One of the most popular varieties of indie titles are retro throwback games. These are homages to seemingly bygone eras of gaming – eras defined by bit counts and dimly lit arcades.
One of the defining arcade titles of the 1980s was the original Donkey Kong. In this old-school romp, you took control of a little red-hatted moustachioed man named Mario (in his first-ever appearance) as you go through four levels to save your girlfriend, Pauline, from the titular pissed-off ape.
It’s a simple premise and a title that gets more difficult the farther you go on, but that’s the nature of the ape-like beast. It’s a quarter muncher, after all.
Castle Kong, developed and published by Drowning Monkeys Games, seeks to recapture the magic of the original Donkey Kong while putting their own spin on it. In this title, you play as a medieval peasant who sets off to save the beautiful PrincessGirl from the evil, king-like BaronMan. And that’s it.
The game is advertised as having 22 levels and four stages. I initially thought that meant four worlds with 22 levels spread throughout them. What it actually meant was four levels, like in the original Donkey Kong, with 22 levels of rising difficulty. And goodness, does that difficulty get up there – much like its arcadey inspiration, Castle Kong can be rather difficult.
But perhaps the word inspiration gives Castle Kong too much credit. It has a pixel art style that clearly pays homage to games of the 1980s and early 1990s. It has music that’s very reminiscent of the original DK game. The controls even feel exactly the same, complete with stiff jumps and deaths that result from falling off of platforms.
It doesn’t help that Castle Kong is a little bit buggy, too. Twice when I tried to load into a game, the graphics outright failed to load. I could hear my little peasant man running around and jumping, but all I could see was the HUD at the top of the screen.
The biggest issue in Castle Kong is its lack of identity. It’s not so much an homage to Donkey Kong as it is a blatant clone. Perhaps that’s okay in regards for the PC version available through Steam, as that’s free-to-play, but the Nintendo Switch version here costs $6.99 USD.
Perhaps there would have been more incentive to pick up this title last year. Throughout 2020, the developers had a reward of $5,000 USD available to the first person to livestream themselves beating the game. A neat sales gimmick, sure, but now that the contest is over, all that is left is a subpar DK clone.
All the while, the NES version of Donkey Kong is available via the NES app on Switch for those who have a Nintendo Switch online account. And while that’s definitely not a great version of Donkey Kong (it’s missing a level), it still feels like a better package than Castle Kong here.
If you’re craving some Donkey Kong action, then open up your NES App. Or download Castle Kong for free on PC.
Hell, if you’re a big fan of Nintendo’s tie-wearing ape, even pick up Donkey Kong ’94 on the Game Boy. That game features not just a remake of the original arcade game, but also includes around 100 brand new levels focused on puzzle solving, all the while giving Mario himself a moveset that feels similar to the one later used in the New Super Mario Bros. games.
But avoid Castle Kong on the Switch. It’s not a bad game. But my goodness, does it lack any identity of its own. There are much better ways to spend seven bucks on the eShop.