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Up from (Super) Obscurity

Last week's article examined the cyber-mutant exploits of Wolfchild, who starred in his own SNES platformer despite wearing extremely odd shoulder-rings and occasionally turning into a werewolf.
This week's Endangered SNESpecies keeps with that shape-shifting theme (albeit in reverse) with:
Shape-shifting in reverse, you say?
Unlike last week's Mr. Wolfchild (who started as a human, then turned into a super-somewhat-powerful werewolf upon gathering the right power-up), Congo started as a monkey...
(Congo's in the front row, second from the right)
But then some of the enemies from Super Buster Bros descended from the heavens,
and Congo and his girlfriend were turned into half-monkey/half-cavemen beings!
Before Congo and She-Congo (Mrs. Congo?) have even started to deal with the ramifications of transforming into demi-humans (for example: now they have to wear pants), they learn another unfortunate lesson about magic space balloons:
They often attract unwanted attention from...
Bat-Winged Girlfriend-Kidnapping Demons!
Yes, purple-haired bat-boy takes a page out of Satan's play-book and swoops in to kidnap She-Congo. (Oh, and to add insult to injury, he finds the time to poke Congo with a pitchfork and revert him to his original monkey state).
But fortunately for Congo, today's weather is lousy with red gems -- and he's off!
Who is this "Congo", and how does he "Caper?"
Well, it's a caveman-whomping romp by Data East, so...
Think Joe and Mac
And on the surface, it seems like that's all there is to it...but there's a few important differences:
A few noteworthy bonuses
And random "slot machine"-like bonus ice cube item, which give you a (not very good) chance of getting extra lives.
Damage makes a monkey out of Congo
Instead of Joe and Mac's one-hit kills (that happens, right?), one hit turns a healthy half-human Congo back into his original monkey form. And one more tap while you're a monkey?
It seals your MONKEY FATE!
But just like in the cut-scenes, if you gather another red sphere, you're turned back from Monkey to Demi-Human, with all the extra hit (and tail) which that entails.
And if you get red spheres while you're ALREADY a human? You might see those little blue ovals at the top left corner of the screen turn red,
and you might assume that's extra hitpoints. But you'd be WRONG. In a peculiar design decision, those only become hit-points if you get THREE of them: if you're just at 0, 1 or 2 -- one hit and you're a monkey again.
But if you manage to get three at once, you turn into SUPER-CONGO -- who can super-jump twice as high and is always surrounded by festive sparkles! Moreover, you now take three hits (one for each red oval) before you turn back into REGULAR Congo again!
(I didn't get a picture of Super Congo, so here's the monkey looking psychotic instead)
The hero's limited tool use
For an idea about Congo's controls, let's look at the key configuration:
So he can only attack and jump -- that's pretty similar to Joe and/or Mac. But while they earned their "caveman ninja" subtitle by grabbing subweapons which turned their clubs into stone-axe-launchers or flamethrowers, Congo never gets any projectiles to go with his lowly wooden cudgel.
That's not to say that you're helpless: aside from clubbing, you can stun most enemies for a good long time by jumping on fact, when it comes to the game's most common foot-soldiers:
The enemy cavemen are as tools
You can stun them by jumping on them or clubbing them, then you can finish them off by clubbing them again. As they fly off-screen, they'll also defeat any enemies THEY happen to bump into.
OR you can bounce off their stunned heads to jump even higher than your normal up+jump "Super-Jump".
Alternately you can start pushing them...
...and press "attack" again to shove them off in a rolling ball of destruction worthy of a koopa shell!
(Though if they hit a wall...well, they ricochets like a koopa shell, too)
In fact, several bosses are only hurt when you bounce cavemen into them.
Another difference from Joe and Mac: your pick-a-path starts off limited...
You have to beat the first 4 stages to reach Mrs. Congo and fight Devil Bat-Boy and his pet T-rex. After you've defeated his dinosaur, you take the next logical step:
of following him down the dinosaur's throat,
fighting him somewhere in the creature's lower intestine,
and rescuing a monkey who turns out to be Mrs. Congo!
But then -- in true video game villain fashion -- Devil Bat-Boy rinses and repeats.
But this time he's taken a tip from ANOTHER great video game villain: like some kind of prehistoric Dr. Wily, Devil Bat-Boy has gathered four ridiculously-themed bosses.
Left to right: Pirate Caveman, Ninja Caveman, Vampire Caveman, Milhouse.
They each run one of the next four sort-of elementally-themed worlds, and you can choose to tackle the worlds in any order.
(Clockwise from top-right):
Water — Pirate's world.
Earth — Vampire's world.
Fire — Milhouse's world.
Air — Ninja's world.
Unfortunately you don't get any cool items from beating each boss...
But some of the levels in each world have some pretty neatly-themed features:
The water world has some stages where the water rises and falls almost the entire height of the level, making parts of the level/bonus items become available/not available.
Throughout the entire Earth/Ghost-World, if you kill Cavemen, they come back to haunt you as invulnerable ghosts! (So you want to either just stun them, or make sure there's a 5W light bulb near by to make them disappear)
The Fire World has plenty of horrible lava pits which shoot fireballs to try to screw up your jumps, but it ALSO has some neat rising/falling landmass levels where you have to climb hills as they jaggedly melt away!
And the Air World contains enough sliding/disappearing platforms to make you question the existence of a kind and merciful god.
Oh, did I mention the learning curve?
Congo's Caper doesn't have a "difficulty curve" as much as "difficulty land-mines."
And I'm not talking about a "they concentrated all the game's difficulty in the last level" kind of thing like in Power Piggs (where it goes from cake-walk to bamboo-under-the-fingernails before you can see the credits).
The simplicity of Congo's Caper, the not-infrequent health-power-ups, and the lack of text in the story scenes all made me think it was a game aimed at younger players.
A lot of the levels seem to support this theory: While the first two boss fights (T-rex and Bat-Boy) were kind of hard, the next world I went to I found a secret level-end sign 2 screen-lengths from where I started.
And if you get a good rolling-down-a-hill-into-an-invulnerable-ball going, you can breeze through some of the early levels without even taking your finger off the "Right" button:
So I thought I was in for an easy ride. Then I found one of the game's several sucker-punches: not just the Giant Boulder Run that kills you instantly if you get caught (we saw something similar, albeit easier, when you have to run from the T-Rex through a cave before you get to fight him),
But here's an example of the game's difficulty land-mines: in one level you end up with a jump that's "unwinable" with your normal caveman/monkey powers. The first 3 or 4 jumps are hard but possible; it's that old trick of knowing when to super-jump vs. NOT super-jump (when the super-jump will hit the ceiling and make you fall too soon). But eventually you get to a jump that's just too far...
UNLESS you've collected all 3 EXTRA red gems to turn you in to SPARKLEY CONGO, AND you know that he can "float" downwards AFTER reaching the apex of your Sparkley Congo super-jump if you repeatedly press the "Jump" button.
I won't play through to the incredibly difficult stuff again just to get pictures of me missing the impossible jump, here's the Crazy-Eye Monkey Stare again!
Somewhere in every Element Boss stage select world (except Water World) there's a level that seems to have one of these "good luck, sucker" sequences -- where your normal platforming tools are insufficient, and you're required to gain enough power-ups to use one of your extra-special powers to even survive.
It's like there's a sadistically subtle "puzzle" aspect to the game!
LATE BREAKING NEWS: It turns out that if you hold the "L" or "R" shoulder-buttons, Congo runs at double-speed.
This may help with some of the difficult/almost-impossible parts, but I'm still calling shenanigans: if you have a game with button-configuration, that button configuration should list ALL your options (even if for some reason it doesn't let you re-configure the "Dash" buttons). BAH!
And to that, I say...
But let's end on a happier note!
I'd bet you think Data East's mascot cameos probably all involve Karnov -- but Congo's Caper is here to disprove that.
Some of the bonus levels (found when you rescue the friendly pink pterodactyl) feature cameos from:
A statue of Joe (or Mac?) from Joe and Mac
(It's not surprising, because it seems like Congo exists in the same geological epoch as Joe and/or Mac)
But what IS surprising is that there's also a cameo by...
Mr. Hotdog and the Multi-Level Hamburgers from Burgertime!
I don't know what can be said to top here's Congo mooning us:
— carlmarksguy, 2014-02-21
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