Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie hit just about every platform known to man back in November. On the consoles and PC, it was a hit, with its unique one-two combination of immersive and enjoyable first-person action and totally excellent third-person Kong levels--its only major flaw being its brevity. On the Nintendo DS, however, Kong was an out-and-out failure, failing to grasp even the tiniest inkling of what made the console and PC games so much fun, and it also included a shameful number of bugs and glitches. Now, the lone holdout platform, the PlayStation Portable, has its own version of Kong. It sits somewhere between the greatness of the console and PC Kong and the awfulness of the DS Kong. It delivers many of the same key levels, combat sequences, and Kong platforming sections as the console games, but not all of them. In fact, this version of Kong seems to be about half the game it once was, with fewer enemies, no interaction with other characters, and a complete lack of story exposition. Nobody would reasonably expect Kong on the PSP to be identical to its console counterparts, but in this case, too much has been cut from an already short game, and even if you've never played Kong on any other platform, you'll get the sneaking suspicion that something is missing from the equation.
The PSP version of King Kong follows the plot of the other versions, which in turn were following approximately the same plot as Peter Jackson's film. In the game, you play as both Jack (a struggling screenwriter sent to the horrific Skull Island to shoot a new picture) and King Kong (the giant gorilla to end all other giant gorillas). But whereas other versions of the game included a reasonable amount of story exposition and interaction with various other characters, like Jack Black's Carl Denham and Naomi Watts' Ann Darrow, you get next to none of that here. The interactive cutscenes from the original game have been turned into noninteractive scenes here, and pretty much every sequence involving multiple characters during gameplay has been altered to require only Jack's presence or has been cut out altogether. What this leads to is a copious number of leaps over key story points, which makes the flow of the game completely disjointed, not to mention that it makes many of the remaining levels and missions seem largely pointless.
The result of all this truncation and gutting of the original game is an even shorter product than the already brief console and PC game. You could get through Kong on consoles in about six or seven hours the first time through. The PSP game is roughly half as long, yet for some bizarre reason, it's still $50. That full retail price can't possibly be because of the perfunctory multiplayer mode that's been tacked on, either. In this complete waste of a mode, you and a friend can play through any level of the game competitively or cooperatively. When we say competitively, we don't mean you can try to kill each other. Rather, you're both trying to shoot the same monsters, and the game keeps score. Even more bizarre, you never actually see the person you're playing with while you play. Cooperative mode is the exact same thing, but without the competitive score-keeping component. The whole mode smacks of effortlessness, and it definitely isn't much fun to play.
On the more positive side of things, the core action of the game feels very much as it did on consoles. When playing as Jack, you'll be treated to a visual experience unfettered by any sort of heads-up display. You gauge how much health you have via a screen effect that flashes the screen red when you're injured. When in such a state, you need to get away from the action briefly to heal up. If you take another major blow while things are still flashing, you'll die. Ammo is kept track of via verbal cues from Jack. Every time you reload, he says out loud if he's got enough ammo, or if he's starting to run dry. It's a great system, really. You won't ever feel like you're missing a HUD, since these subtle methods of information really keep you in the loop.
You can only hold one gun at a time, though you can pocket weapons in favor of pointier instruments of death, like discarded bones of fallen creatures and spears that have been left lying about. You will need to toss said weapon before you can pull your gun again, however (which does make sense, given the limited carrying ability of Jack). The game goes out of its way to make its ammo pickups seem completely sensible, too. The captain of the ship flies around the island in a seaplane, dropping crates full of guns for you to pick up here and there (although unlike in the previous versions, you never see the seaplane--you just hear it in the background from time to time, and the crates magically appear). Spears and bones are left in areas that seem to make perfect sense for the scenery. And apart from bones, ammo isn't unlimited. If you find a cache of three spears, then that's all you get to use (though you can reuse spears over and over again if you need to). You also only get a certain amount of ammo per gun, and once you're dry, you'll need to improvise. It's great though, because the game always seems to leave enough other weapons around to give you just enough to beat off whatever threats are coming your way. If you're cautious and jump between spears and guns on a measured basis, you'll never feel like you're hopelessly outgunned.
Part of that might also be because you aren't ever going to be up against more than a couple of enemies at once. The monsters still have that "bigger, significantly mutated version of an animal that was highly dangerous and unpleasantly tempered to begin with" thing going on, but there are fewer of them to contend with, so you rarely get much of a sensation of panic or tension. That also makes the rather simplistic aiming system all the more easy, since all you need to do is aim in the general direction of an enemy and you'll probably hit it without any need for precision. Granted, the somewhat unwieldy controls do make that slightly more of a chore than in the past. Similar to the PSP's original first-person shooter, Coded Arms, King Kong includes a few different control schemes, and like that game, Kong is easiest to control when you set the look functionality to the analog stick and the movement controls to the four face buttons. Since these are essentially left-handed first-person shooter controls, it does take some getting used to for righties.
The game definitely has its puzzle elements as well, although they're not quite as interesting in this version. Oftentimes you'll be challenged to seek out missing handles to insert into large wooden posts (for the purposes of rotation, to open a large door), or set ablaze a patch of briars to clear your path. OK, so maybe the term "challenge" is a bit generous. Very few of the things you're tasked with take an awful lot of thought on your part, mainly because the levels are laid out in such a linear fashion that it's tough to get lost. A little more challenge is added because, again, there are no artificially intelligent compatriots to follow around in the PSP game, meaning you'll have to find your way entirely on your own. But that fact also kills some of the enjoyment. There are no sequences where you have to protect your friends from raging T-rexes or mutant bats, nor do you ever get to interact with anyone while solving puzzles. Ultimately, this just makes the puzzles feel a bit more mundane by comparison.
The levels where you play as King Kong seem the most unaffected by the shift to the PSP hardware, at least in the controls and core action. During the Kong sections, the camera switches to a more cinematic view, showing Kong in all his gigantic glory. There are basically two things you do when playing Kong: Swing through the jungle and lay waste to ugly monsters. The swinging portions are mostly contextual button presses. Get up to a ledge, press a button, and he'll jump and swing from the rock hanging off the cliff nearby. Then press another button a moment later, and he'll jump to and climb on a patch of vines that covers another cliff. These bits are very clearly laid out, which is good because the swinging chases that Kong is often involved in tend to move very quickly, relying more on reflexive action than any carefully thought out movements.
This is exactly how it was on other platforms, but some things have changed. For one, it seems like the Kong sections got a whole lot easier. Enemies are much simpler to dispense with, and even the battles against the T-rexes take maybe half the time they did previously. Granted, you also seem to have a few less moves at your disposal, so perhaps this was done on purpose to counterbalance that fact. You also don't get any of the interactions with Ann, where she'd run around opening doors and burning off briar patches while you kept her safe from harm. Losing that dynamic does rob the Kong portions of the game of some of their luster.
Graphically, King Kong on the PSP does do a fair amount with the hardware's capabilities. The graphics capture the aesthetics of this nightmare of an island quite well. This is a dank, rain-soaked, ugly place to be, and the visuals capture this atmosphere in such a way that you'll be delighted to look at all these dreary details. All the creature designs are excellent, and they move and behave in a very realistic fashion. Unfortunately, when they die they simply disappear (unless another beast happens upon its corpse and begins to devour it). The environments on Skull Island all have this hazy, creepy look to them. You'll see these big mountains and stone structures off in the background, just beneath the thick fog and the various flying monsters that circle around. This is most certainly a dangerous jungle, and you never quite know where and when something nasty might jump out at you.
With all of that said, there are a number of unpleasant things that drag the game's visual presentation down. Texture seams are visible throughout each level, and in some cases, textures will blink in and out repeatedly and in such a way that you can't possibly miss it. Enemy animations can be rather glitchy, especially many of the dinosaurs, who will sometimes bug out and clip through random objects. Also, the Kong portions of the game have a few weird issues; Kong clips through walls and floors, and there's a weird animation glitch where every single time Kong jumps to the ground, he floats for nearly a full second above the ground before finally landing. Also, the frame rate has a nasty tendency to break down, especially when heavy fire effects are going on. If it weren't for problems like these, Kong on the PSP would be a great-looking game. But these problems are prevalent and pervasive, so they're impossible to ignore.
Audio was Kong's best feature on other platforms, and that holds true here, as well. The voice work from the film cast is excellent. There is, unfortunately, less voice work in this version of the game, since you don't get the great conversational bits and pieces between characters during gameplay. But you still get plenty of Jack talking to himself, with Adrien Brody voicing the character. And there are still a number of cutscenes where you get Jack Black and Naomi Watts doing their thing as well. The sounds of the beasts are what really drive the point home, however. When Kong starts beating his chest and lets out a roar, you feel it, even through the PSP's modest speakers. Even when things aren't loud, you get some great background effects. The rumbles of thunderclouds, the sounds of creatures moving through the brush and chirping away off in the distance, the patter of rain against the rocks, and even the heavy breathing sounds of Jack as he runs as fast as he can through the island's perils--this is top-quality effects work. The game features a fully original orchestral score, and it's used wonderfully, ramping up and fading out at just the right times.
Whenever you port a console game to the PSP, some sacrifices are going to be made. That's a given. But in the case of King Kong, too many sacrifices were made, to the point where you wonder if porting the game was really the right way to go. The fact that the gameplay still holds its own and that the visuals hold up for the most part suggests that a King Kong game could have worked on the PSP, but it would have required much more care and forethought than what went into this game. And the fact that Ubisoft is charging $50 for a disjointed, three-hour game with a worthless multiplayer mode is like a slap in the face. If you want Kong, grab any of the home versions. If you absolutely have to have it in handheld form, you're certainly better off here than you would be with the DS version, but you might be better served skipping it altogether.