Congo Bongo – Ending the year with a 30 year old classic

by Pat B on December 28, 2012

Hello Everyone!
Well, this is my last retro game review of 2012. This past year flew by as it seems like it was only yesterday that I was kicking the year off with my Captain Skyhawk review. It was a great year for retro video games and retro video game collecting. The video game collecting community has ballooned in size and now includes all kinds of people searching out their favorite childhood games.
Over the last year, I was lucky enough to add some of my favorites to my collection like the Jaguar CD and Turbo Grafx Express. A couple weeks ago you may have heard me on the Play On! Podcast talking about my most recent addition to my collection, the Atari 400. I was super excited about adding this console to the collection as it’s a mix of retro computing and retro gaming all in one console. So, I figured would end this year by reviewing a game for it, Sega’s Congo Bongo, enjoy!

Congo Bongo – Atari 400, 800, 1200XL, Arcade, ColecoVision

Congo Bongo was released back in 1983. It was developed and published by Sega. This was one of the first home console games ever developed by Sega. In the early 80’s, Sega was new to the world of console gaming as it was mostly focused on arcade game development. Sega even produced the first arcade game in America that cost 25₵ to play. Anyways, Sega saw the success of a game called “Donkey Kong” and wanted to cash in on the gorilla video game genre.

Sega's 1964 arcade hit, Periscope, the first arcade game in America to cost 25 cents to play.

Sega’s 1964 arcade hit, Periscope, the first arcade game in America to cost 25 cents to play.

Shortly after Donkey Kong was released, Sega released Congo Bongo. It’s sales were poor but the game itself was whored out to almost every other game console ever produced. It’s even been re-released on the PS2 and PS3 on multiple “Best of Sega” titles which features games developed by Sega from its early days. With the game appearing on so many different systems, people got to know it. If you were a big gamer back in the early 80’s, you were practically force fed this game.
Game Play
Congo Bongo follows the story of an ape named “Bongo.” Bongo apparently lit the tent of a hunter on fire back in the day and well, that really pissed the hunter off. So, the hunter decided to get revenge on Bongo by chasing after him through 4 levels of a video game.
This game is a 2-D platformer. Back in the day though, this game was called a “Jumper.” In the late 70’s and early 80’s, games that featured a character that jumped as their only means of attack or defense were commonly referred to as a “Jumper” game. The first Mario Brothers game and Donkey Kong were also stamped with the Jumper classification along with Congo Bongo.
Early "Jumper" games, Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong.

Early “Jumper” games, Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong.

The term “platformer” popped up and eventually became the term to define the genre. It was a more general term to cover a whole scope of games that still featured the jumper game play but didn’t focus on it. This general categorization of video games eventually led to games being more specifically categorized by the content of their story rather than their game play. Now, don’t get me wrong here, games are still heavily categorized by their game play style but with the advancements in story telling, video games are being referred to more and more as a “horror game” or a “Zombie game” or a “Fantasy game.”
Moving on, the original Congo Bongo features 4 levels but the Atari 400 version only has two. The first level is the classic jumping and climbing style level where Bongo sits on top of a hill that you have to climb. You have to dodge what appears to be coconuts that Bongo throws down the hill while avoiding monkeys that climb on you that can throw you off the hill. There’s also a small stream that flows down the hill that you have to jump over. Touching water will kill you so you have to be careful around this stream of death. Once you reach the top of the hill and come face to face with Bongo, the level is over.

Congo Bongo Game Play for the Atari 400

The second level is a Frogger-esque style level where you have to cross a lagoon by jumping on Hippos that swim back and forth in the water. Bongo sits on one side of the level and all you have to do is reach his side. Both of these levels are extremely basic in their layout, it’s the controls that make them challenging.
The first level is laid out like a Q-bert level where the map is slightly rotated so you’re looking at it from an angle. This view makes it difficult to judge jumps or dodge things that Bongo throws at you because you’re looking at them from the side, not head on. Since the controls and the player movement are pretty stiff, reacting quickly to something is near impossible. You have to remember that when you go back and play something on an Atari system, you have to use the good ole Atari joystick, which is a classic controller, but lacks the more forgiving movements that today’s thumbsticks offer.

Here you can see the similarities between the first level of Congo Bongo and Qbert

Here you can see the similarities between the first level of Congo Bongo and Qbert

With the wonky angled perspective on the first level and the rigid controls, Congo Bongo can be more challenging than you would expect it to be. In order to succeed at this game, you have to throw out everything you know and expect from a modern game and think simple. Jump in straight lines, you will make a jump if you’ve timed it right, holding down the jump button won’t make you jump further, and stay away from water, there’s no swimming in this game.
C’mon, you know how this is gonna go. This an Atari 400 game from the early 80’s so graphically, it’s gonna be pretty basic looking. I will say that I think the Atari 400 version is the worst looking version of the game. Compared to the Colecovision or even the Intellivision version, the Atari 400 iteration lacks detail that seemingly every other console of the time was able to pull off with the exception of the Atari 2600 version, it’s so bad that it doesn’t count. Details like general character animations and backgrounds are as plain it gets compared to other versions that simply look spruced up a bit. That bit of sprucing up goes a long way when compared to the Atari 400 version.
Here's three versions of Congo Bongo.  You can see how the graphics vary greatly from system to system

Here’s three versions of Congo Bongo. You can see how the graphics vary greatly from system to system

This game does feature some music and sound effects that vary from console to console. Compared to other versions of the game, the Atari 400 version is the least obnoxious sounding of the bunch. There’s a basic tone that plays every time you jump that sounds like the basic jumping sound from early arcade games. Beyond that, there’s really no other game sounds.
As for the music in this game, well, it’s repetitive. The same ditty gets played over and over again but it’s a fitting song for the kind of game this is. A simple doting tune that matches the simple doting action on the screen. The only time the music changes is when you die. When that happens, your character turns into an angel and floats up to heaven while an almost apologetic sounding little tune plays. Seriously, it’s the musical equivalent of someone saying “Sorry, you died but it’s a video game and that can happen, just be more careful next time.”
Collectibility – Common
As far as collectibility goes, this game is like the last game I reviewed, you’re not adding it to your collection because it’s worth a lot of money. While this game is very common with it appearing on so many different systems, it still has value for the collector simply based on its history. Since this is one of the first home console games developed by Sega and it has the oddball title of being the direct rip off of Donkey Kong, it’s worth having in your collection in my opinion.
Average Value – $5-$10 loose based on pricing from
Rarity – Common
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone! Thank you for reading this past year and I’ll see all of you in 2013! Happy Gaming and Happy Collecting!
Follow Pat’s Retro Video Game Reviews on Twitter @PatsGameReviews or you can hear me on the Play On! Podcast right here on Planet Arbitrary or on iTunes!

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Dominik December 31, 2012 at 6:55 am

Nostalgia attack in 3…2…1…


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