Review: Donkey Konga (Nintendo Gamecube)

Game: Donkey Konga
System: Nintendo Gamecube
Genre: Music/Rhythm
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 9/27/04

Okay, let’s get one thing straight: unless you’re a new visitor to Inside Pulse, or unless you’ve ignored EVERY article I’ve ever written on the Internet up until today, you know that I like music games. Wait, I take that back. I LOVE music games! For you see, I have a very eclectic taste in music, meaning I can listen to most anything and not get tired of it. Combine this aspect into a video game, and I’ll eat it up. And usually, such games require additional hardware to be fully realized. I buy them, too. Dance pads, microphones, maracas (MARACAS?)… I own them all. And I’m damn proud of it.

So it was a no-brainer that I would come into possession of Nintendo’s first official jump into music-based gameplay, Donkey Konga, and its required bongos.

Now I’ll admit that at first, I thought the premise was not going to be up to snuff. After all, there are several music games on the market worldwide that use special peripherals, and using “bongos” in comparison to these other controllers felt…I don’t know, not right. However, time pressed on, and I told myself “I’ll should into this game further.” Then the game showed up in my local GameStop’s demo kiosk. After about 30 minutes straight of playing, I told myself, “You KNOW you’re going to have to buy this, right?” And I agreed with myself. Now that both halves of my personality were in agreement, we could enjoy the weirdness that was Donkey Konga without worry. And we purchased the game. And we…well, you’ll have to READ ON to see what the enjoyment level was.

(Yes, I’ll refer to myself in the first person from now on. SORRY for possibly creeping you out. Sheesh.)


GAMEPLAY & CONTROLS

Okay, this category gets bumped up to #1 this time around, as its VERY hard to describe the game’s modes of play without a basic understanding of the controls. So, here we go!

You can only use the special “bongo controller” that comes with the game to play this, and for obvious reasons. They look simple enough, containing a left drum, a right drum, and Start button in the center of the unit. Above the Start button is a small microphone used to register noises as “claps”.

The main gameplay revolves around either hitting the bongo drums or clapping in time to the music. You have a circle marker, with bongo icons going from right to left. When the bongo icon overlaps the guide circle, its then you need to hit the corresponding drum. (Sound familiar?) Yellow icons mean the left drum, Red icons mean the right, Pink icons mean both drums, and white icons mean to clap. Each icon can be extended as well into long bars, which mean for you to slap the correct drum rapidly. (White bars mean for you to clap rapidly, and MAN does it make your hands raw.)


The controls overall are pretty responsive. The bongo drums have a latex covering on the top, which protects your fingers from smashing into the plastic buttons underneath. The microphone, is also responsive to your claps. In fact, it’s pretty damn sensitive by default. Pretty much anything you do will trigger a clap in the game. You can clap your hands, slap your leg, pound the floor, tap the side of the controller, even crack your knuckles (no, I’m not kidding). The game will register all of these actions as claps if its close enough to the mic. It doesn’t affect the gameplay much, though. In fact, it’s kind of a good thing when your hands are tired of clapping. You can just tap the side of the controller with your palm instead. There’s still the option of fine-tuning the mic settings in the Options menu if you feel a strong need to, however.

Perhaps the only real gripe I have with the controller is that the cord is placed on the bottom of the unit. Having it jut out like that makes it difficult to have it stand on a tabletop without tipping over. And having it rest in your lap isn’t the best alternative, either, as it will not remain stationary during the harder songs. The way I play the game is to rest the controller on the floor, as it’s the only way to keep it stationary. Kinda makes me have ’60s flashbacks I never had, but hey, it works.

Gameplay/Control: 9/10


MODES

Unless you’re playing Parappa The Rapper, music games with story modes are VERY hard to come by. So, you get mode descriptions here instead.

There are several different ways to drum out to your favorite songs. The first mode you’ll see is “Street Performance”, which is one-player only. The formula is simple, you pick a song, you pick a difficulty, you play the song. Later, rinse, repeat. You have two difficulties to choose from when you start the game: Monkey (easy), and Chimp (normal). The third difficulty, Gorilla (hard), is also selectable, but all the songs are locked. You also have the option of choosing “Jam” difficulties, like Monkey Jam, etc. The songs are the same, but the notes are hidden. You’ll need to memorize the notes completely before even BEGINNING to tackle this one.

When you hit the actual game mode, you’ll notice that you accumulate coins as you play. You get 2 coins for every “Great”, and 1 coin for every “O.K.” Nothing for a “Bad” or a “Miss”. You also have a regular score, which steadily multiplies depending on your combo. Your combo goes up by one with every correct bongo note you hit. The long bars don’t count towards the combo, but every slap of the bongo will garner a coin. Now, the coins you win go into a bank of some sort. Using your bank money, you’ll be able to buy songs in the Gorilla difficulty, and other goodies like bongo sound sets and DK mini-games.

Then you have the Challenge Mode, which can be played by either one or two players. The goal here is to last as long as you can as the computer throws out random songs at you. It’s pretty much endless, only ending when you either (a) quit, or (b) let your life bar run out.

Now we come to the “Jam Session” mode, which has the most “party” feel out of the main modes. Up to four players can play one song simultaneously, and each person can pick a different sound for their bongos to make and simulate being in a band. And the song can’t be failed either. Not much else to this mode.

“Battle Mode” pits two players against each other in a climactic BATTLE OF THE BONGOS! Well, maybe not THAT climactic, but it’s the only real “VS” type mode there is. Changes to the gameplay include POW blocks that can reduce the point values of your opponents, and slot machines that can give players HUGE bonus points. Each will appear in place of regular notes once a song.

Finally there’s DK Town, where you can purchase songs to play on the Gorilla difficulty, new sound sets for your bongos, and even special mini-games that you’ll be able to play in the separate “arcade” section. Prices for these items range from the immediately affordable (11 coins), to the outrageously expensive (25,000 coins). This is my favorite way of unlocking items, as the game makes sure you EARN your coins, and then you can pick and choose what you’d like to unlock.

Given that this is the first game of its kind, there are a decent amount of modes to select from. However, unless you have more than one player handy, you’ll probably stick with the Street Performance mode in order to improve your scores.

Modes: 7/10


GRAPHICS

With the game being simplistic in nature, the graphical aspect of Donkey Konga follows the same trend. The game doesn’t offer very much in the art of polygons, preferring to stick with character models reminiscent of the old Donkey Kong Country games (albeit a bit better animated). The menus are very basic and easy to maneuver through as well. Of course, considering the controller only has three buttons to push, who WOULN’T be able to navigate the menus easily?

The in-game screen is also simplistic, as you focus mainly on the bongo icons scrolling from right to left. However, the backgrounds are pleasant, as scenes of the jungle, the beach, and mountains appear depending on which song you pick. But each time, you’ll see good ol’ Donkey Kong in the top-left corner, performing the same bongo actions you do. Although it looks like DK has an aneurysm every time you reach the passing point of the life bar.

Graphics: 7/10


SOUND

When you first browse through the song list in Donkey Konga, you’ll find a very diverse collection of tunes, including both licensed and original content. In fact, the types of music included come from ALL OVER the place. There are remixed versions of the Mario and Zelda theme songs, the American anime openings to the Pokemon and Kirby shows, licensed music taken LITERALLY from the last 70 years (Busy Child, Louie Louie, We Will Rock You, Sing With A Swing, That’s The Impression I Get), and even some covers of classic children’s songs. Of course there are the obligatory Donkey Kong tracks, such as the Donkey Konga theme, and the infamous DK Rap remix from Super Smash Brothers Melee. The songs included are incredibly catchy, and then bongo rhythms associated with each are very well done, with some patterns bordering on the “genius” level. (Whoever designed the bongo rhythms for the “Bingo” song should get a medal. You’ll see when you play it.) Its an overall excellent collection, catering to not only musical tastes, but multiple age ranges as well. That’s something most music games simply aren’t doing.


Of course this category isn’t restricted to songs. Also included are several different sound effects that your bongos will make. Most are locked, but you’ll be able to switch between them. Certain sound sets include barking dogs, electric guitars, a brass section, laser beams, and even NES sound effects. The only drawback is that many of these sound effects often distract you from the music, altering concentration, and making you more prone to error. I usually stick with the default bongo effects because of this, although that is only my personal preference.

Sound: 8/10


REPLAY VALUE

Once again, we have a music game that doesn’t require a lot of brains to play. All it requires is some timing, and a special controller that comes with the game. The song list is incredibly diverse, and the mode line-up is more than decent. So whoever plays this will be playing it a lot.

However, considering the game’s format and multi-player nature, it looks to me that younger players would get more out of this game than older players. Now before you go yelling at me, this does NOT mean that Donkey Konga is a “kids game”. Rather, older players might not gravitate towards this game as much as others unless they are with friends. Many of the modes are multi-player, after all, and extra controllers do add up.

Replay Value: 7/10


BALANCE

The three difficulty levels in Donkey Konga provide an excellent learning curve, from beginners to experts. And each song is further ranked in each difficulty by the amount of bongo drums displayed next to the song title. Songs can range from one to eight bongos per difficulty, although an “easy one-bongo” song does NOT mean it’s the same as a “hard one-bongo” song, if you can understand that.

In any case, the mix is very well rounded on all accounts. Balanced in difficulty, song selection, and even in the catering to all age ranges. This balance makes it a great game for parties, and even for families to play together.

Balance: 9/10


ORIGINALITY

Okay. This is a music game. Involving BONGOS. There are NO OTHER GAMES that exist on the market that involve such a premise. Sure, you have other music games on the market that require you to purchase an additional piece of hardware. Dance pads, guitars, drums, microphones, maracas, and the like. But NOT BONGOS, BABY!

That aside, while the “time your button presses to the music” game is not completely original, Donkey Konga approaches it in a whole new way. And it’s pretty enjoyable to boot.

Originality: 8/10


ADDICTIVENESS

Like most music games, the simple formula and catchy music offer up a pretty irresistible combination. I found myself playing this game a lot more than I should. But then again, that’s my usual reaction to music games.

In any case, the main draws that will keep players coming back are the songs. Like I mentioned earlier, there are some mini-games, but they seem to be more tacked on than anything else. For example, there’s one called “Bash K. Rool”, which is simply whack-a-mole disguised as a bongo game. The game itself is very slow and clunky. It could have benefited from quite a bit of tweaking. Even so, the songs still make the game quite a treat.

Addictiveness: 8/10


APPEAL FACTOR

Traditionally, music games such as these only cater to certain audiences. This is usually due to the fact that you have to buy a separate controller in order to play it. Luckily, in this case, you get the game AND the controller for $50. That’s almost like getting a $35 controller for FREE. FREE BONGOS. Do you need any additional incentive to buy this game now? Still, in order to take advantage of multiplayer, you still need to purchase at least one separate pair of bongos. But the package is EXCELLENT to start everyone off.

Appeal Factor: 7/10


MISCELLANEOUS

This game is fun. No bones about it. But what good are the bongo controllers outside of this game? I mean, the specific hardware used for these music games are hardly EVER put to use in other games.

Well, if you enjoy this game, be prepared to use your bongos for a different game.


Yes, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is coming stateside, its going to be an action-platform game…using the bongos. Now granted that may sound a bit gimmicky to some, but this proves that Nintendo’s continued perseverance to develop original gameplay is alive, well, and will continue for a long time to come.

Miscellaneous: 9/10