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Peter Jackson's King Kong - PSP - Review

Leave it to film director Peter Jackson to bring to life on the big screen the adventures of a couple of Hobbits in not one cinematically perfect film but three of them (the last one winning a number of Academy Awards). How do you top that? Well, how about remaking a classic 1930s film based on a giant gorilla that falls for a beautiful woman only to meet his fate atop the Empire State building in New York City. Peter Jackson’s King Kong was not only a visual masterpiece but it has also inspired Ubisoft to bring a great game on all consoles. What about the PSP, you say? Well, let’s just say that we get the best portable version available.

 

I won’t fill this review with spoilers and I won’t tell you what happens in the end (although there’s not much to spoil since, by now, you’ve all probably already seen the movie or its black and white original or have played the console version). This story, though, follows Peter Jackson’s movie faithfully while straying from it to give us another perspective of the situation the characters go through. While it’s not explained in the PSP version, you start off as screenwriter Jack Driscoll, a man who follows a gung-ho director Carl Denham to the uncharted locale that is Skull Island. Having picked a leading lady who needs the money, Denham leads an expedition to Skull Island only to find the natives very restless and serving up actress Ann Darrow up as a sacrificial lamb to Kong, a giant gorilla. Jack isn’t about to let the giant beast carry off with Ann, though, and goes on a hunt for Kong. Yet Kong isn’t a mindless beast, he develops feelings for Ann and protects her from the monsters that lurk within the island. Then things get more hairy to the point that Kong is captured and taken to New York City where Kong manages to escape.

You start the game off as Jack, looking through his eyes in a first-person view as he gets on the boats that take them all to Skull Island. From there, though, you’re on your own. Unlike the console version you won’t have Denham by your side nor Ann lending you a helping hand. That was the beauty of the console game, the interaction between each characters. There’s no rescue-Denham-from-the-giant-winged-monster mission nor Ann tagging along as she throws spears to lend a hand or help you open a closed gate. Jack is on his own and it feels really lonely. The same can be said about the Kong levels, which are one of the best segments in the console game. Kong’s bond with Ann isn’t touched on and you won’t find any tender moments of the beauty finally realizing that the massive beast will never harm her. Where’s the emotional connection between Ann and Kong or Jack and Ann? Well, it’s not in this version of the game, that’s for sure.

What the PSP game does offer, though, is a respectable version of the game that offers short bursts of what really worked in the console games. The action, whether you’re playing as Jack or Kong, is very much intact. Jack will discover that ammo is sparse on the island but with so many monsters that spring out you won’t help but want to bring them down with your Lugar or the handy shotgun or Tommy gun. When you’re out of ammo there are always spears to pick up or sharp bone fragments. You can stab a larva and throw it far enough to draw deadly dinosaurs away from you. You can light a spear on fire to burn dry foliage blocking your path or to double the damage by chucking it at a monster. As Kong, played in third-person, you make use of the beast’s massive strength. Kong can grab monsters and slam them into other opponents or throw them against hard surfaces. When he goes up against the huge V-Rex (which is what they call a T-Rex on Skull Island, I guess), he can break their jaws to finish them off.

 

The game’s controls will feel awkward and you’ll start wishing that the PSP included a second analog stick. Like Coded Arms and Star Wars Battlefield II, the analog stick controls movement while the four face buttons are used to look up and down and left and right. The shoulder buttons are for aiming and firing so it takes time to get use to playing as Jack. Kong, on the other hand, doesn’t have this trouble, which makes his missions really fun … although too short for my liking. There’s multiplayer but it’s hardly worth noting here since it doesn’t really mean you’ll have a buddy playing with you side by side.

Visually speaking, King Kong looks downright gorgeous on the PSP’s small screen. It’s as close to the PS2 version as it possibly can be and that’s no small feat. The jungle environment of Skull Island is pretty much intact, taking us from the beach where you face off against the giant crab creature to the island mainland where there’s a cascading waterfall. The few characters you do see look good, although you’ll see much of Jack’s hands and weapons and a lot of Kong in the third-person perspective. The monsters look amazing, though, but when it comes to beauty nothing beats the V-Rexes you’ll face as well as the city of New York in the game’s finale.

 

The game’s sound is just as amazing as the game’s graphics. For starters, the game’s score is wonderfully rich, brining to mind Howard Shore’s amazing score from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It plays throughout the game, rising in tempo during intense encounters or strangely mellow when Jack or Kong are being beaten, bitten or near death. The sound effects are equally effective, adding great gun sounds as well as distinct monster sounds. The Venatosaurus, for example, hiss while the millipedes make loud insect noises. You’ll find the voices of the actors that portray each character in the film yet because Jack’s on his own you’ll hear more Adrien Brody than Jack Black or Naomi Watts.

Peter Jackson’s King Kong might feel a bit on the awkward side on the PSP but once you get comfortable with the controls you’ll discover that this is a genuinely satisfying portable version of a game that’s just as amazing as the movie itself. Its bite-sized action-packed moments lose the emotional beauty of the console version but game's many best parts are well represented in this portable version. If it’s a unique PSP experience you crave then this is the game you will want to own.

Review Scoring Details for Peter Jackson's King Kong

Gameplay: 7.0
You’ll wish the PSP had a second analog stick but once you keep playing you’ll use to the awkwardness of using both the analog stick and triangle, square, circle and X buttons. The first-person shooter elements are handled beautifully but it’s playing as the lovelorn Kong that will make the third-person action so unforgettable. This is just a brilliantly designed game even as a portable version.

Graphics: 8.0
The game looks absolutely gorgeous on the PSP. The characters, monsters and Kong look amazingly like the PS2 version and they move naturally in the lush and heavily detailed environments. If you played the console version Skull Island will look very familiar and that in itself is pretty darn impressive.

Sound: 9.0
You’ll want to play this game with earphones on because the game masterfully blends detailed sound effects, great voice acting and an even better original score. You’ll hear from most of the movie’s cast, especially a lot of Adrien Brody since you’ll be on your own most of the time. The score is beautifully cinematic.

Difficulty: Medium
Without the aid of some of the key characters you will have to go up against the enemies on your own. The dinos are fast and they’re certainly vicious but you’ll have enough guns and other weapons to fight them off as Jack. As Kong it’s all about mad ape brawling action.

Concept: 8.0
Despite it being a handheld version of a great console game, this King Kong manages to surprisingly bring out the best moments found in the big boys. Some levels might feel empty without your companions but there are some great moments that are downright fun and memorable. The Kong levels are short but boy, are they sweet.

Multiplayer: 5.0
Competitive play means you’ll be playing against a friend you won’t even see on screen. Even the game’s co-op mode is a lonely experience that should have been left out of the game altogether.

Overall: 7.5
King Kong for the PSP might lack the emotional impact of the console version but it does not fail to bring us all the visual beauty and brilliant blend of playing as either man or King of the savage jungle. The game’s controls leave much to be desired but with a very imaginative game filled to the brim with great levels, this is still the best portable game based on a hit movie.

Good

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