The year is 2021, and there is a brand new Donkey Kong-like game. Yes. You read that correctly. Castle Kong is old-school, and it borrows heavily from the King of Kong. It is a purely arcade experience that serves as both a throwback and a reminder of fierce competition in regards to high score. Drowning Monkeys, the team behind the game, is even giving out cash to the 10 best scores in the game until May, and you see the updated leaderboard in your face when you sit at the menu (Some people really want that money!).
But is this an arcade experience that is worthy of your mighty dollar? Or is this a reminder that video games have evolved from this style, and it is simply time to move on? Let’s find out!
What is there to say about Castle Kong that isn’t “It’s like Donkey Kong?” Well, you would be surprised, although it is very much like Donkey Kong.
Right off the bat, the dastardly king kidnaps PrincessGirl, and your peasant avatar, PauperBoy, must make his way through each stage, dodging and weaving enemies, en route to taking out the king. Replace king with Kong, PrincessGirl with Pauline, and PauperBoy with Jump Man, and yeah. Story is all too familiar, no?
That doesn’t take away from the classic arcade feel, and this one took me a minute to get used to, as I haven’t played the original Donkey Kong or a game like it in a very long time. The controls are very simple. You move with the directional pad or joystick, and you jump with A. That’s it. But like the games of old that you threw your quarters into, Castle Kong is brutally difficult, and each passing stage gets harder and harder and harder. The first level is only two stages, an introductory stage and a boss stage, and then from Level 2 onward, additional stages are introduced and more dangerous enemies make life more troublesome for PauperBoy.
I feel like the way the game increases difficulty is a bit too NES-like (And not in a good way). Later stages just add more obstacles and hazards to increase the difficulty, and many times it just feels spammy and the RNG can be quite unforgiving. It doesn’t hurt the experience too much, as this is supposed to replicate games of old, but this is a bit frustrating as it tends to be unfair more than you’d like.
For better and for worse, the movement feels very similar to Donkey Kong. PauperBoy is sluggish and his jump moves in slow-motion, so when encountering enemies and avoiding hazards, you have to readjust the mind and remember to stop in place often and even take occasional backsteps to give yourself better jumping opportunities.
The gameplay is pretty straightforward, as it is not masking itself as anything else. This is an arcade experience, and it is very much a Donkey Kong clone. Castle Kong knows exactly what it is, and it sticks to it.
The game looks really cute and does feel like an arcade game, from its menu to its characters sprites. The use of pitchforks is fun and a nice reminder of the invincibility hammer in Donkey Kong, and collecting letters is just another fun throwback, and the way they spin on screen is simply glorious.
Soundtrack is decent for what it is, but unfortunately, this is one of those old arcade flaws that Drowning Monkeys carried over and probably shouldn’t have. Games like Donkey Kong are not louded for their music, so mimicking all the sounds does not do so well. Even before each level, we get this Looney Toon jingle with the line “How low can you go?” on the screen, and it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Overall, Castle Kong does a fantastic job replicating the game it is clearly paying homage to. It increases difficulty in a bit of an unfair way, but after a good playthrough, learning to take your time and scout enemy attacks and approaches becomes a bit easier and less of a hassle.
It is not the perfect arcade experience, but I am of the opinion that the old arcade games are a bit more flawed than we remember. Because of that, Castle Kong wears its flaws proudly on its sleeves alongside its strengths. It is such a bizarre way to look at it, but that is precisely the case.
One great Kong game to another, flaws and all.
Strong leaderboards and arcade competition
Great homage to arcade classics
Very cute pixel graphics
Soundtrack is not memorable at all
Difficulty spikes and poor RNG at times
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My name is Jason Capp. I am a husband, father, son, and brother, and I am a gamer, a writer, and a wannabe pro wrestler. It is hard to erase the smile on this simple man.