Ported for the MSX computers by Masamitsu Kobayashi, and published by Colpax in 1985.
Re-branded, developed and published by Ocean Software as "Kong Strikes Back!" for Commodore 64 and Sinclair ZX Spectrum in 1984, and Amstrad CPC in 1985, with cover art by Bob Wakelin.
Spectrum version written by Nigel Alderton and Jonathan Smith.
Amstrad version written by Michael Webb.
C64 version's programmer currently unknown.
Music for Amstrad and C64 by Martin Galway.
Loading screen by Frederick David Thorpe.
INTRODUCTION & GAME STATUS
The original arcade game has only been voted on by two members of the Arcade Museum, by which the KLOV/IAM user score is now an above average 3.31 out of 5.0. The only licenced port has a slightly more convincing four stars out of five at Generation-MSX. The Lemon64 score for Kong Strikes Back is currently 6.3 from 34 votes, and the Amstrad ratings are 13.43 out of 20.00 at CPC-Power and a 7 out of 10 at CPC Game Reviews.
An odd choice this time. Mr. Do is one of those arcade characters that don't necessarily connect to all that many retrogamers, particularly those who grew up with the NES or Sega's equivalent. Somewhat perversely, the original Mr. Do game did find its way to Super NES and even Game Boy in the 1990's, and it's also one of those games that had its fair share of direct clones for various machines, which is why I chose not to write about the original game - at least, not yet. Instead, I chose the third game in the series (which features five games all in all) - Mr. Do's Wild Ride, which I got to know first as Kong Strikes Back! on the ZX Spectrum as a wee lad. It took me a good while to find out the origins of this game, well into the 2000's, because Mr. Do was never as interesting to me personally, as anything based on Donkey Kong was. Only when I found out a couple of months ago, that the game was actually ported for the MSX computers with its original title, I began considering writing a comparison of it, and here we are.
Now, since this is the first comparison I've started working on after the update to World of Spectrum's database, for which the hosts have removed the ratings and Top 100 lists, the only remotely viable source for getting any ratings, for at least this particular game, is through the Wayback Machine (Internet Archive), through which you can access the original WOS. So, as it was in 2017, the Spectrum version of Kong Strikes Back had a score of 7.37 from 19 votes.
DESCRIPTION & REVIEW
Mr. Do's Wild Ride, or Kong Strikes Back, is a very linear arcade game with loopy forms. It's basically a platformer with no actual platforming - just walking through a bunch of roller coasters, while avoiding getting hit by coaster cars by climbing small ladders. Bonuses can be collected for extra lives.
At this point, it's probably worth pointing out, that prior to writing this paragraph, I had never actually tested out the original Mr. Do's Wild Ride, nor its only official home conversion. But now I know, that although Wild Ride and Kong Strikes Back are very similar in design, each game has its own specific quirks that make them a very different experience. Now that I think on it, this is a very similar situation to how Bank Panic and West Bank were, so I guess it's all the same if I make this into a two-fer like the formerly mentioned duo.
Both incarnations of this particular game design are deviously addicting in all their simplicity, and yet they're different enough to give you nice alternatives for the same idea. Neither game is what anyone would be silly enough to call classic, but at the very least, they're both interesting footnotes in gaming history in their own different ways. Certainly good nostalgia trip fodder if you're prone to this kind of gaming.
Naturally, the loading section only applies to the game that needs some actual time to put into loading, which rules out the original Mr. Do's Wild Ride and its only home conversion. Kong Strikes Back was released in the early era of Ocean Software, before they started brewing classics with classic C64 Ocean loader tunes and super-effective turbo loading schemes, but it was already part of an era with epic loading screens.
AMSTRAD CPC: 3 minutes 59 seconds
COMMODORE 64: 2 minutes 53 seconds
ZX SPECTRUM/Ocean: 2 minutes 33 seconds
ZX SPECTRUM/Zafiro: 2 minutes 26 seconds
Apart from the obvious there, what's perhaps worth noting is, that both the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions can only be loaded on a proper 48k machine. On the 128k CPC, the game refuses to load beyond the point where the fast loader starts - often even resets at that point. On the 128k Speccy, the game hangs after loading, which wastes even more of your time. The C64 version uses Novaload; to be precise, the variant that screeches a lot at the beginning of the fast loader, when it displays a grey screen with the game's loading title and a Novaload code, but there is no loading music or other noises during the loading screen.
|Kong Strikes Back! loading screens, left to right:|
Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC
Frederick David Thorpe's loading screen on the ZX Spectrum must have been considered perfect, since no-one bothered to attempt and create something different for the other two platforms. Well, I'm not going to lie - it is an iconic loading screen, and displays Thorpe's sense of style and methods of working around Spectrum's attribute clash limitation excellently, even if his methods still weren't quite perfected at the time. But while the C64 loading screen looks a lot like the Spectrum original, apart from the obvious differences in palette, it's missing the flashing bits - the Ocean logo and the shadow under the coaster car. Also, the AMSTRAD loader looks like the ugly cousin, with wider pixels than Kong himself, effectively missing out half of the original loading screen; but the interesting part is, that the loading raster bars are shown inside the "KONG" bit of the game logo. If you're interested in seeing more of F. David Thorpe's classic Speccy loading screens, head on to the dedicated page at ZX-Art.
The first noticable difference between the two games is, that Kong Strikes Back is missing the two-player mode, which, to be honest, isn't much of a loss, since Mr. Do's Wild Ride has the two-player game played in alternate turns. What's common in both games at this point, is that the title screen also works as the options menu, whatever options there are available. From the original ARCADE machine's dip switches, you do get access to the number of lives, which are 3 and 5, and difficulty settings, which ranges from 1 (beginner) to 4 (expert). If MAME is to be believed, by default, the game is set to beginner. The MSX version of Wild Ride only features options for 1 and 2 player modes, with keyboard and joystick options - that's it.
In Kong Strikes Back, the C64 version has no options at all - the title screen only gives you the instruction to press any key to start, which literally means any KEY on the keyboard. Attempting to start the game with the joystick button helps none, but neither do you get optional keyboard controls. On the AMSTRAD, the game gives you the possibility to redefine controls by pressing 'K' in the title screen, and pressing 'S' starts the game. The SPECTRUM version gives you the most options in the title screen: 'S' to start, 'I' for instructions, 'R' to redefine keys and 'J' for joystick options.
Mr. Do's Wild Ride offers 6 levels in its original ARCADE form, which contains some level design elements that were considered impossible to translate to the 8-bit home computers. Thus, the MSX version of Wild Ride only features 3 levels with increasing obstacles on more difficult rounds, and all versions of Kong Strikes Back feature 4 levels. The only level that all five versions of the game have in common is the first one. The MSX version additionally features approximations of arcade levels 3 and 4 in its three-level loop, which is as close as you will get to the arcade game on a home system. From the Kong variants, the C64 version features even looser approximations of arcade levels 2 and two halves of level 5 spread on two unique levels. The SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions also feature level 2 pretty much intact, and a part of level 5, but the rest of it is rather different on both platforms. The final level is almost completely unique in design for both SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD, and offer nothing special in ideas.
Perhaps the most critical manner, in which the two games differ, is what happens when you push the fire button. In Wild Ride, Mr. Do runs faster as you keep the fire button down, and you have no physical method of defending yourself against the coaster cars. In Kong Strikes Back, the fire button launches a moving bomb, which can destroy one coaster car. There is a rather peculiar inconsistency between the three versions of KSB: the bomb can travel the coaster for a very long time before it either hits a coaster car or puffs out in smoke on the C64 and AMSTRAD, but the bombs in the SPECTRUM version can only travel on leveled track for as long as the next turn comes along. There might be some technical reasons for this, but despite of it, the SPECTRUM version is the easiest of the lot to play, at least the first round of four stages of it.
See, the SPECTRUM version of KSB is the slowest version to play, yet still not uncomfortably so. You have plenty of time to ponder your moves and calculate probabilities of survival in any situation, particularly on the first round, when the only enemies you encounter are the coaster cars. On following rounds, your life will be made a bit more difficult with new obstacles that behave each in their own specific manners. The AMSTRAD and C64 versions are almost equally quick with each other, which is much quicker than the SPECTRUM version, but the C64 version starts off with more obstacles on each screen than the other two versions of KSB. The C64 version lacks the difficulty progression, though, but what you get in one round is quite enough to rip your hair off. However, the biggest advantage in the SPECTRUM version is, that upon collision to an enemy, you don't need to restart the level - you just lose a life on the spot and continue as you were; the C64 and AMSTRAD versions both make a big show of you losing your marbles as you collide, and then restart the level. But then, we have to consider, whether we want a conversion that's true to the source material or can we be happy with a fairly wild approximation.
Part of the game's addicting factors is collecting the bonus items and forming the bonus/extra letters into full sequences to give you extra lives. In Wild Ride, collecting cherries from tops of the ladders changes the two bonus items you receive upon reaching the end of a level, which can sometimes change into less useful bonus items. In Kong Strikes Back, there are two variants. The SPECTRUM version features a bonus letter spinner, which switches the letter highlighter every few seconds, and upon picking up bonus items, the highlighted letter starts spinning. Once all the letters have been caught, an extra life is received. The C64 and AMSTRAD versions have two bonus collectables: the usual five-letter word and a key in three parts. The five-letter word gives you an extra life and some points, while the key item only gives you half of the points you'd get from the bonus letters.
I would have liked to approach this lot from the point of comparing two games, but upon further experimentation, it seems almost impossible to separate the two games by anything other than what the fire button does. The amount of levels ranges from 3 to 6, the amount and even the difficulty of obstacles varies, the speed varies from slow (SPE/MSX) to almost stupidly fast (CPC); and yet, the only solid conclusion I have is, that all versions are able to give you a hard time, and they all (apart from, statistically speaking, the arcade version) have the same capability of being a favourite in terms of nostalgia. Taking all that into consideration, I would be forced to base the entire comparison on how the home conversions compare to the original arcade version, and this is how they would go:
2. COMMODORE 64
4. AMSTRAD CPC
5. SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM
If, however, I were to base this on what I actually think plays the best, the order would be exactly the opposite. The original arcade game is ridiculously harsh in its difficulty and convoluted in level design, and requires nerves of steel and a spider's vision to get past level 3. The MSX version features less levels, so it's more completable. The C64 version's final level features a very unfriendly carousel, which you need to pass twice, which is practically impossible with its hyper-sensitive collision detection problems. The AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions are the most playable of the lot, if you don't compare them to the original arcade game. Make of that what you will.
1. SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM
2. AMSTRAD CPC
4. COMMODORE 64
As usual, we start the graphics section from the title screen, even though a huge part of the charm of Kong Strikes Back specifically comes from the excellent F. David Thorpe loading screen. But as it's not something we need to focus on while interacting with the game program itself, it's out of the equation.
|Title screens. Top left: Arcade. Top right: MSX.|
Bottom row, left to right: ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.
|Level 1 screens. Top left: Arcade. Top right: MSX.|
Bottom row, left to right: ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.
Mr. Do's only goal in his Wild Ride is to reach the end of each roller coaster, and move on to the next one, so what you see in the background is another far-away roller coaster on a green field in the seaside. Also, each level ends with a flag with a "GOAL" sign underneath of it, and two bonus items that change as you pick up the bonus cherries on your way. The MSX version, due to its relative lack of graphical abilities, shows us a desert (with a pond) in the background, and Mr. Do himself is a blue monochrome sprite, instead of the long-nosed cousin of Mario that he is in the ARCADE original.
In Kong Strikes Back, the titular monster is out to wreak havoc in another unconcerned city with a bunch of skyscrapers, so the SPECTRUM version uses that as a backdrop. The C64 and AMSTRAD versions disposed of the backdrop, and only feature a more abstract blue-and-green setting. A traditional damsel in distress awaits for your arrival at the top right corner of the screen, where Kong makes his brief appearance whenever he feels the need to launch another coaster car at you, unless you're playing the AMSTRAD version, where he keeps constant guard at the exit spot. On the AMSTRAD and C64, the bonus items are clearly defined as the collectables on top of the ladders, instead of just cherries; the SPECTRUM version replaces cherries with hearts or whatever the next rounds bring about. The level design is undoubtedly closer to the ARCADE game in its only direct 8-bit descendant, but from the Ocean rebrands, the SPECTRUM version gets the overall tone quite right, whereas the C64 version gets the number of ladders and the number of additional obstacles closer to the truth. None of the Kong versions get the coaster itself quite correct, but it's close enough on all three.
It is also worth pointing out concerning KSB, that our protagonist doesn't look like anyone in particular, even though the cover art and loading screen clearly point towards him being a close relative of Mario, or Jumpman, as he was called in the original Donkey Kong arcade game. However, Mario's illegitimate cousin in the cover art is wearing blue overalls, so the only version that gets this aspect correct within the game itself is the C64 version. In the AMSTRAD version, our hero is just a random bloke sporting a yellow shirt and a red cap, and the SPECTRUM version's hero looks like a monochrome Spanish Zorro-like hero with an insanely wide hat and possibly a bouquet of flowers in his other hand. And still also worth pointing out: the coaster cars are all wearing the same colour in all other versions of the game, except on the C64, all four are differently coloured.
The info panels have been designed rather differently for each version. Of course, for both versions of Mr. Do's Wild Ride, you get the same design, with scores and "EXTRA" indicators at the top, and lives, bonus counter and scene number at the bottom. From the three Kong Strikes Backs, the C64 version is really the only one to get the design close to the original. The AMSTRAD version has everything else at the bottom, except for the two bonus features, which are at the top of the screen. Even more oddly, the SPECTRUM version has all the informational things scattered all over the screen differently for each level.
|Level completion screens where available, left to right:|
Arcade, MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC.
You would expect some graphical acknowledgment when you complete a level, if only even a little such. In the original ARCADE game, the sky flashes pink and the background sort of jitters for a while, as you wave the flag at the exit of the roller coaster. The MSX version has no visual effects, but Mr. Do still waves the flag.
For Kong Strikes Back, the only additional graphics in level completion are featured in the C64 version, which features a large heart in the middle of the screen, which breaks in half before you enter the next coaster. In the AMSTRAD version, the visual effect, if you count it as such, is that the Mr. Do replacement and the four coaster cars are deleted from the screen as the bonuses are counted. The SPECTRUM version offers even less - all animation on the screen halts apart from the bonus and score counters.
|Mr. Do's Wild Ride - the other levels. Left: Arcade / Right: MSX.|
Here you can see all the further levels from the ARCADE game, two of which made the cut to the MSX conversion. The MSX version obviously differs in colour and detail, and the springed wrecking balls are (thankfully) missing. But we can see from the screenshot of "scene 5", which is the next phase of "scene 2", the increase in difficulty brings more obstacles to dodge - in this case, the blue randomly falling things. The last two arcade levels are missing from this picture, because I haven't gotten that far yet.
|Kong Strikes Back - the other levels. Left to right: ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.|
Kong himself is prominently featured as a graphical element in the fourth and final screen in Kong Strikes Back, but he does absolutely nothing of interest there, other than mime a statue. For other background graphics, the SPECTRUM version drops the backgrounds altogether once you have finished level 1, the AMSTRAD version continues to feature none, and the C64 version's final level features the horse carousel from the ARCADE game's level 5 in a slightly different manner. The level designs clearly differ between the three platforms, most glaringly on the AMSTRAD, but the SPECTRUM version's clarity does a lot to recommend itself. The most attractive thing about the AMSTRAD and C64 versions' graphics is the background colouring extension to the borders, each in different ways.
|Effects of the fire button. Left end: Arcade (yellow running aura).|
Others from left to right: ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 (bombs and explosions).
Between the two games, the only action you can do apart from walking around the roller coasters is different. For Wild Ride, you can run faster, which is visually represented by a glowing aura around Mr. Do in the ARCADE original, but the MSX version doesn't give any other visual indication than your running faster. For Kong Strikes Back, you are given bombs, which look a bit different for each version, and the imminent explosion has also been given some different visual effects.
In the SPECTRUM version, the collision of a bomb and a coaster car actually results in three small explosions: first, the two colliders together side by side, and about a second later, you get an additional small explosion for unknown reasons, which has no further effect on anything. Of course, everything is still monochrome black. The AMSTRAD version shows a more traditional explosion in a few shades between red and yellow, with small pixels flying around in eight directions. For the C64 version, the explosion looks more like a cloudburst of fire sparkles, which is nicely unusual.
|Losing a life. Top row, left to right: Arcade, MSX, ZX Spectrum.|
Bottom left: Amstrad CPC. Bottom right: Commodore 64.
|Visual bonus completion indicators for the Arcade (left) and ZX Spectrum (right) versions.|
The only two versions that acknowledge the BONUS/EXTRA letters getting completed with a proper message are the original ARCADE version and the SPECTRUM Kong version. In the ARCADE version, at the end of the level you complete the bonus letter sequence, you get a large black slab opened in the middle of the screen, with text being written on it, which you see above. The SPECTRUM version flashes the word "BONUS" in big, red letters for a while at the first possible moment, more often than not in the middle of action. There is a smaller acknowledgment in the AMSTRAD version, where finishing the bonus letter sequence immediately ignited two explosions in the middle of the screen, which isn't shown here, but you can see it in the video embedded at the bottom of this article.
|Game Over screens. Top row, left to right: Arcade, MSX, ZX Spectrum.|
Bottom left: Amstrad CPC. Bottom right: Commodore 64.
|Enter name for high score table. Left to right:|
Arcade, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.
Unlike with the Playability section, this time around we have a much clearer order of quality and/or preference, whichever you feel like I'm getting at here. The SPECTRUM version's overall clarity and unique approach really recommend itself above its missing qualities, but it's the C64 version that really gets the closest to the original game in terms of content, animations and colour. The MSX version is nice enough to look at, but is missing in texture, detail and colour. The AMSTRAD version loses much of detail with the super-wide pixels and the title screen is really very unattractive. So, the results are as follows:
2. COMMODORE 64
3. SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM
5. AMSTRAD CPC
For SID-chip enthusiasts, Kong Strikes Back features one of the most important and remarkable SID-tunes of its time. Composed by Martin Galway in 1984, before he was even hired by Ocean Software, the theme tune features the first acknowledged (commercial) use of arpeggios in SID music, as a technique to build full chords on just one of the chip's three channels. It also helps, that the tune is memorable, quite reminiscent of old ragtime piano tunes to go with the game's fairground theme. Looping at 42 seconds, the song is more on the line with classic NES tunes than what Galways would become later better known for. The sound effects aren't all that much to mention: you get a barely notable boom noise for picking up bonus items, which gets mixed up with other similar noises made by bouncing obstacles; an acknowledgable explosion noise for blowing up a bomb, and a series of bouncy noises when you lose a life and start bouncing all over the screen. Really, the single chiptune song is the star of the show here, even if it's not much by next year's standards.
The AMSTRAD version features the same tune, since Martin Galway wrote music and sounds for that one as well. The difference is, you get no arpeggios, and the sounds used are flatter and heavier on the low frequencies, but the sound effects are a bit more effective than on the C64. Not bad, just not as groundbreaking as the C64 music.
If the AMSTRAD and C64 versions feel too musical for your tastes, then grab a copy of the SPECTRUM version. It offers no music whatsoever, and the few sound effects are pure Speccy goodness - plenty of ticking and farting noises in not nearly as many variations as you might need. If you want to play the SPECTRUM version with AY-music, you will have to dig up a hacked version featuring music ripped from the CPC version.
Quite understandably, the original ARCADE game features a lot more music than any of the home versions. After all, it was made before most home computer music programmers even knew how to utilise their sound chips to their real advantage. That said, Mr. Do's Wild Ride's soundtrack isn't very prominent, and it's barely audible from behind all the noise that the roller coaster cars and obstacles are making. In a way, this is a realistic representation of fairgrounds in real life - you get some sort of a fairground soundtrack playing behind all the noise made by humans and machines around them, but you never really pay attention to it, until you can't hear it any longer. This atmosphere has been achieved very nicely in the arcade game, although I can't say how many tunes the soundtrack actually has - I counted three different ones from the levels and a couple of other little ditties and fanfares for completing levels and the eventual Game Over.
Last, but not least, the MSX version has the music featured more audibly than in the original. Although it only uses the first level tune from the original soundtrack, the other little ditties and fanfares have been kept in, so the MSX soundtrack is definitely a bit richer than any of the Ocean variants. And, of course, you get the few obligatory sound effects as well. With such evidence of a firm attempt and good intentions, there's no point in denying that more is more, even though Martin Galway's technical achievement in the C64 tune is important.
3. COMMODORE 64
4. AMSTRAD CPC
5. SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM
OVERALL + VIDEO
For the first time in the history of FRGCB, we have two possible Overall results, due to how the Playability section had to be optionalized. It's as much of a testament to how important a role one's personal nostalgia sometimes plays when trying to determine, what makes any specific game good, whether original or not; as it is to how important it is for any game developer to try and make the best of what's available. I used to love Kong Strikes Back when I was young, on both Spectrum and C64, but as I get older, the only really redeeming qualities the game has is nostalgia and the loading screen. The fact that Martin Galway took a big step in making the SID chip sound how we all now recognize it as with this game, can be considered a coincidence, but an important one.
So, here are both optional results:
1. ARCADE: Playability 5, Graphics 5, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 15
2. COMMODORE 64: Playability 4, Graphics 4, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 11
3. MSX: Playability 3, Graphics 2, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 9
4. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 2, Graphics 1, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 5
4. SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM: Playability 1, Graphics 3, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 5
1. ARCADE: Playability 1, Graphics 5, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 11
2. SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM: Playability 5, Graphics 3, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 9
2. MSX: Playability 3, Graphics 2, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 9
2. COMMODORE 64: Playability 2, Graphics 4, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 9
3. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 4, Graphics 1, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 7
And wouldn't you know it, option #2 looks a bit more... natural, I guess? Or does it? It's a tough one, this. Perhaps you would like to take a look at this video, just to make sure you understand better, what I'm getting at here...
But then, which one is the better game here - Mr. Do's Wild Ride or Kong Strikes Back? I'd say, it depends on your mood or what you've gotten used to. The faster running gag in Wild Ride makes it clearly less violent and strategic in a different way to the bombing ability in Kong Strikes Back, but both are good ideas in their own right. Try them out and decide for yourselves, folks.
That's it for now, hope that was worth the wait. Next time, I suppose I'll try to get something thematic done for Halloween, but no promises this time. Until then, stay safe and keep on retrogaming!