Hong Kong ’97 Review

There are varying degrees of bad games. There are games with glaring flaws, but also boast enough redeeming qualities to make them worth a look. Then there are games that are mostly bad, but have a few qualities that show that, at one point, the game may have had some promise. After that there are games so bad you might get some entertainment out how hilariously terrible they are. Those are followed by games so atrocious that it’s no longer funny. They’re just flat-out broken.

Below all of that, we have Hong Kong ’97.

If you’ve never heard of it – something you should be thankful for, and I’m sorry if I’m serving as your introduction to it – there’s a good reason for that. Hong Kong ’97’s release is still one of gaming’s great mysteries. All that’s known is that in 1995, a company known as HappySoft LTD desperately tried to get their one and only title into video game stores as an unofficial release on the Super Famicom (the Japanese Super Nintendo), but that few retailers (if any) would take it.

Years passed, and along came the internet, which allowed gamers to finally satisfy whatever sick curiosity they may have had for the game. Whether through questionable downloading, or by indie retailers putting the game on an SNES cartridge as some kind of joke, people were finally able to see exactly why no one wanted to sell it to begin with. Hong Kong ’97 is abysmal in every regard.

Honestly, Hong Kong ’97 is difficult to describe in mere words. Just about every aspect of the game is as baffling and absurd as they are atrociously designed. But this is a review, so we have to give it a shot.

First, let’s start with the music. As soon as you start the game (and I mean as soon as you start the game), you are bombarded with a five-second loop of the Chinese song “I Love Beijing Tiananmen” repeatedly. It never stops. Through the opening cutscene to a game over, and everything in between, the first two lines of I Love Beijing Tiananmen are constantly looped, without any break or pause under any circumstance. Also, it’s the only element of sound in the game, as there are no other music tracks, and zero sound effects to speak of.

As dumbfounding as this audio “quality” is, it’s actually the least of Hong Kong ’97’s slip-ups. Next, let’s talk about that notorious opening cinematic.

“Desperate much?”

After multiple screens of text asking retailers that HappySoft will buy and sell games, you are introduced to the “story” of the game. In 1997, the Transfer of Sovereignty over Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China is taking place (an accurate prediction on the game’s part). To counter the threat of Chinese rule, the Hong Kong government assigns Chin (represented by a stock photo of Jackie Chan) – an unspecified relative of Bruce Lee – to wipe out “All 1.2 billion f***in’ ugly reds.”

Wait, that’s not all.

To combat Chin, the Chinese government is researching a means to take the deceased Chinese leader Tong Shao Ping (represented by a stock photo of real-life, former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who was still alive at the time of the game’s release), and transform him into an “ultimate weapon.”

My words simply can’t do this intro justice. This opening cinematic is just so absurd on so many levels that it has to be seen to be believed.

“This picture is beyond a thousand words.”

After the opening, the “game” immediately and abruptly begins without warning. Players take control of Chin in what basically looks like a parody of the shoot-em-up genre. Chin throws nonspecific white balls at enemies, who appear from the top of the screen. Occasionally, car enemies will appear from the sides of the screen. Defeat three cars (something that takes about a minute and a half), and the “ultimate weapon” Tong Shao Ping appears (still little more than the same photo of Deng Xiaoping’s head from the intro). Defeat Tong Shao Ping, and everything starts over. The gameplay (I use that word very loosely) is just an asinine, endless loop, much like the music.

Weirder still, the backgrounds that the action takes place on are all random stock photos, ranging from Maoist propaganda to the Coca-Cola logo (of which I doubt Coco-Cola gave any consent).

The bizarre visuals don’t stop there. Every enemy you defeat turns into a poorly-cropped photo of a nuclear explosion, with Tong Shao Ping exploding into dozens of square-contained mushroom clouds. It’s downright laughable.

Oh, and should you get hit even once, you are immediately (IMMEDIATELY) taken to the game over screen, which has got to be Hong Kong ’97’s most tasteless element (and that’s saying something).

Hong Kong ’97’s game over screen is notorious for showing what appears to be a real-life crime scene photo of a body, due to the date and time being featured in the corner of the picture (though the horrendous pixelation makes it difficult to discern the more graphic aspects of the photo, thankfully). Call me overly sensitive, but this isn’t a history book or something where the use of such a photo would have any kind of context. Having a photo like this in a game is just distasteful.

After the offensive game over screen, you go back to the opening of the game (the part where HappySoft is desperate to buy and sell games). You can speed up the screens of the intro, but you can’t skip it outright. Get hit just once and you have to view it all over again.

There’s really nothing else to say. As a game, Hong Kong ’97 is as poorly-designed as they come. It doesn’t have any redeeming qualities. It’s empty, shallow and broken. But what makes Hong Kong ’97 all the worse is how distasteful it is: the desperate advertising in the opening, using brand logos and celebrity likenesses without any permission, and worst of all, using what is probably a real photo of a violent crime scene as a game over screen make Hong Kong ’97 a “game” that knows no shame.

Up until this point, my rating scale has remained a 1 through 10 system. But Hong Kong ’97 has broken me and my rating system. Hong Kong ’97 deserves nothing more than nothing.




Author: themancalledscott

Born of cold and winter air and mountain rain combining, the man called Scott is an ancient sorcerer from a long-forgotten realm. He’s more machine now than man, twisted and evil. Or, you know, he could just be some guy who loves video games, animations and cinema who just wanted to write about such things.

13 thoughts on “Hong Kong ’97 Review”

  1. There are numerous conflicting rumors as to the identity of the corpse in that photo used for the game over screen. Some believe it to be the aftermath of Polish boxer Leszek Błażyński’s suicide while others claim it’s camera footage capturing the assassination of Atef Bseiso, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) head of intelligence. Both men died in 1992, but the truth doesn’t seem to be fully known. Then again, considering that Hong Kong ‘97 was ostensibly made in a week, it’s not terribly surprising in hindsight that the extent of HappySoft’s laziness would lead them to appropriate a picture of a corpse into their game.

    Also, what word would you use to describe a 0/10? It would have to be something worse than abysmal. Maybe it’s whatever word the AVGN dropped at the end of his Godzilla review?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Goodness, there’s no bottom to Hong Kong ’97’s well of desperation, is there?

      I see you’ve read my “scoring system” page, something I’m very grateful for (judging by the stats for my site, it seems most people only read what’s immediately available on the homepage. I added the different pages for convenience, all my reviews can be found in their respective pages! Why does no one use them?!). I’ve actually been meaning to update both my About page and the Scoring System page, with the latter using examples of games/movies I’ve reviewed for every category, on top of the “word” and description.

      I may have to find out what that word AVGN used was. If not, I’ll just have to think of another word for a zero. I’m tempted to even just label zero as “Hong Kong ’97,” except that I may re-score the “animated film” Food Fight as such and, believe it or not, I now own another game that may warrant the score (I actually don’t own Hong Kong ’97 myself, but my friend, once again, found an SNES cartridge of it and was insistent I review it).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Another game that warrants a zero? Uh-oh, did you play Ride to Hell: Retribution?

        So, such are the lengths your friend will go to bestow onto you the worst of the worst that he found a copy of Hong Kong ’97 for you to play? Am I right in assuming it’s a reproduction cartridge? If not, that’s pretty impressive.

        I kind of suspect some of my reviews (i.e. Limbo) prompted readers to go running to the scoring system page immediately afterwards. With the way I have it set up, I try to make it clear that it’s an accomplishment just to earn a 7/10. I myself had certain games in mind when I came up with those descriptions.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s not Ride to Hell: Retribution, but it’s bad!
        Indeed, I’m afraid my friend can’t be stopped. He’s actively trying to get any LJN game he can get a hold of, on top of any other notorious game. The copy of Hong Kong ’97 is a reproduction cartridge for SNES. I, like many, have never seen the tiniest trace of an original copy.

        I try to think of things the same way. So many “professional” video game critics make it sound as though anything below a 9 is a disappointment. I try to keep every number as its own “level” for lack of a better word. The reason why I sometimes change my scores is I go over the review again, recollect my thoughts, and see if it really fits into that level (I’m still on the fence whether I should lower my score of Star Fox Zero even more. Even though it delivered the Star Fox 64 sequel I always wanted, that control scheme is just awful).
        I try not to change my scores too much, because I think that just becomes wishy-washy and might not reflect well on my scoring system as a whole. So I try to get it right the first time around, but there are obviously times when I think a game doesn’t quite fit the mold I’ve placed it in (or even surpasses it). There are also times when I compare a game with others I’ve given a similar score. If they’re too wildly different, it’s hard to compare directly, but I try to think of if it’s as exemplary for its genre as another game I gave the same score (For what it’s worth, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow seems to be my benchmark for the 9.0 score, so I find myself comparing other 9.0s to it). Even if I lower a score for a game, that doesn’t automatically mean I appreciate the game less, just that I think it doesn’t fit on that higher level.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The first time I heard of this game was in Wez & Larry’s Top Ten on TV. That tune didn’t get out of my head for weeks.

    Liked by 1 person

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