as good as it gets (9). As noted, this version is only available on disk.


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Last updated: Sunday, February 08, 2004 12:42 PM