Tox' Retro Reviews: Congo: The Movie: The Secret of Zinj

Martintox Presents: His Retro Reviews



Congo: The Movie: The Secret of Zinj

A.K.A: How I Learned To Stop Caring And Blessed The Rains Down in Africa

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Released in: Planned for 1995 but was never released
Was to be released on: SNES and Sega Genesis
Developed by: Visual Concepts
Published by: Viacom New Media
Genre: Platformer/Rail Shooter

About Congo

Ah, the Congo. A beautiful part of Mother Africa that, in recent times, had begun to be torn apart by various civil wars. What is left of its natural beauty is only equaled by its extensive cultural herita-Oh, wait, reviewing real countries isn't a thing yet.

In 1980, Micheal Crichton of Jurassic Park fame released a novel named Congo, telling the story of an expedition team searching for the lost city of Zinj, a supposed source of type IIb diamonds that work as semiconductors, along with investigating the deaths of a previous expedition team. It recieved mostly positive reviews and was followed by a movie in 1995.

If you are a fan of the Nostalgia Critic or are a fan of Micheal Crichton who saw a DVD of it and foolishly expected a good film, you know where that went. It was nominated for 7 Golden Rapsberry Awards, including Worst Picture along with featuring Bruce Campbell dying at the very beginning of it, even when he had a goddamn diamond-powered laser with him.

However, because compagnies don't mind getting bucks out of things that even remotely succeed at the box office (The movie grossed 150 million out of a 50 million budget, both sums which could have been spent on much better things), video games were made using the license. Wouldn't you know it, most of them were published by Viacom New Media, which you may know as the company's attempt to capitalize on the gaming market with games based on licenses before publishing Zoop in the delusion that it would be the next Tetris and closing in 1997.

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They succeeded in some way, though. No one remembers it or its creator.

However, the only released versions were an FPS on the Sega Saturn and an adventure game on the PC, both released in 1996. For a while, no one knew that a game for the SNES and Genesis were in the works and it would have forever remained lost until someone had been given a prototype by a former Viacom developer who also talked about the story of its creatin:

Congo would have been developed in 14 months, though the progress from the first 9 of them were scrapped. Due to that, all that is left for us to see is the last 5 months' worth of development. Myth became legend, legend became reality and the game is now available for everyone to see. A game that, according to the developers who spoke about it, sucked so much that it was cancelled.

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Story

The story pretty much follows the main points of the movie. Thankfully, we're spared from having to act out scenes like Dylan Walsh talking to a fake gorilla and Joe Don Baker being who he usually is. However, there is still some semblence of story represented in still shots from the movie with text under them (as seen on the right), a technique used in pretty much every game based on a licensed movie.


Graphics and Sound

I'll have to admit, for 5 months of development, the graphics and the sound aren't as bad as you would expect.

Nevermind the fact that the video lags and the gorillas are digitized in, some parts of the game like the flora and the water are actually really good, though the latter becomes nauseating after a while. Plus, there are no sort of graphical bugs popping up, at least if you don't try to cause some on purpose.

However, there are still some problems. Sometimes, you either have so much crap on the screen going by so quickly that you don't know what's going on or some obstacles even blend in with the background due to some levels' fairly limited color range.

The sounds for themselves aren't really anything special and the music kinda evokes Donkey Kong Country. It's not really Grammy material, but it's better than 5 second-loops.


Gameplay and Controls

Again, surprisingly, even with only 5 months of development, the game is not only playable from beginning to end (I am subtly implying that I got myself into going through the entire game for the sake of reviewing it) but it's pretty varied.

I begins with a very short rail shooting stage that is supposed to be a transmission from the first expedition team, where you are faced with the fact that you will not only have to shoot hundreds of gorillas throughout the game, but they explode when you kill them.

Seriously.


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Level 1

You play as Ernie Hudson and travel the Congo River on a raft. This is where problems in the controls start appearing. First off, the speed the raft turns is almost unreal. You could gently tap right and it would send it flying. It's as if you tried to hold onto a stick of butter on an ice rink while your hands somehow turned into banana peels. It has to be played to be believed, because no one can accurately tell you how it feels controlling that raft. It's like putting a hundred thousands Formula 1s to race on the German Autobahn.

Also, something wierd with the game is that it has some really wierd kind of thing that makes you unable to go back the way you came, making it incredibly difficult to avoid the killer spikes, hippos and branches. The other problem with that is that the game is a collect-a-thon.

There are a ton of diamonds, huge diamonds, hidden areas and idols (which take you to bonus areas where there are generally more diamonds and an extra life) in the non-shooter levels that you can collect, and if you want to do a 100% run, then get ready to tape your hand on that "Load State" button, because you're in for a ride.

The worst part is the fact that all stages like this one are divided in three areas, the first and the third being very long and the second usually being a short diamond collecting area that, when you die inside of, automatically take you to the third area. There are 4 stages like that. And you also die in one hit in each of them. 12 areas. Where you can die in one hit.

But at least, there are checkpoints, which is more than what I can say for other horrible games.


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Level 2

The team sets up camp and you enter a shooting stage where you have to kill gorillas by the truckloads. The rail-shooter levels are actually easier since you have a health bar in those. In terms of how you play, it's pretty similar to T2: The Arcade Game.

You have a gun with infinite ammo, but there is a Weapon bar that you need to make sure doesn't empty up, because if it's so, you'll have to wait for it to fill up again. Also in the style of T2 is the bunch of yellow crates set around the stage. They contain things such as health packs, ammo rechargers, extra grenades, a flamethrower, a shield and...

A laser rifle? Aren't they supposed to look for it since Bruce Campbell had it on him? I mean, it makes sense for it to be in the game because it's at least somewhat an important part of the story, but it doesn't make sense to make it available in all shooter stages.

Moving on, the controls are slippery there too and there is some kind of semi-auto aim. When you're close to a target, the crosshair moves slightly to follow it, which helps sometimes and is extremely annoying at other times. As for the gorillas, they don't do much except for running around and throwing rocks at you.

Sometimes, one of them will get up close to you and dissapear and re-appear by going beyond the bottom of the screen. That gets frustrating when you don't really have any way to expect where they're going to appear and even if you fire at random, the bastards are quick to attack. The only saving grace is the fact that you immobilize them temporarily if you manage to get a hit.


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Level 3

In this one, Amy, the talking ape (it makes sense when you saw the movie), runs away from the settlement. You have to control her and go through easily the most frustrating stage out of all of them. Not only does she run really fast and not only does the rain effect make it extremely hard to figure out what's going on, but you have to dodge rocks, spikes and jump on trees and swing yourself from trail to trail.

You haven't seen multitasking until you've played Congo: The Movie.

That is my main problem about this level. There are so many things going on at the same time and you have to do about thirty actions in about one quintillionth of a second. About two parts of it need you to jump from trail to trail while avoiding boulders and spikes that are on the way.

What makes that even harder is the horrible clipping, which basically means that when you want to jump to another trail, you have a random chance of either going to the other side or hitting the small land between the two and being thrown back. It's present in other parts such as a large area with multiple rocks, allowing you to play gorilla pinball.

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It's more fun than it should be.

At least, there are no time limits. One last thing before we go to the next level; The third part begins with an almost Starevil-like manner, putting you straight in front of spikes and killing you unless you have the reflex of a ninja tiger.


Level 4

Another rail-shooting stage. Nothing much has changed there, but you do meet a new kind of enemy, which are hindu Easter Island heads. No, seriously.


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Level 5

In this one, you control Laura Linney and go through a cave. This stage is different from the others as it's in a 2D perspective instead of a top-down one like before. However, you are still constantly moving. The only inputs you have are B to jump and Y to use your rope, which allows you to swing yourself around using spheres hanging in the air along with giving you a small jumping boost.

This level is actually fairly finishable for the most part. However, there are still some big issues. First off, you can't trust the camera if it was tower control to your radar-less Concorde. More often than not, you are basically compelled to make guesses and leaps of faith. Also, some obstacles blend in with the background, which means that you could pretty much die at the same place over and over.


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Level 6

The team is stuck in the city of Zinj and you have to go through the last shooter stage in the game. It contains pretty much everything from the last one except that it contains a boss, which is a large-scale version of those hindu Easter Island heads.

It has multiple forms, but it basically goes down to you destroying a part of the thing down until only the eyes remain.

It doesn't go down that easily, but that is partly because the controls were made to be so slippery that they make the crosshair perform a ballet every time you want to aim it somewhere. This is also one of the few instances where the slight auto-aim probably could have been fixed up.

To give you an idea, I tried defeating this boss while only relying on the auto-aim. For the first part, I hurt it all the way and destroyed just about all of the projectiles it had dished out at me. Seriously.


Level 7

You control Amy again in the only level where you aren't forced to move at all times. Unfortunately, it's a compilation of every difficulty trick you could think of in 5 months.

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You have it all: Bottomless pits, lava pools you need to go through by walking on vases and jumping on pillars, vases falling from above, statues toppling over, a forced auto-scrolling with a lava flow chasing you, cracks in the ground that spit fire, walls you need to climb over by jumping on more pillars with the precision usually needed in cardiac surgery and puzzles.

Yes, you have to fill out puzzles while the closest known equivalent to the apocalypse happens all around you. Thankfully, it only involves memorizing a sequence of three symbols (an eye, the sun and the moon) and having to replicate it by jumping on three switches with the same symbols in the same order.

Unfortunately, the jumping mechanics aren't the best in the world, and so, you might very well lose crucial time by missing a switch or accidentally pressing the wrong one. This level is the gift that keeps on giving.

Finally, we reach the end of the game, which is basically two still shots and a small animation of the hot air balloon carrying the remaining survivors away from the Congo.

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Brian Silva, you're a dead man.


Conclusion

Against all possible odds, this game is really good, again, when you consider the fact that what we're seeing is the result of 5 months of development. But even with that, it's easily deduced from all that I've mentioned earlier that there are still lots of issues with the gameplay to take care of. If said problems were fixed and the game didn't go unreleased, it might have been a great one, maybe even one of the best games based on a movie that isn't GoldenEye.

I suggest you go download the ROM, even if only to see how tremendously hard it can be.

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As always, feedback is welcome, and remember that you can request me to review an album, game or movie.

You can find my previous reviews on the archive that's been made just for that purpose.

 

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