Donkey Konga Review

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Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo

Platform: GameCube
Reviewed on GameCube

Beat some drums for a change.

Join Donkey Kong as he bongos his way to fame and fortune, clapping and drumming for coins and musical stardom.

Kevin Rice

Despite global trade agreements and the march of corporate-sponsored monotony, every so often, a product comes along that reminds us just how different Japanese culture is from American culture. We might ignore the fact that in America, unlike Japan, we don't generally put panty-vending machines next to soda machines. We don't bristle at the thought that on the other side of the Pacific, 5x10 rooms (if that) are considered an optional luxury when staying in a hotel. But it's just a shame that we don't share the same fascination with rhythm-based games as the Japanese do. While anyone interested in gaming has seen Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) in action, very few other rhythm-based games make it across the ocean. (The American-developed Frequency and Amplitude (both PS2) are good, but they're played with gamepads.) Leave it to the Japanese to decide that bongos will make fine controllers. It's good that we left it to Nintendo, actually, because Donkey Konga is a simple, but original, rhythm game that will have you tapping your toes, slapping the bongos, and clapping. Really.

Party On, Donkey

Donkey Konga is so ridiculously easy to pick up and play, pretty much anyone will at least give it the old college try. There are only five things you can do: hit the left bongo, the right bongo, both at once, clap, or perform a drumroll. The onscreen scrolling makes it easy to see what you should be doing. The fun comes in when you have friends who are the rhythmic equivalent of colorblind.

With the three difficulty settings, even the most beat-challenged player should be able to play the simpler songs: "Happy Birthday," "Bingo," and "Workin' on the Railroad." These songs are targeted at children, and they're simple enough that (just about) anyone should be able to pound their way through them with no problem.

The fun comes in, of course, with the other music – a rather eclectic mix of '80s and '90s music, with some game themes and classical music thrown in for good measure. Some of the thirty-odd songs seem meant for this sort of game. "What I Like About You" will have you clapping along, while Devo's classic, "Whip It," will remind you that the center bridge changes time signatures. And who wouldn't want to bongo along with the theme from all the Mario games redone with jazz instrumentation? How about "Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G Minor"? (If you don't think you know what this is, chances are you do – it's just the title that's obscure.)

While the music selection is incredibly varied, the game itself is pretty straightforward. There are plenty of unlockables and things to buy. For each successful round in the "Street Performance" mode (you know that bongo guy on the street corner you don't tip? you become him), you earn coins that can be used to unlock mini-games, alternate sound sets, and more. There's also a "Jam" mode where one to four bongo players can attempt complex syncopation tricks in time to the music without worrying about points. And then there's "Challenge" mode where one random song after another is thrown at you and the idea is to accumulate as many points as possible. And finally, for the hardcore, there are modes where you aren't told left, right, clap, etc. – you have to have it memorized. Good luck.

For the "I have to beat my friend at this" crowd, there's battle mode. Here, special notes appear (it doesn't matter what you hit – just hit it in time to the music) and, these special notes will wreak havoc on your opponent and gain you points. There's also a slot machine-like component here, where certain combinations of Mario, Princess Peach, etc. will earn you rewards. And, again for the rhythmically-challenged, there's an ending drumroll. The player that can perform a better drumroll gets a big bonus.

Out of Sync

This is a great party game (and really, it's fun alone too). But I do need to mention a few letdowns. First, in Challenge Mode, you're not told what song is coming up. The idea, remember, is to bongo your way through as many songs as possible.

While you may know all the songs, there's no way to tell what's coming until it starts. Maybe this was on purpose, but it's annoying. Second, for real party fun, you'll want at least two sets of bongos. That will change the price from $50 to $80. Finally, some people just aren't into the whole rhythm thing, regardless of the fun factor. It's their loss, to be sure, but rhythm-based gaming just isn't as big as it should be here, which means additional games taking advantage of these controllers may never appear. (For the record, there was another game at the 2004 Electronic Entertainment Expo that used the bongos, but there's no word when (or if) it will appear stateside.)

Donkey Konga is fantastic fun, especially for dance-game fans starved for another rhythm-based game off the pad. (As a friend put it, "This would probably be better than DDR at a party. After everyone's sort of drunk.") If you're the type who only dances alone in front of the mirror, the single-player game offers plenty of fun. And it goes without saying that you have to like rhythm games, because the only hook here is the controller. But much like the wrongly-maligned Dreamcast's Samba de Amigo, this game is reason enough to have a party. Sure, people may be nervous at first, but get a few drinks in them, and let the drumming begin!

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on November 23, 2004 4:36 PM.

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