Dino De Laurentiis’s big budget remake of King Kong released to theaters on December 19, 1976. While not exactly loved by critics or some audience members, the film was successful enough to pull in more than double its production budget at the box office, raking in more than $90 million dollars worldwide. This was enough of a success for a sequel to be considered, although Kong would appear to be quite dead at the end of the original film. As any horror fan can tell you, death is only a minor setback. Hell, Jason died at the end of almost every one of his films!!
A sequel, King Kong Lives!, was released on December 19, 1986, exactly 10 years to the date of the original remake. John Guillermin returned for directing duties, but stars Jessica Lange & Jeff Bridges were nowhere to be found (having moved on to arguably “bigger” projects). Instead, the sequel starred Linda Hamilton (fresh off the success of The Terminator only 2 years prior) and Brian Kerwin (best known as “Deputy Birdie Hawkins” on B.J. and the Bear, as well as its short-lived spinoff, The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo). Maybe it was the fact that the film had a much lower budget than the first, or that the stars of the sequel were relatively unknown, but the film was a disastrous flop, failing to recoup even half of it’s $10 million dollar budget. Even the My Little Pony movie pulled in more money than King Kong Lives in 1986. However, in retrospect, opening against The Golden Child, the Little Shop of Horrors remake, a re-issue of The Lady and the Tramp, and Platoon sure didn’t help the film’s chances at success. Or maybe it was simply because the film sucked.
Whatever the reason for the film’s box office failing, it would appear that someone in the merchandising department jumped the gun because, as is usually the case for successful films of the last 35 years, a video game adaptation was quickly produced. Hell, quite a few unsuccessful films saw video game adaptations as well. Does anyone remember No Escape for the Super Nintendo or Blues Brothers 2000 for the Nintendo 64? No, of course you don’t. Even if you did, you shouldn’t admit to it.
However, as the game never saw release in the United States, maybe there was early indication that the film would not be as big of a “hit” as expected.
King Kong Lives: Ikari no Megaton Punch was released to Nintendo’s Famicom (or Family Computer) system, the Japanese version of the NES (or Nintendo Entertainment System), in 1986 by Konami Entertainment. Anyone who owned an NES in the 80’s surely remembers Konami from their successful string of games, including the “Castlevania” and “Contra” series. The company is still thriving today with franchises such as “Metal Gear” and “Silent Hill” (although new “Castlevania” and “Contra” games do occasionally release, albeit to less fanfare than they once received). The game’s title is a little confusing as some sites list the English translation as “Megaton Punch of Rage”, while others list it as “Furious Punch of Rage”. I think you can tell which I prefer.
The game takes place during the same time frame as the movie, 10 years after the events of the 1976 film. After being shot down from the top of the World Trade Center, Kong is kept alive in a research facility, albeit in a coma. However, when a female Kong is found, a blood transfusion is taken from the beast and given to Kong to help facilitate an artificial heart transplant he’s received. Kong soon wakes from his coma and escapes the confines of the facility. He begins his search for some dirty monkey lovin’ with his new mate, who is still being kept in captivity in another undisclosed location.
Actually, that’s the plot of the movie. As for the plot of the game…
Now, as I’ve only recently learned of this game’s existence, I don’t have a copy of the original box or gameplay manual. Sure, I could have spent a few more dollars and picked those items up on eBay when I purchased the “previously owned” cartridge that I used for this review, but I’m an incredibly cheap bastard. Just ask my family! And besides, that shit is probably written in Japanese. I can’t read that! Shit, I can barely read English.
If I were to infer to the plot based solely on the game’s intro cinematic, I would assume it went a little something like this…
“Kong (here played by his much younger brother, Donkey) awakens to find himself strapped to an examining table in a room devoid of any light, presumably the victim of an alien abduction. After suffering what appears to be a massive heart attack, Kong slips into a coma-induced hallucination about a smaller pink gorilla that has been locked up in a cage and is now screaming for help. Really! It literally says “help”. Like, in human words. Not that simian gibberish “Ook, ook, ook” bullshit.
Clearly pissed by the fact that someone dyed a gorilla pink, Kong breaks from his restraints and beats on his chest with fury, despite having had a triple-bypass just mere moments earlier. Just a steel town gorilla on a Saturday night, looking for the fight of his life, Kong takes his rage and hits the streets. No, really. He walks outside and starts punching the street while a car that vaguely resembles the Ecto-1 sits safely parked nearby.”
As Kong, players will traverse 9 different levels (or “worlds”) in search of Lady Kong. That’s her actual name. I shit you not. Gameplay is presented in a somewhat overhead perspective, similar to the original “The Legend of Zelda” for the NES. To be a tad more specific, gameplay is fairly similar to another Konami release from the same era, 1988’s “Jackal” (initially released to arcades in 1986). However, while you drove a Jeep in “Jackal”, in King Kong Lives, you drive a giant gorilla. Also, in “Jackal”, your Jeep had guns, while Kong only has his fists, feet, and a limited (but refillable) supply of rocks to throw at enemies. On second thought, this game is nothing like “Jackal”. My bad!
Fans of the film version of King Kong Lives, all 3 of them, will immediately notice that certain “creative liberties” were taken with the video game adaptation. More precisely, I don’t recall any slime monsters, rotating poles of fire, or flying insect thingies in the film. I could be mistaken though. I did see King Kong Lives on opening night back in 1986. I assume it was a traumatic experience as I seem to have blocked most of the event from my memory. I just remember that it was pissing down rain and that I had to ride the city bus to get to the theater. In retrospect, maybe that was a sign.
Combat may seem unfair early on. However, patient gamers willing to devote the time and effort into learning and mastering the subtle nuances of Kong’s 3 different forms of attack will eventually discover that, yes, combat is unfair as fuck. Each of the multiple screens that comprise a single “world” in the game is littered with enemies, most of which fire projectiles at you. Meanwhile, you’ll be dodging bullets while trying to walk Kong close enough to punch these enemies. Luckily, “refills” of your rock weapon are commonly dropped by defeated enemies. So, you may want to stick with the rock as your primary weapon, switching back to your “punch” attack when your stock runs low.
Buildings, boulders, and other portions of each level may also be destroyed by Kong’s various attacks, occasionally revealing hidden items and doorways (or “warps”) to other levels, or even other sections of the same level. These doorways are the only means of progressing from level to level. Each of the first 8 levels feature a “boss”, which must be defeated in order to receive a key. Once all 8 bosses have been defeated and all the keys obtained, only then can players unlock the large door in Level 9 that leads to the final boss and Kong’s pink-haired lady, lovely lady. (Thanks, Sugarloaf!)
In an attempt to make the game as infuriating as possible, players are only given three lives with which to complete the game. No continues. No password system. No nothing. Just a big ol’ bowl of “fuck you”. This means that any gamer attempting to complete the game back in 1986 was forced to play through the game in one sitting. Well, unless they paused it and walked away for a while. I guess that’s possible. Doesn’t really emphasize just how shitty the whole “3 lives” thing is, though.
There really seems to be little rhyme or reason to the game’s warp system, with doorways leading to even more doorways. Players can quickly find themselves warping from Level 1 to Level 6 to Level 3 and then back to Level 1 again, all within the span of a handful of screens. As Boss Monsters are your primary focus, it’s probably better to focus on them once you first reach a new level instead of worrying about finding more doorways. However, be prepared to do a fair bit of backtracking at times in order to reach a door leading to a specific area.
Hidden throughout the game are various items which will help Kong on his quest. These include temporary invincibility, increases to max health, maximum rock capacity, and extra lives. While the upgrades may help to keep you alive a little longer, they don’t actually make gameplay any easier or less aggravating.
All the boss battles take place in a confined square. The bosses are each unique, if a little dull, with each sporting their own style of attack. That said, I found that these battles basically boiled down to having Kong stand in a corner, pelting the creatures with rocks whenever they passed underneath me. I generally took very little damage from the bosses in this manner. Then again, other than occasionally dying from falling into a hole, not much serious opposition was presented by any aspect of the game other than trying to figure out just where the Hell I was going.
As with most video games based on movies, King Kong Lives: Ikari no Megaton Punch isn’t particularly… well, good. It’s just as cohesive and entertaining as other movie based games released for the NES (or Famicom), but when you consider that those releases included infamous games such as LJN’s Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street (or any other title released by LJN, for that matter), the previous statement really isn’t much praise.
The concept of using warps to travel between levels is fairly clever, but very poorly implemented. As previously stated, there’s seemingly little logic to where doors are located, and even less on where they lead. While the ability to travel between levels initially creates an illusion that you are free to roam wherever you please, certain levels can only be reached by a single doorway. Good luck remembering just which one. It’s quite easy to lose your way, which only makes the game even more frustrating.
Upon defeating the final boss, Kong frees his mate and the player is treated to a closing cinematic. Kong and Lady Kong have fled to a secluded island, one that prominently features a large volcano on the verge of eruption. Just as the scene is about to end, a baby Kong pops it head up over its mother’s shoulder and gives you the 2-fingered peace sign. I’m not sure if this just seemed like a “cool” thing to do or if this symbolizes Baby Kong’s acceptance of an inevitable impending demise under a river of lava. Then again, after playing through this misadventure, Baby Kong could have been giving me “the forks”; the game’s final way of telling me to go fuck myself.