Review – Skull Island: Rise of Kong

We are back with another episode of “tackling the WORST GAME OF THE YEAR, at least according to the general consensus on the internet”. This was a game I was extremely (and morbidly) curious to try out. Initial reviews of Skull Island: Rise of Kong were some of the lowest I had ever witnessed on an aggregator website. Ones and twos were rampant. Things got so heated up to the point of the developers apologizing a few days after the game’s release, also citing the poor working conditions they were given under the tight deadline imposed by the publisher.

Steam reviewers cited the port crashing their GPUs’ drivers. Nintendo Switch reviews cited crashes, glitches, and poor performance. I went with the Xbox Series port of the game, expecting the worst. That was the shocking bit about it all: I did not experience glitches or poor hardware performance. Granted, I wasn’t exactly playing a good game, far from it, but Skull Island: Rise of Kong ended up being ALMOST passable. I don’t know if I should heave a sigh in relief or feel extra disappointed with the fact I just played a very mediocre platformer, not an ironically entertaining dumpster fire.

Skull Island: Rise of Kong

It’s like you’re playing a half-mediocre fan attempt at making a linear 3D Donkey Kong game.

I’m not even going to try to understand or explain the reasoning behind wanting to make a King Kong game in the year 2023. I understand when GameMill greenlights a game based on Nickelodeon or DreamWorks characters, but King Kong? As in, a game not exactly tied to any movie, just the franchise itself? Yeah, that was a bit odd, not to mention putting the development team under such harsh deadlines. It’s not like there was an upcoming Kong movie or anything, nor the hottest of desires towards an origin story that showcased why King Kong is so angry… and not much else. But this is what we have; a game showcasing Kong’s rise from dumb baby chimp to equally dumb, mid-sized gorilla, in a by-the-books action platformer.

The game starts off with the player guiding one of King Kong’s parents. It was never clear whether or not I was playing as Daddy Kong or Momma Kong; all I knew was that the monkey in question was shockingly similar to Primal Rage‘s Blizzard in terms of design. The fact one of the attacks at your disposal was literally called “Primal Rage” made me think this wasn’t mere coincidence. If that was the case, I commend the devteam for the obscure but nostalgic reference.

Skull Island: Rise of Kong cutscenes

Those cutscenes… true art.

Anyway, after venturing through a very basic but serviceable tutorial level, teaching me all of the (unnecessarily many) mechanics at my disposal, I was told to fight an overpowered dinosaur. I wasn’t able to kill it. Apparently, that was intentional, as dying in said boss fight triggered a cutscene showcasing baby King Kong crying at his parents’ death. Fast forward a few years, I am now playing as adult Kong, still hungering for vengeance. This is basically the kind of plot we’re dealing with. The rest of the game’s story would revolve around pointless cutscenes showcasing how Kong would earn new powers, whilst still looking for his parents’ killer, all accompanied by hilarious character animations and a truly baffling sound design.

Let’s change things up and start with talking about the sound department, because this is some truly shocking s***. We are talking about a game which sounds, in its entirety (with the exception of the half-decent theme song in the main menu), like some horrendously lo-fi crap recorded with the same wax recorder technology used in the late 1800s. The Prohibition-era music recordings in Bioshock Infinite sound like FLAC music in comparison. It wasn’t only the music, mind you: the cutscene narration and sound effects suffer from the same glitch. At least I think it is a glitch, I hope it’s a glitch, because it couldn’t have been an intentional design choice.


Sure, I’d love to check my current position on this damn island… if I were able to figure out where I am on it.

Skull Island: Rise of Kong became notorious before and after its launch due to the nature of its hilarious cutscenes. They are, indeed, so bad they are actually entertaining. This is the closest to the “ironically entertaining dumpster fire” bit I mentioned in the beginning of the review, because the rest of its presentation isn’t particularly terrible, though not very good either. It features a pseudo cel-shaded art style, complete with some atrocious post processing effects (using any kind of strong attack plasters the screen with an ugly wind distortion effect), but also a neat usage of colors and some half-decent lighting. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very janky, and the animations are really poor, but I expected a lot worse.

Furthermore, the game did not crash or even run at a poor framerate. I don’t know if I ended up hitting the jackpot with a blessed port, but on Xbox Series S of all damn places, Skull Island: Rise of Kong ran at a rock-solid 60fps. Loading times weren’t terrible, and not once did the game crash on me. Again, considering how even the Steam port was showcasing horrendous glitches, I was ready for a disaster. Nope, just some solid mediocrity.

Skull Island: Rise of Kong bosses

Those bosses have more health and bulk than a Chansey holding an Eviolite.

As for the gameplay itself, it’s just serviceable enough. Skull Island: Rise of Kong is an action-platformer, where you guide your dumb monkey through a series of levels, killing a crap ton of small animals and the occasional boss. You have a light attack, a heavy attack, a parrying dash, a ranged rock throw and some other moves at your disposal, though you can get by through most encounters by simple mashing the X button ad nauseum, and dodging some obviously telegraphed attacks every now and then. There was no need to give Kong that many moves, and even a skill tree, but the combat itself worked well enough. Not deeply interesting (though grabbing a tree and using it as a baseball bat was mildly entertaining), but functional enough.

Whilst the platforming controls are equally responsive, exploring each level with your platforming skills ain’t fun at all. The level design isn’t good at all. It’s incredibly easy to get lost in the middle of a level, given how samey everything looks, and how never-ending each level can be. Some chapters can last for up to two hours, which is way too much time for a game like this. To make matters worse, the two guidance tools you have at your disposal are pretty much useless. Kong can perform a roar in order to see which direction to go next, but the game never properly points you to the correct direction. You also have access to a map, but here’s the kicker: the map doesn’t tell you where you are in it. Useless, to say the very least.

Skull Island: Rise of Kong visuals

Loved the fact I’m supposed to be a gigantic monkey, but every single tree and bush was as big as well, making me just feel like a normal-sized gorilla.

I was sure Skull Island: Rise of Kong was going to be a surefire disaster of biblical proportions, but its Xbox Series port just ended up being a halfway competent, albeit an utterly mediocre platformer. It has some borderline acceptable controls and performance, but is marred by poor level design, uninteresting combat, hilarious cutscenes, and possibly the worst sound design to be included in a commercially released video game. It’s not as bad as it’s being touted, nor is it the worst game of the year (I’ve played dozens of vastly worse titles in 2023 alone), but I’d never recommend grabbing this one up in a million years. The fact it’s just wholly mediocre doesn’t even make it worthy of an ironic playthrough, which is almost its biggest sin.


Graphics: 4.5

It’s a cheap and janky art style, with some atrocious post-processing effects, though I did like the color palette and the so-bad-they’re-great cutscenes. The game also surprisingly ran at a stable 60fps.

Gameplay: 6.0

The camera works decently enough, the controls are responsive (with the exception of the strong attack button), and the performance is shockingly stable. Even though the combat is repetitive as all hell, there was a modicum of depth to it. The level design, on the other hand, was extremely confusing.

Sound: 1.5

Every single song and sound effect, with the exception of the title theme in the main menu (the reason why this score wasn’t even lower), is so horrendously compressed to the point they all sound like they were recorded in wax back in 1889.

Fun Factor: 5.0

I expected a disaster of biblical proportions and what I got instead was a subpar action platformer that felt like a student’s attempt at making a 3D Donkey Kong Country knockoff. It’s far from being a good game, but it was also surprisingly a lot more enjoyable than anticipated, and not for the wrong reasons.

Final Verdict: 5.0

Skull Island: Rise of Kong is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC, and Nintendo Switch.

Reviewed on Xbox Series S.