For many, 2023 has been a terrific year of gaming. We’ve seen consistent releases score 90 and above, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon with the upcoming Super Mario Bros. Wonder and Spider-Man 2. Despite the unreal amount of great titles this year, there have also been a few highly questionable ones. The most notable of these was The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, which was cited by many as the ‘worst’ game of 2023.
I’m afraid to say that might have been premature. In comes Skull Island: Rise of Kong, a new game based on the origin story of King Kong. With such an iconic character, surely Kong gets justice in this new game, right? I’m afraid no one would know this was a King Kong game without seeing the title. Rise of Kong feels like the story of a random gorilla rampaging through an empty map just because someone told it to.
Speaking of, the story is a textbook revenge tale. Kong seeks revenge for his parents, and this leads to him wondering about the world to defeat the dinosaur who took their lives. Narratively, Kong doesn’t do much of anything to hook you in.
Upon loading into the game, you’ll immediately notice how dull it is. There’s barely any color around, and everything is in this cartoonish art style. Each area is encased with rock borders, with plenty of copy-pasted trees and shrubs that glitch in and out. Your mission through each region is simply to make it across and fight the boss so you can enter a new region. That’s all there is to it. Boss fights stand in your way at the end of the levels, which reward you with a new useless ability each time. It’s hard to enjoy playing as Kong when the combat system is as bland as can be.
Rise of Kong has quite the combat system. Every single fight plays out the exact same way. Kong has a light attack combo (square-square-square) that you’ll use for every fight. There’s a heavy attack, too, for those wondering! Kong also has a dash mechanic that sort of acts as a parry and stuns enemies when appropriately executed, but the timing feels off in plenty of instances. These are the only three moves you will use during fights, even though there are other moves. However, some of them take so long to charge that they’re rendered useless since you repeatedly get stunned by enemies.
With the staggering amount of enemies roaming around the world, it’s disappointing that there is no real reason to fight any of them. As you wander the different biomes, you’ll notice dozens upon dozens of enemies ready to fight. These are all essentially pointless, as they don’t allow you to unlock anything you don’t already have. The only fights that have a slice of meaning are Ascension Fights and Boss battles.
Boss fights don’t present a challenge at all. It’s rinse and repeat like all other fights in this game. During the worm boss, I stunned it and caused it to fall to the ground. You’d think you could run to the worm lying down and attack it for damage, right? Unfortunately, the hitbox was still vertical while the enemy was stunned, so I had to run to the base of the worm to attack it. Another great boss battle was when I defeated the Spider boss, only for Kong to fall through the map and crash my game. Things like this don’t allow me to take Rise of Kong seriously, as they happen all too frequently.
The lock-on system weirdly zooms out the camera far away. It’s a struggle to fight enemies this way, so you’re better off manually turning Kong as you bash enemies with the same three attacks. Additionally, when locked on, Kong will randomly move in the opposite direction of your input. This can be extremely frustrating when attempting to back away from an enemy or boss during a fight. I ended up rarely utilizing lock-on as a result.
An Empty and Confusing World
The world of Skull Island: Rise of Kong is big for no apparent reason. It almost feels like the goal was to aim for size, not substance. As you wander about the different biomes, you’ll notice flat textures make up the walls containing the region. Ground textures clip through one another, leaving noticeable pop-ins everywhere in sight.
The map is all over the place. It feels like it is from a beta version and something that was overlooked to update. First off, you have no way of knowing where you are on the map. I had to take a picture on my phone and track my movements myself, all so I didn’t pause the game to check constantly. It does a terrible job of showcasing different areas and assisting you in finding collectibles. The map would lead me to different areas as I looked for caves I needed to bypass to get to new regions.
Countless times, I found myself puzzled because I simply couldn’t find the entrance to a cave. Quite frankly, the map is extremely misleading about where entrances are. That’s not all, though. The map has boulders and giant obstacles on it that are nowhere to be found in the game’s overworld. It’s frustrating and amusing at the same time, as you essentially are left on your own to discover caves and obstacles. The map is useless.
Alongside the map, there is no way to track collectibles in a given area. You’re only left with the total number of collectibles for the game, even though the Ascension Events track per area. If you miss one collectible, you’ll have to go through every map again, searching blindly with no guidance. It’s frustrating, to say the least, as you don’t get any help from the game in this area. One ability that is supposed to aid with this, the Roar ability, doesn’t do much at all.
The Roar ability is supposed to lead you to points of interest. Each time I used it, I was led to the middle of nowhere with seemingly no POI in sight. They felt randomly placed around the map and didn’t aid my quest. It essentially places a few wavy lines in the sky for a couple of seconds, then disappears. When I would run to these areas, seemingly nothing was there. I would often be led to a dead end in a corner of the map.
A Bug-Riddled Mess
Rise of Kong is a bug-riddled mess. I constantly discovered new bugs that continued to make me question why I was spending time with this game. I can’t remember the last time I played a game with this many bugs or glitches. In the tutorial area, I noticed the foliage clipping depending on what side of the tree I was looking from. If it was at the bottom, there was no foliage, but from the top, a bunch of bushes appeared.
The tutorial introduces you to a red floor you smash through to enter new areas or regions. It smashes as you’d expect in the tutorial. However, for every single other red floor, you simply just fall through – no smashing needed. If I had to pick a favorite glitch out of the dozens I encountered, it would have to be the floating glitch. I randomly found myself what looked like one hundred feet off the ground, with Kong standing normally like nothing was going on. I was in pure disbelief as the glitch continued for over thirty seconds until I fell to the ground without taking a hit of damage.
The bugs just never ended. In a later section of the game, I was attacking a standard enemy when the enemy model suddenly froze, and Kong fell through the entire map. It’s laughable at some point. Sometimes, Kong would freeze, unable to move, until I reloaded a save.
Nothing King About This Kong
When I first booted up Skull Island: Rise of Kong, I couldn’t tell you what I was expecting. A genre-defining experience? Nope. Entertainment? Maybe. After finishing the game and achieving 100%, it’s safe to say that Rise of Kong is the strangest and most undercooked game I’ve played in years. It’s riddled with bugs, glitches, hitches, and there just isn’t any ambition or creativity. It’s flat-out boring and almost feels like the game was developed with the King Kong IP slapped over it as an afterthought.
It’s pretty disappointing to see an IP like King Kong end up like this. With such a feared creature, the possibilities of a game seem endlessly exciting. I know King Kong from the fights we saw in Godzilla vs. Kong and the Skull Island movie. Not this uninspired, normal-attacking foe. When I maneuvered around in a mech in Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon, it felt like I was piloting a mech. The same can be said with Ifrit in Final Fantasy XVI, who had weight to him even when facing ginormous foes like Titan Lost. That’s just not present in this game. Kong has no weight and doesn’t feel like a giant primate. I wanted to laugh each time Kong attacked a ‘fierce’ dinosaur enemy. Hopefully, Kong’s next outing will be prettier than this ugly time.
Skull Island: Rise of Kong is available now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam.