Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Congo Bongo (Sega, 1983)

Developed (at least partly) by Ikegami Tsushinki for SEGA Enterprises Ltd., and released originally for the Japanese arcades as "Tip Top" in 1983.

Converted and mostly published by Sega for the Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 8-bit computers, MSX, Sega SG-1000, Commodore 64, Commodore VIC-20, Mattel Intellivision and Texas Instruments TI-99/4A in 1983.

So far, the only known credits are:
- Commodore 64 and VIC-20: additional programming by Kevin Kenney; published by SEGA/US Gold.
- Intellivision: programming by Mike Noll
- TI-99/4A: published by Texas Instruments Incorporated

Also converted and published by Sega for the Apple ][ and IBM-PC compatibles in 1984.
Still also converted for the ColecoVision in 1984, and published by Coleco Industries, Inc.
Converted again for the Commodore 64 in 1985 by SEGA/US Gold.



Here's another early Sega classic for you, and our game for today is perhaps not quite as obscure as the last one. This time, I'm picking up one of my friend Bob's favourite games, Congo Bongo, which was basically Sega's attempt at cashing in on the success of their earlier collaboration with Konami on Frogger, as well as Nintendo's Donkey Kong. According to Wikipedia, it wasn't much of a success when it was released, but despite of it, Congo Bongo was ported to nearly every major gaming platform at the time, and uniquely, the C64 was given two different official conversions, as if someone was trying to apologise and make up for making such a mess the first time around. Weirdly, as with most other Sega's early games, the game's developing and porting team credits are well kept secrets for the most part, but there are indications in the game's original arcade ROM to it having been likely coded at least in part by the company Ikegami Tsushinki, who also worked on Donkey Kong and Zaxxon. If anyone finds out more about the credits for any version, please drop a line in the comments section.

Admittedly, Congo Bongo is not one of the best games of its time, but it does have plenty of charm that only games of this particular age have. Regardless of its arguable charm, the game has rather woeful scores at our favourite community pages. Even the arcade original has only a 2.9 from 6 votes at MobyGames, which is still more trustworthy a score than the single vote of 3.45 at Arcade History. At Atarimania, the A5200 version has a meagre score of 3.6 from 10 votes, while the more widely-spread 8-bit home computer version has a score of 4.2 from 19 votes, which is a bit strange, since it's the exact same game. The MSX version has a rating of three stars out of five at Generation-MSX, and only 6 people have voted for it. The only recent rating or review I found of the SG-1000 version was from the Video Game Critic, who gave it a C grade, and the website's readers have so far rated it with a B- from 5 votes. From the latter conversions, the PC booter version has been rated a 3.1 from 391 votes at Abandonia, while the editor rating is 4.0; the Coleco version was also reviewed by the Video Game Critic, and has a C+ grade, with a reader score of B- from 25 votes; and from the two C64 versions, only the latter one is featured at Lemon64, and it has a score of 6.3 from 63 votes. Overall, nothing special. As usual, the versions that I didn't find any reviews or ratings for, have been left without mention.



Similarly to the blog's previous entry subject, Congo Bongo takes a familiar concept, tilts the screen about 35-45 degrees and adds the concept a flavour or two of its own justify the renaming. Basically, the game is nothing more than an alternative take on the Frogger concept, since the idea is to get across the screen from point A to point B. It just so happens, that point B is where a big gorilla is sitting, and your ultimate mission is to take revenge on the beast, who brutally woke you up by putting your tent on fire. Of course, doing the whole thing in an isometric view means that the landscape now offers variations in altitude, so it's necessary for you to climb up and down some bits in the game. Otherwise, it's just a Frogger-like affair that takes place in a jungle, on four unconnected screens. It could have easily been another Mario vs. Donkey Kong kind of a game, but since Sega were the ones having it done, the characters are different and so is the name.

Congo Bongo is not a particularly challenging game, nor does it have much of lasting appeal, but it does have some immediate appeal to young gamers who have an adventurous spirit and don't want their games to be too brutally difficult, as most games of the time were. In that sense, it's a good option for bringing kids of this generation to play games more than 30 years older than themselves. You just might need to pick your chosen version carefully, as you will find out by reading further. For us old-timers, though, I cannot think of any other reason to play Congo Bongo than for the sake of nostalgia, but then, that's what most of us do this sort of stuff for.



Once again, you have a joystick for moving around and a fire button for jumping - and that's it. However, Congo Bongo is one of those rare games, where there are as many different variants in graphics, as there are in controls, and when it comes to the finer gameplay mechanics, there are even more differences. The ARCADE original is a properly isometric game in both graphics and controls, so it feels almost as if you're playing an isometric adventure game from Ultimate Play The Game. You need to view the joystick as its directions being turned 45 degrees clockwise, so pushing the joystick up will make the Hunter walk diagonally up-right, and so forth. As with the aforementioned Ultimate adventures, diagonals are not used. In addition to the original game, versions for the COLECOVISION, IBM-PC, APPLE ][, C64 (the latter version), and to some extent even the TI-99 version use the same controls and graphics style, but the TI-99 version has a problem with the diagonal movement being slightly differently aligned than the diagonally shown passages. Other versions have problems too, though: the PC version should only be played with a joystick and preferably on an old 286 machine due to input speed difficulties and the APPLE version is controlled rather uniquely just with the diagonals.

The other much used style for Congo Bongo is a bit different - still an angled sort of a bird's eye view, but not proper isometric, so the pseudo-3D elements from the original are now even less 3D. I'd call it a doubly faked 3D, but I guess there's a proper term for the style that I'm not familiar with. Anyway, this graphic style is used by the first C64 version, the VIC-20 version, the ATARI 5200 and 400/800 versions, the INTELLIVISION version and the MSX version. In most of these versions, you can walk into any of your eight possible directions on a joystick, although there are some differences that require further examination. First, the INTELLIVISION version controls more like the ARCADE version and its kin - you can only walk into four different directions, as up and down have been made into diagonals due to the viewpoint. The VIC-20 version is uncomfortable to play due to everything moving one character block at a time, so it's difficult to time your jumps properly. Third, the MSX version disregards the vertical effect when climbing or jumping up the terrain, as you will continue from the same horizontal level as you started the jump or climb from.

Two versions are much different from all the others, and one of them is actually a surprise. The ATARI 2600 version does not offer a surprise by being very different from the others, but it does offer some surprise by actually being rather nice to look at - on A2600 scale, that is. It is controlled similarly to the other ATARI versions and other similar ones, and even the first level almost looks similar to the first level in the other ATARI versions. The second level, however, doesn't offer any resemblance of being anything like an isometrically viewed game, but rather a more traditional Frogger view. But I'm getting ahead of myself again, more about that later on in the Graphics section. The actual surprise, for me at least, was the SEGA SG-1000 version, which has been made to look and play almost exactly like Donkey Kong in level 1 and Frogger in level 2, only with a bit of depth-wise space for movement. Considering this is Sega's own game, one might have thought they wanted to get a home console conversion as right as possible, particularly for their own platform, but then again, such transformations are known to have occured later on in Sega's history.

Even with simple games like Congo Bongo happens to be, just comparing the controls will not tell everything. As any other proper arcade game would, Congo Bongo has a few different difficulty settings, as well as an adjustable number of lives to start with, ranging from 3 to 5. Most home conversions only have a barely progressing difficulty, which is understandable, since most home conversions also only feature two screens per round, whereas the original game has four screens per round. The only versions that do feature a difficulty options menu are the IBM-PC and COLECOVISION versions, with three and four difficulty levels respectively. Most other versions only give you the options to choose the controller (joystick or keyboard) and the number of alternating players (1 or 2). The VIC-20 version only has a single player mode, and the SEGA SG-1000, MSX and TI-99 versions give you no options at all. Different versions give you varying numbers of lives to start with, the most common number being three, but some versions (like the IBM-PC one, for example) start with five, but the number of lives are usually correlated to the difficulty of the version in question. Also, since I already said something about the number of levels, the IBM-PC, INTELLIVISION, APPLE and the second C64 versions feature all four levels, and the COLECO version is missing the "Snake Lake" screen; all the remaining versions feature only the first and the last screens from the original set.

And then onto the finer points. There is no other way but to start again from the beginning, so let's start with the ARCADE version. First of all, there are plenty of hazards to start with, even on the Easy setting. In Level 1, which is called Primate Peak, you can see where the coconuts will roll by watching Bongo adjusting his place at the peak and see which hand he's going to throw the coconuts with. In Level 2, Snake Lake, Bongo's apparent role is to command the snakes to follow you on the connected platforms, so there's definitely some sort of an evil artificial intelligence behind it all. In Level 3, Rhino Ridge, Bongo doesn't do anything, but there's a small group of rhinos trying to ram you down, and although you are supposed to be able to hide in the foxholes, I didn't really find them helpful at all - more of a hindrance to your progression, as they keep both the rhinos and yourself away from the targeted area, and if a rhino decides to run over the foxhole, you're still dead. Level 4, Lazy Lagoon, is the obvious Frogger pastiche, and you really only need to worry about timing your jumps properly, as there is no particular sort of a behaviour model you need to keep an eye on. On later rounds, the amount of enemies increase for each screen, and some of the enemies' movement speed increases.

The most faithful conversions regarding the enemy behaviour models, the amount of them and their progression on further rounds are surprisingly few - only the INTELLIVISION and COLECOVISION ports have these aspects covered nicely. However, even those two versions have their own particular quirks. The COLECO version has the first level much easier with the limited pathways for the coconuts to fall, the second level (Rhino Ridge) has only three rhinos with a lesser AI and a lot more room for you to move and jump around, and the final level has a different pacing for the moving platforms, and the rhinos at the final hurdle run at even intervals, unlike in the original. The INTV version only looks different - the only real difference to the arcade version, apart from the two missing screens of course, is that the second screen (Lazy Lagoon) has a different pacing to it.

From the three home ports featuring all four screens, the 1985 US disk release for the C64 is the most playable, but the snakes and rhinos have no proper AI programmed into them, and in the first screen, the coconuts fall down a bit randomly because Bongo isn't animated. Then again, Bongo isn't animated in any other version than the original, so the second C64 version is on a fairly even ground with every other version in that regard. In the IBM-PC version, the controllability is a problem, as it usually is in DOS games of this age, but apart from that, the difficulty level of the easiest setting is notably higher to begin with than in any other version. For example, you get inundated with coconuts in the first level, as Bongo doesn't take any breaks throwing them down, and the animation is a bit choppy, so it's difficult to follow the coconut paths. Also, the rhinos in screen 3 are bigger and more aggressive than usual, and the area feels somewhat smaller than usual. Screen 4 requires pixel-perfect jumping and even more perfect timing to get anywhere, making this easily the least playable version. Even so, the number of enemies increase on further rounds, so it's definitely a hardcore (or stupid) choice, if anything. The APPLE version is fairly sedate in pacing and difficulty, but the collision detection is a bit terrible at times. At least the rhinos and the snakes have no proper AI, and in screen 4, the lily pads alone can take you to the half-way point, so the swimming hippos are practically useless. Still, it's more playable than the IBM-PC version.

All the remaining versions have only two screens per round, but that doesn't mean there won't be too much differences. Probably the most well-known home conversion is the first C64 version from 1983, which shares the graphical style and viewpoint with the ATARI 8-BIT version (which is exactly the same one as the ATARI 5200 one) and the VIC-20 version. As previously told, the VIC-20 version is probably the clunkiest one around, but I should probably elaborate that because of the "one character block at a time" method of movement, there's just not very much room to move on the screen, and moreover, due to the screen restrictions, Lazy Lagoon has less moving platforms in the water. The ATARI 8-BIT version is closer to the C64 equivalent, but it's a tad slower (even in NTSC mode), and the animation is a bit clunky, making it sometimes difficult to follow the coconuts, for example. As with the first C64 version, Bongo throws barely any coconuts in round 1, the swimming hippos don't dive and there's only one running rhino at the end of screen 2. Also, the difficulty progression for later rounds is barely noticable.

The remaining four versions are all one-offs, each having their own peculiarities. For once, the A2600 version is surprisingly playable compared to some of the others, and is only made a bit awkward due to the graphical capabilities, as you can only see a small number of coconuts or monkeys on the screen. Too bad there's no real sense of progression as you play the game through repeatedly. The TI-99/4A version is just plain awful due to the badly aligned diagonals, but there's more: screen 1 features only one coconut at a time in round 1, two coconuts in round 2, and the monkeys start to appear only in round 3. Screen 2 has pretty much everything made to act differently from the original: the large swimming animals have a new pattern to swim a length to one direction, then stop for a breather, then swim back and have another breather; the lily pads don't move at all, and there's only one running rhino at the other end of the screen. I couldn't notice anything different about screen 2 in later rounds. It's playable, but a horrible mess nonetheless.

In addition to the lack of vertical thinking, the MSX version has a bit sloppy collision detection, and the second screen forces you to use only one route to get through it. Due to the former problems, it's nearly impossible to complete even one round. Finally, the SG-1000 version is the complete opposite, as it is basically too easy for the first three rounds at least. Getting hit by a coconut only drops you one level down in the Donkey Kong-like setting, which of course means, that if you don't have any other platforms underneath, you're dead, but it's rather easy to avoid the coconuts here. Screen 2 being rather obscurely a combination of both Lazy Lagoon and Snake Lake, there are multiple ways to get through the screen - either by the connecting platforms or by jumping on lily pads, swimming animals and the other platforms. The snakes have very restricted movements here, and they have no notable AI, but there are other hazards to worry about as well. Later rounds give more gaps to jump over and more snakes to navigate around.

Phew. That's a lot to take in, and we still have Graphics and Sounds to get through. Anyhow, as you might have gathered from all of the above, there is no properly definitive home conversion of Congo Bongo around, unless you count the fully emulated arcade version on PS3 and XB360. The most playable full game is the latter C64 release, but the closest to the original in playability is, rather surprisingly, the INTELLIVISION version, which sadly features only two screens. The COLECO version is probably the best compromise, having three screens and a fairly faithful playability. While the SEGA SG-1000 version is a very nice one, it's too different for my taste to be considered a proper Congo Bongo, so I cannot give it a very high spot on the list. The rest of them are what they are, so long story short, here's how I rank them:

4. C64 v2
5. SEGA SG-1000
6. C64 v1
8. ATARI 2600
9. APPLE ][
11. TI-99/4A
12. VIC-20
13. MSX



Because there are so many versions of Congo Bongo, I will have to try and keep this section compact, so some of the animation-related details shall only be dealt with in words, and all the versions will be shown as separate screenshot compiles. At least, after the start-up things.

Title/loading screens. Top row, left to right: Intellivision, Atari 5200/400/800, Commodore 64 v.1, Atari 2600.
Middle row: Commodore VIC-20, Commodore 64 v.2, PC Booter, Apple ][.
Bottom row: TI-99/4A, Colecovision, Sega SG-1000, Arcade, MSX.

The original ARCADE version boots up to a generic "insert coin" screen you see below, and if you care to wait for a bit, the attract mode comes on, showing a badly played demonstration of one of the screens in the game, likely from a higher difficulty round. Only after this, the title screen is shown, which is oddly ugly with the title gradually built up from large dots, making the final red-and-cyan flashing title look as blocky as anything ever made on the Atari 2600. Admittedly, this game is hardly about how flashy its title screen is, but a nice title screen would be nice.

Not even nearly all of the home conversions have anything resembling a flashy title screen. You can't really get much more basic than what you get on the VIC-20, COLECOVISION or INTELLIVISION, and the TI-99 and the ATARI 8-BIT/5200 versions do only barely better. The first C64 version's title screen still uses the basic character set, but at least they tried something a bit different there, with the three-dimensional block-letters for the title. The A2600 version doesn't even have a title, which makes it a unique version in a sense, but then, most A2600 games are like that - the only thing that separates the "title screen" from the first in-game screen is the lack of a player sprite and a Sega copyright at the top. I think the most interesting title screens are on the MSX and SEGA SG-1000: the MSX version has a unique animation sequence, which is only played once after the game's loading, in which a gorilla approaches a palm tree and gets his head hit by some sort of a white sack-like object; and the SG-1000 version has the two words from the game title alternating in size and colouring. The remaining three: C64 v2, IBM-PC and APPLE ][, all have a rendition of the very picture drawn on the side of the arcade machine, in which our protagonist is about to get his revenge on a sleeping Bongo, the mischievous gorilla.

Options screens. Top row, left to right: Commodore VIC-20, PC Booter, Colecovision, Commodore 64 v.1.
Bottom row, left to right: Atari 5200/400/800, Apple ][, Arcade, Commodore 64 v.2.

As you already know, some versions don't have options screens, and for those that do have one, the options screen is nothing particularly interesting. Mostly, it's just text on an otherwise graphicless screen with a colouring suitable for each version, but the APPLE ][ and the second C64 versions have black boxes with some writing at the bottom of the screen while screens from the game are shown elsewhere on the screen.

Intro sequence: Arcade (left), PC Booter (middle) and Intellivision (right).

In the ARCADE original, there is a short animated sequence explaining the game's plot, which is played after you have inserted a coin and started the game. The sequence shows the gorilla antagonist playing a prank on our brave hunter by putting the hunter's tent on fire while he's asleep. Of course, this wakes the hunter up properly, and so you know your mission is to take revenge. For some reason, only the DOS and INTELLIVISION versions feature the sequence, and the DOS version plays the intro sequence right after the title screen, before you are taken to the options menu.

Screenshots from the Arcade version.

So, it's time to start comparing the level graphics, and naturally, we start with the original ARCADE version. From left to right, you have the game's four original levels in the order of appearance: Primate Peak, Snake Lake, Rhino Ridge and Lazy Lagoon. At Primate Peak, the primary focus is really the ascending form of the screen, since none of the latter screens give much of credence to altitudes. Apart from that, there's a nicely animated waterfall, monkeys, coconuts and, of course, Bongo himself, who gets rather animated when throwing the coconuts. This is a feature you don't really get to see in nearly any of the home system ports, which is a pity, since it's one of the rare things that give some actual depth to this screen's gameplay mechanics.

At Snake Lake, you get to see a new bunch of jungle wildlife, but the snakes' behaviour in connection to Bongo's is almost fascinating to watch. At Rhino Ridge, the main focus is on the group of rhinos, which to my utter delight, have facial expressions for fatigue, peacefulness and intimidation. Sometimes, a random looking occupant lifts his head from one of the foxholes, but other than that, you don't really get to see anything particularly interesting in this level - nor should you wish to, because keeping track of the rhinos' actions is more than enough. Finally, Lazy Lagoon features more hippos and rhinos, but also some large red fish-like creatures that keep themselves on the surface. The hippos and the lily pads will occasionally dive for a bit and then return. This being the final screen of the four, we see Bongo peacefully having a rest on his favourite comfy chair beside a fire, and your mission is to set Bongo's chair ablaze, just like what the old bugger did to your safari tent.

Overall, Congo Bongo's graphics have a childlike quality to them, with plenty of different colours and cartoony representations of not only the main characters, but also the other appearing animals and the surroundings that are only an adequate approximation of jungle-like areas. If you take the trouble of examining the details in Congo Bongo, the animations are often rather funny, particularly the postures and movements the hunter makes, as he often looks like a small child tumbling around. Due to the game using the same machine architecture as Sega's earlier hit game Zaxxon, the isometric view and the style of having the upper-left and lower-right corners of the action screen otherwise empty, but with the space being taken by the bonus counter and other information. As usual, the score counter and the high score indicator are at the top of the screen, and the lives indicator is at the bottom.

Screenshots from the Atari 2600 version, including the unique ending sequence.

The ATARI 2600 version is an interesting one, because it's the only one that features scrolling - if only barely. The top half of the screen features a very black Bongo running around and taunting you, and the bottom half is given for the actual level map, but because the whole level map doesn't completely fit the given space, the lower part of the screen scroll down maybe about 10-15 pixels as you get further up, essentially completing the screen as you do so. Also, the A2600 version uniquely has a dedicated ending sequence, in which the hunter goes to get a fiery stick from the fireplace on the right side of the screen, then takes it to Bongo and sets him on fire, as it were. At least, that's what the weird looking effect makes you think.

As for the graphics themselves, I have to say the overall quality is better than in most other A2600 games that I've played. There's plenty of colour, some attention to detail, and the first screen even looks very much like it's supposed to, at least if you compare it to the other ATARI versions. Of course, you can only see either the coconuts falling or the monkeys dancing around - one or the other, but not both simultaneously. Even then, any moving things in greater numbers aside from yourself will flicker quite a bit, but I suppose that could be another NTSC trick, which the emulators still don't know how to get around.

Screenshots from the Atari 5200/400/800 version, including the Game Over screen.

Comparing the A2600 version with the slightly more modern ATARI versions shows us, that perhaps the first screen in the latter ones was made that way because it would make the A2600 version look less like a downgrade. I just think it's really the other way round, since there was another, graphically more arcade-like version made for the C64, but perhaps the conversion for the 8-BIT ATARI machines was made with that cheaper look just to make the A2600 version look less ugly.

The A5200 version and the release for the 8-bit Atari computer models are, as far as I can tell, exactly the same, only put on a different cartridge. Aside from the quality of animation and some slight differences in details, it's also very similar to the first C64 version, as you can see here:

Screenshots from the 1983 Commodore 64 version, including the Game Over screen.

Here, the most obvious difference, at least while looking at mere screenshots, is that the hunter is wider and more blocky than on the above ATARI versions. Also, the Game Over screen on the right has been made empty from all the moving platforms and other possible enemies on the C64, but otherwise, there's a very similar blackness taking over anything that was previously red on the ATARI or dark brown on the C64. The lesser differences in details are the amount and placements of bushes and vines, as well as the linings in the watery bits, none of which really matter when the animation is so much more fluent on the C64 than on the ATARI.

Screenshots from the Commodore VIC-20 version, including the Game Over screen.

Clearly, the VIC-20 version was a downgrade from the above. You can see only half of Bongo in the first screen, and the details are mostly bad and repetitive. At least the waterfalls have been made to look like they're actually going somewhere with clever use of vertical and horizontal lines. The second screen has no details whatsoever, and as I mentioned before, there's not enough room on the VIC-20 screen to get all the stuff from the original included. Also, instead of turning the things that are white here into black for the Game Over screen, they went for the yellow bits instead, which was probably a good choice in this particular case. Finally, Bongo is purple in screen one, and red in screen two, which is weird - perhaps a machine architecture related problem on the VIC-20? As if that weren't enough, there is no proper animation to speak of, just alternating frames as things move by steps of a character block. It's just plain ugly and horrible, even the A2600 version is miles better.

Screenshots from the 1985 Commodore 64 version, including both halves of the last screen.

At the other end of the Commodore versions - quality-wise, that is - the 1985 US disk release for the C64 features the same viewpoint and the same amount of levels as the original arcade game. As if that weren't enough to make put this on the highest spot so far (although, still naturally below the arcade version), you get lots of new details and colours that were missing from the other C64 version. Here, the palm trees look like palm trees, Bongo has more visible expressions (even if he still doesn't move around), all the featured animals have been animated relatively nicely, there's plenty of colour when required, and you even get a blue buzzard looking down at you at Snake Lake, which wasn't even present in the original arcade version. That said, the speed of the game is a bit on the slow side, so whenever something is made with less care, you will notice it more easily. The only thing I'm really unhappy with is the colouring of our protagonist - he's a mostly yellow lump of a sprite with some blue and brown bits (in the fourth screen, brown is replaced with red) for shading, and you can hardly tell the direction he's walking into at any time due to the way he's drawn. But even so, it's still a better attempt than in the first version.

Screenshots from the Apple ][ version, including both halves of the last screen, and a Game Over screen.

Let's continue with another version with all four screens included. The APPLE version is an odd one: for the most part, it doesn't look too bad, even with the necessary interlacing for the screen mode, but all the moving objects from the coconuts and lily pads to your own sprite, are completely white, so you can't really see any proper details for any sprites, but at least you can see most of the sprites' moving directions. But it's all due to the lack of a possibility to use more colours at once, so clearly, the above C64 version looks better for most part. At least the animations are rather good.

Screenshots from the PC Booter version.

The last of the three home conversions with all four screens included, the PC BOOTER has a surprisingly inventive use of colour. Also, thankfully, the graphic mode used for the title screen isn't used within the game itself. Of course, having only four colours to utilise at a time, the CGA mode does have its limits, but smart placing of differently coloured pixels makes the game look more colourful - the third screen alone seems to feature purple, orange and grey as well as red, yellow, green and blue. Unfortunately, none of the sprites' movement is particularly smooth, but that has been attempted to smooth out by having Bongo actually move around - this being the only home conversion in which he does. All in all, not too bad - definitely in the top half.

Screenshots from the Intellivision version, including both halves of the second screen and a frame from the ending.

This is a tough one... The graphics in INTELLIVISION games have never been particularly flashy, and you can't really escape the blockiness that is so infernally characteristic for the machine's games in general. In the case of Congo Bongo, though, the characteristic Intellivision style doesn't come off as too bad, since there are graphically much worse versions on the list. The general style here is definitely the same as on the A2600, VIC-20, the 8-BIT ATARI machines and the first C64 version, but the quality falls somewhere in between all of those. Bongo himself is a bit awkwardly single-coloured rendition, similarly to the A2600 version, and most of the sprites are awfully blocky. Only the hunter and the lily pads have a nice appearance. Furthermore, the second screen has been split into two parts - the latter half of sprites are shown only after you have made it to the center of the screen, after which there is no turning back... not that you would ever want to do so, really. Not my cup of tea, but not really the worst of the bunch, either.

Screenshots from the Colecovision version.

At first, the COLECOVISION version looks like a fairly faithful copy of the original, which it really is, up to a point. The viewpoint is the same, there's plenty of colour and details, and the hunter looks almost like the original. And for once, all the sprites look very sharp and are animated splendidly, but then, they are all monochrome, but at least each animal group has their own colour. There is one horrible wronghood in the COLECO version, though, which keeps me wondering, and that is: was drawing that single posture for Bongo so infernally difficult to draw, that they decided to use it in all three screens? Regardless of it, this version is definitely in the top half, but let's see how far up.

Screenshots from the Texas Instruments TI-99/4A version.

Yeah, even the meagre TI-99/4A version has two different poses for Bongo. BUT... I'm struggling to find any other good about it. I guess it's a positive thing that they at least tried to use the same viewpoint as the ARCADE original, but they failed at it, practically speaking. The colours and details are mostly nice, similar to the COLECO version for a good part. The hunter has the same outfit as in the ARCADE original and the COLECO version, so that's another good one. Other than that... uhhh.... just no. The animations are fluent, but often a bit out of alignment, and the coconuts don't bounce at all, like they're supposed to - just roll down and left almost where they're supposed to. That has got to be one of the saddest things I've ever seen. The second screen isn't nearly as horrible as the first one, but I can't really say much more about it.

Screenshots from the MSX version, including the only high score table for the home conversions.

The MSX version is another strange one. There are a lot of sharp edges, as opposed to rough ones, in both screens, and the amount of details is about as good as in the first C64 version and the like. The colours are similar, but not quite the same, as those in the COLECO and TI-99 versions. All the sprites, apart from the hunter, are monochrome, and the previously red fishes are now light green. The funny thing about this version is, that the hunter has been made deliberately fat, so it's as if Bongo has been picking on someone his own size. Now, although there's a fireplace next to Bongo in the second screen, there is no real ending in this version, so for the third picture, I included a picture of a unique thing about the MSX version, at least being unique among one of the home versions: the high scores table that is shown immediately after Game Over. It's a bit basic, but then so is the game conversion in many ways.

Screenshots from the Sega SG-1000 version, including both screens from the first and third round.

And then there's SEGA's own conversion for their primary home console at the time, the SG-1000. Rather perversely, it takes on the graphical styles of both Donkey Kong and Frogger, and twists it all into a slightly different thing to make it... well, perhaps not unique, but at least different enough. Again, the palette is similar to the previous three, but the amount of details is a tad lower than you would have expected, particularly as the sprites are all of a rather high quality, and most of them even have more than one colour in them. The hunter is wearing blue, instead of his original white, and Bongo has a more traditional manga-style look, making him look more mischievous and lovable than in the other versions. While this version looks pretty good in its own way, I cannot honestly put it in the same league as the others, because of the drastic change in style and viewpoint.

So, you can see we have a properly mixed bag here. Once again, it's going to be supremely difficult to put these in an order, but I think we can safely begin with the highest and the lowest spots - the ARCADE original and the VIC-20 version, respectively. The rest of it is just too difficult and boring to write about again, so I'll be quick about it, and just say, that the versions are placed in the following order calculated from four key conditions: the amount of graphics, the quality of the graphics as you see them here (details, colours and the advantages of screen resolution), the quality of animation and, if necessary, how close each version is to the original in presentation. Here we go:

2. C64 v2
5. SEGA SG-1000
7. APPLE ][
8. MSX
9. C64 v1
10. ATARI 8-BIT/5200
11. ATARI 2600
12. TI-99/4A



If you thought Up'n Down was simplistic in terms of sounds, Congo Bongo... well, it doesn't really take things much further, but what it lacks in proper music, it adds up in sound effects. The original ARCADE game uses sampled sounds in both music and sound effects: the jungle drum beats for the levels and a noise that our protagonist is assumed to make in the intro sequence, when Bongo the gorilla sets your tent on fire - a YouTube comment describes it in a rather extreme way as "UUAArraaawwwrehhh UUAArraaawwwrehhh UUAArraaawwwrehhh". Otherwise, the sound effects are just different sorts of bips, bops and bleeps, and four different melodies (for the intro, for your death, for completing a screen and for completing a round) played in unison on two different sounds, which feels like a waste of possibilities, but it's a design choice that the developing team made, and we shall have to live with it. Playing Congo Bongo on MAME doesn't yet give you a full experience - at least in the way playing any arcade game on MAME would - since the sound samples don't work yet for whatever reason, but a fully working version can be found at least on an XB360/PS3 compilation called Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection (or Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection for the NTSC regions).

Now, I'm not going to dig too deep into the aesthetics and variations of the jungle drum patterns, because they are widely varied between the versions in which they have been included, and their sounds are varyingly closer or further from resembling actual drum sounds, and while having a nice jungle drum beat in a game that takes place in a jungle adds to the experience, the variations of such minimalistic "music" are unimportant in the grand scheme of things. There is one conversion lacking the jungle drums, though, and it is the APPLE ][ version.

The trouble with having so many versions to compare and each of them being somehow a bit different from all the others is how difficult it is to choose from where and how to start unraveling the huge yarn. My choice this time is to start from the conversion offering the least amount of different music and/or sound effects, and end with, hopefully, the best.

Nevertheless, we start with a tough one, since there are two almost equally bad versions fighting for the last spot: the VIC-20 and the APPLE ][ versions. Both versions have only two actual tunes, which in the case of the VIC-20 version are the death tune and the "screen complete" tune (also used for "round complete"), and in the case of the APPLE version, the death tune and what's officially the "round complete" tune (also used for the title screen and for "screen complete"). Neither version has any proper sound effects - the APPLE version just has some sort of repeating tapping noise for your walking, and the VIC-20 version gives room for the jungle drums. In all honesty, I think the VIC-20 version sounds better simply due to the jungle drums, so that's a deciding point.

Next up, the ATARI 2600 version. It has plenty of music - you get the "screen complete" tune and a slightly edited version of the "round complete" tune, and even the intro bit has been included. Also, there's a death tune, but it's more than a bit depraved - or deranged, however you want to put it. What has become familiar from other A2600 games, there are always some notes in the music that are either slightly out of tune or completely off. Due to the lack of memory, they decided to use the jungle drums for the in-game soundtrack instead of sound effects.

On the above spot, my biggest disappointment - the TI-99/4A version. Unlike the above versions, it has sound effects for walking and jumping, so that's a definite plus, particularly as you also get the jungle drums for the background. There are only two tunes, though: the "screen complete" tune, which is also used for "round complete" scenario, and the death tune, which is also used for the Game Over screen, which I guess is unique, if unnecessary.

Then we're onto another struggle, only this time, it's clear that there's no other way than to give these two another tied place. You see, the ATARI 8-BIT (and the A5200) and the first C64 version have pretty much exactly the same amount of music and sound effects, and which all sound very much the same. There is really nothing that would render either (or any) of these versions better than the other. Just for the sake of keeping track of what's in here: they've got no intro music, but all the others have been included - the death tune, the "screen complete" tune and the "round complete" tune, all in glorious monophonic quality. During play, you get to hear both the jungle drums and a few different sound effects. Aside from the jumping sound effect, I could only notice two others: a rumble when some ground falls behind you when you jump over a chasm near the platform with the monkeys in the first screen, and a low boom noise when a rhino enters the pathway at the end of the second screen.

Only six versions left, and we arrive at something I guess which could be considered mildly controversial. The MSX version doesn't have much of sound effects, but there are some, very minimal ones. However, there's more music in it than any other version, solely due to it having a high score table. The said screen has a rendition of a very familiar classical hymn-like tune, which I almost couldn't remember, even though I've heard it a million times: it's the second theme from Sir Edward Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance March #1". Other than that, you get the regular threesome pretty much as they should be, and a unique intro sequence tune to go with the unique animation bit... and then there's the jungle drum beats, which are vastly different from any other version and each screen differs from the other quite a bit as well. Musically speaking, the MSX version has got to be the richest one of the lot, but I wouldn't say it's as faithful to the original as it perhaps ought to be. But as you will understand, the minimal sound effects balance it down a bit.

I was a bit amazed when I realized how rich the soundtrack in the IBM-PC version actually is, particularly as it's all beeper stuff. You get all three basic tunes as good as they can be on a beeper, as well as the often forgotten intro tune (naturally forgotten, because most versions haven't got the intro sequence). You get the jungle drums for all screens with some variation, too. On top of all that, you even get a basic, yet rich, but never too in-your-face set of sound effects, including a unique death effect before the death tune kicks in - most versions that even have a small acknowledgement of your death beside the little tune only have a small "pip" before it. Too bad it's all single-channel beeper galore, but it's still much better than I imagined or expected.

Continuing on the more beepy line, since Congo Bongo actually allows such a thing to happen this high on the list, the INTELLIVISION version throws in another rich set of basic blippy sound effects on top of jungle drums, along with blippy versions of all the possible tunes from the original game. As a nice bonus, this version is the rare ones that features the alarmingly horrible yells of the hunter when his tent has been put on fire, if that's actually what that sound effect is supposed to represent.

However high I would have liked for the latter C64 version to get, this is as far as I can take it with a clear conscience. The problem is, the sound effects are a bit loud and repetitive, and there are still only two of them you get to hear for 90% of the time the game is in action - your walking and your jumping. But of course, you will hear the jungle drums behind all that squeaky racket your feet make, and they alter slightly on the later screens. Aside from those two sounds, I don't think I encountered any other effects than the same ground falling thing in screen one as the first C64 version has. The same tunes as in the old version have been included, but have been programmed to sound nicer, and you get the intro tune for a nice bonus, even if you don't get the intro animation itself. The intro sequence tune is played during the options menu. All things considered, it's still one of the most sonically comfortable versions of the game.

So, since the ARCADE original is without a doubt holding the number one spot, there are only two versions left... and neither one features all the levels from the original game. In fact, the other one doesn't even feel much like the original game. But then, we're only comparing sounds now, so let's not worry about other matters while at it. The COLECO version has the soundtrack a bit mixed up, since the "screen complete" and "round complete" themes have switched places, but at least the death tune is as it should be. No intro music, though. To make up for the mix-up, there are more sound effects in the COLECO version than in any other, featuring the second of two rare occurences of the alarm noise used in the original intro sequence, as well as a unique sound effect for falling into water and making a splash. Naturally, you also get the jungle drums for the background. The other version left is for the SEGA SG-1000, as you might have guessed. For the music, you get the regular threesome as they should be, but the jungle drums for both screens are notably different from the originals, and the title screen tune is completely unique. The sound effects are again rather different from the norm, even a bit nintendoesque, but work very well in the context. I think both versions deserve to be on spot #2, but both versions also have something in them that I would rather place them on spot #3. As it usually happens in games of this sort, there is no definitive, or perhaps even a completely optimal home conversion of Congo Bongo around, so you will just have to settle with these results:

3. COMMODORE 64 (1985)
6. MSX
7. COMMODORE 64 (1983) / ATARI 5200/8-BIT
8. TI-99/4A
9. ATARI 2600



Yay! - another video link to go with all this non-moving stuff. Once again, the Gaming History Source channel on YouTube has provided us with a nice little compilation of most of the versions of Congo Bongo.

The video is missing the 1985 C64 version, the TI-99 version and the VIC-20 version, so I decided to do this one the unorthodox way and just stick them all here without further query. So if any YouTube user, whose contents these videos happen to be, gets all murderous about me throwing some links for their stuff, bite me. It's also worth noting, that since the ARCADE version is played on MAME in the Gaming History Source video, it's missing the jungle drums and other samples, but you can hear them in, for example, this video here from Zeusdaz's channel, who played the PS3 version.



In all honesty, Congo Bongo is a game that is best experienced as a child, when trying not to stick something that will most certainly get stuck in your nostril is difficult enough. Well, perhaps not quite that young, but very young nonetheless. The game has a child-like atmosphere, a child-like protagonist, simple, short and catchy little tunes that will not completely ruin your day no matter what happens, and the gameplay mechanics are easy enough for a smart kid to pick onto. Now, let's take a look at the often misleading mathematical results before I continue my rant:

1. ARCADE: Playability 13, Graphics 13, Sounds 10 = TOTAL 36
2. COLECOVISION: Playability 12, Graphics 11, Sounds 9 = TOTAL 32
3. COMMODORE 64, 1985: Playability 10, Graphics 12, Sounds 8 = TOTAL 30
4. SEGA SG-1000: Playability 9, Graphics 9, Sounds 9 = TOTAL 27
5. INTELLIVISION: Playability 11, Graphics 8, Sounds 7 = TOTAL 26
6. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES: Playability 4, Graphics 10, Sounds 6 = TOTAL 20
7. COMMODORE 64, 1983: Playability 8, Graphics 5, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 17
8. ATARI 8-BIT/5200: Playability 7, Graphics 4, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 15
9. APPLE ][: Playability 5, Graphics 7, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 13
10. MSX: Playability 1, Graphics 6, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 12
11. ATARI 2600: Playability 6, Graphics 3, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 11
12. TEXAS INSTRUMENTS TI-99/4A: Playability 3, Graphics 2, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 8
13. COMMODORE VIC-20: Playability 2, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 4

Apart from a few weird cases, I guess it's a pretty good roadmap to what versions to try out and what to avoid. I'd say, avoid the DOS version, the MSX version and the two at the bottom (the ones with playability score less than 5), and you're good to go. Of course, if you're trying to get your 3-year old to play this game, you might want to go with the PS3/XB360 release, but if you're planning on educating yourself on the differences in details of Congo Bongo's different versions, it's an open world - don't let my judgment stop you. Just don't say I didn't warn you. My current favourites are the Colecovision, Intellivision and Sega SG-1000 versions, and I was also a bit impressed about the A2600 version, which was surprisingly playable and nice-looking compared to its big brother.

For a final bit of trivia, I was happy to learn and happy to share the information with any of you unaware of it, that Ikegami Tsushinki, the company most likely to have been at least partly, if not completely, behind the development of Congo Bongo, Zaxxon and Donkey Kong, sued Nintendo for unauthorized duplication of the Donkey Kong program code for Nintendo's creation of Donkey Kong Junior in 1983, although it was not until 1989 that the Tokyo High Court gave a verdict that acknowledged the originality of program code. After all, computer programs were not considered copyrightable material until much later to the 1980's, so it took a while for things to develop in Ikegami's favour. Finally, in 1990, Ikegami and Nintendo reached a settlement, terms of which have never been disclosed. For anyone who has ever played and perhaps wanted to own a copy of The Great Giana Sisters and cursed Nintendo for having made the game such a collector's item, this matter with Donkey Kong will most certainly be thought of as highly ironic - after all, the original appearance of Mario gets Nintendo's official butt kicked by the people who were sub-contracted to make the game for Nintendo in the first place. The moment I found out about that, I became a fan of Ikegami Tsushinki. Revenge is sweet, even if it comes from an unexpected direction, right?

Hope you enjoyed this one - it was certainly one of the more pleasurable comparisons to write this year. See you next time with the final Sega entry for the month, which I'm hoping to be yet another surprise. Until then, ta-dah!


  1. As always, nice work and a fun read.

    The total and subsequent ranking A8/5200 is incorrect.
    7 + 4 + 4 = 15, bumping it to #7 in overall rank.

    1. Hey, thanks for the correction - I also noticed another similar error regarding the first C64 version as well while making the correction for the A8/5200 ranking. Was pretty tired while finishing up this article, mistakes are bound to happen... =D

    2. Strange thing, one of Sega's early games, Super Locomotive, is one of the rarest arcade games in existence, with only about ~35 PCBs known to exist. It was only seen in Japan and the UK, where, strangely enough it had a few clones for computers over there, the best known one being Loco and Suicide Express. I would call it a semi-unique game.

      Here's a video of Super Locomotive:

      Here's one for Loco:

      And here's Suicide Express:

    3. Yeah, weird, isn't it. Loco has been one of my favourite games for the C64 since forever, and I've known about its origins for a few years now, but haven't figured out a good way to write about this game. There could well be versions of Super Locomotive on different platforms with different names, similarly to Loco and Suicide Express, so I'm dreading the amount of work to put into making the research... =/