I honestly have no idea how this game is on my radar. Maybe in recent posts I've already expressed my thoughts on the endless runner genre, but in a nutshell - I'm really tired of it. It seems like every gaming system had one kind of genre that over saturated its market; NES had platformers, SNES & Genesis had a lot of 2D Fighters, most of the nextGen consoles love them some First Person Shooters... And the app store is busting at the seam with Endless Runners. Heck, I've only reviewed four games at this point and already two of them have been runners. Why are there so many???
And yet, here I am again reviewing the latest in the Endless Runner fad... Here I am again, enjoying it. Ladies and gentlemen: Banana Kong by FDG Entertainment.
Ugh, why do I do this to myself. I feel so burnt out. Everything about this game should raise every red flag in the book. Uninspired name, uninspired genre, uninspired premise. Yet for some reason it just pulled me in like a Scorpion "Get over here!" spear to the face. What was this invisible force? Well, for starters, it wasn't actually invisible. It was the graphics. I know I've gone on and on about how much I love retro, pixelated, 8-bit graphics and how they're the most pure form of gaming art in existence, but really what it comes down to is that I'll buy anything that doesn't use 3D models. I like my games to have that 2D attention to detail; You know, games that require actual artistic creativity and talent. Banana Kong's character art is reminiscent of Flash animation (one of my favs). You see it a lot in iPhone apps - Angry Birds being the most well-known example, but others include Zombieville USA and League of Evil 2 & 3. It's clean, it's smooth and it's polished. But what stands out even more in this game is the backgrounds. They are some of the most beautifully illustrated scenery you'll find for a game of this nature. They contrast the objects on the screen yet manage to be just subtle enough to not distract you from what you're actually doing. They're also layered perfectly to give you the illusion of depth as you run through the jungle landscape.
Clearly somebody had a vision for Banana Kong... Now if only that vision could have been applied in a few other areas. Let's start with the premise. You're Banana Kong - which means that you are obviously a gorilla who loves bananas. This is already shaping out to be annoyingly generic. It's a gorilla, so he's gotta' have the name Kong, because every gorilla in the entertainment industry is somehow related to some mysterious family of primates named the Kongs. On top of that, he's an ape, so he must LOVE bananas.
I've got it! ... Banana... Konggg. Banana Kong! Boom, package it.
I guess I shouldn't harp too much on the name, I feel like I've done that for the last two reviews, but come on people, it's not going to kill you to put a little bit of effort into a game that you clearly had enough love for to hand-draw those amazing backgrounds! Meh, whatever, a name's a name and I wouldn't mark a game down for something like that, but it would be to the benefit of the developers to name their app something that makes people go, "Oooo, what's this about?".
Back to the whole "monkeys love bananas" stuff, I bet you can't guess what this game's premise is. Think about what kind of game this is. It's an endless runner, so clearly our protagonist is running from something, right? Well, when you start the game, you see our hero, Banana Kong, eating from a pile of bananas and throwing the peels behind him. When you tap start, you hear a rumbling and Banana Kong turns around in fear and yells something that sounds like "Shikaka!". I'm serious, play the game, that's exactly what he's shouting. Hearing that sound, my first instinct was that he was running from some kind of giant bat, or at least some kind of horrible gorilla-eating jungle creature... But no, I was very wrong. Maybe I gave the developers of a game called "Banana Kong" too much credit. He's running from, wait for it...
A giant pile of banana peels.
A GIANT. PILE. OF. BANANA PEELS. Apparently this little gluttonous ape ate so many bananas that he created a pile of peels that stretches to the far ends of the jungle and has begun to topple over. This pile of banana peels is SO LARGE that I have a max run of 2,500 meters and that pile STILL caught up with me. HOW MANY BANANAS DID THIS STUPID MONKEY EAT! I eat ONE banana and I get indigestion. I eat TWO bananas and I'm out of commission. I eat THREE bananas and drink a can of sprite and I vomit all over the place. This gorilla has eaten MILLIONS OF BANANAS! And here's the thing, he's STILL eating them throughout this game! Instead of a coin system like most runners have, can you guess what kind of currency you use for Banana Kong? That's right, bananas. The originality is just flowing like milk and honey for this game. When you collect a banana, the peel goes flying off the screen behind you, which I imagine adds to that monstrous pile of banana peels chasing you, thus adding to this gorilla's demise.
I have a theory about Endless Runners which makes them more interesting to me. The characters are actually in some deranged version of hell where they are forced to endlessly run from their fears, and if they get caught, they die and have to do it all over again for eternity. The idea that Banana Kong is in hell makes this game a little more interesting, no?
Okay, fine, maybe I took a light-hearted game to a darker place. This game was clearly aimed at kids, so don't worry, kids, he's totally in Banana Heaven:
I'm getting sidetracked. The gameplay itself is rather simple, when you tap the screen, Banana Kong jumps - This will be your main command. As with most runners, the goal is to dodge obstacles by jumping. If you hold your finger down while in the air, you will float downward using a giant leaf as a parachute. If you're on a platform and you swipe downward, you'll drop a level. If you're in the air and swipe downward, you'll quickly thrust downward to the ground. This move is mostly used when you need to quickly get out of the way of something, or if you want to bounce higher on a bouncing object (such as a flower or a treetop).
When you collect enough bananas, your banana meter will fill up allowing you to do a super dash forward (this is done by swiping to the right). This dash is used for a few of reasons. it will break any obstacle in front of you or if the pile of bananas is catching up to you, it will give you a boost away from them. But the most fun reason to use this dash is for entering secret areas. Occasionally you'll come across a pipe sticking out of the water - Dashing into this pipe will allow you to enter an underwater stage, reminiscent of the Super Mario underwater levels. You tap the screen to swim and avoid piranha, jelly fish, squids and other dangerous sea creatures. You're also no longer being chased by bananas, but a crocodile instead. I personally hate the underwater stages, as I did with Mario.
Dashing into a boarded off cave will send you beneath the earth. There's not a whole lot different going on here from the surface, but it's a lot harder.
Doing a dash while swinging from a vine sends you above the trees where you're bouncing on treetops and collecting TONS of bananas. This, again, is reminiscent of Super Mario Brothers, where you would climb a vine and collect coins in the clouds.
There's not much else to the game. Every now and then you can run into a jungle animal who will carry you through their respective scenery and allow you to collect more bananas while you dodge oncoming obstacles. They don't add much value to the game except for mixing it up once in a while - Which is a nice touch because, like most runners, this game will get boring if you play it for too long.
What I had the most fun accomplishing in this game was collecting enough bananas to buy hats and different skins for your leaf parachute. Something about customizable skins has always appealed to me, so I always get excited when this feature is implemented. Some of the hats/leaves are pretty creative with a few unlikely homages thrown into the mix such as Guile from Street Fighter and Super Saiyan hair from Dragonball Z.
I don't always play my apps with the sound on because I'm usually watching tv or listening to a podcast when I'm playing them, but on those ever-so-fun bathroom breaks, I have that volume FULL BLAST. Because it's rare that my phone isn't muted, I want to be wow'd when I finally switch that sound on. Sadly there's not all that much impressive going on audibly with this game. Something about the music just takes away most of the experience for me. Sometimes it's okay, and it certainly captures that jungle theme they're going for, but it almost reminds me a little too much of the music they play right before a commercial break for a Saturday morning cartoon. Don't believe me? Next time you're playing this game, say the words, "We'll be right back with more Banana Kong right after this commercial break!" ... It fits a little too well. Something about the electric horns, it just sounds like stock music or something. I'm not a fan. The sound fx are alright, but they're actually missing a few. For instance, when you grab a power-up, you don't hear anything. Many times you won't even know you picked one up until bananas magically start gravitating toward you and you realize, "Oh look, I have the magnet power-up! W00t!".
So what's left to say about Banana Kong? For all the bashing I've probably been doing, the fact remains that this is a very well-made game. The graphics are amazing, the controls are smooth and responsive, the gameplay is addicting and the extras are a lot of fun. My only gripe is that it doesn't reinvent the wheel at all. It's your standard runner and when there's games out there like Jetpack Joyride and Gravity Guy, you need to up your game (so to speak) to be relevant. My problem is that Banana Kong has a lot of elements that I think make for an interesting franchise if handled correctly, but like most iOS games, it copped out and went on to become a standard runner when, in my opinion, it could have benefited more from another genre. That being said, as an endless runner, it's still worth playing and I believe you'll still get the most out of spending your bathroom breaks earning new parachutes and goofy hats for our little banana-addict (Banaddict if you will - That's what they should have called it). So, Banana Kong, you've earned yourself the Silver status of "BATHROOM BREAK BALLER"! Give yourself a celebratory banana!