THE TRIBUNAL: Donkey Konga (Nintendo Gamecube)

Donkey Konga managed to score a 7.5 when I personally wrote the review. But how will it fare when three more faces look at it in…THE TRIBUNAL?!?!?


*The crowd gathers into the fabled Inside Pulse Tribunal Stadium*

Attention! Attention! All will come to order!

*The crowd refuses to quiet down.*


*The crowd whines, complies, and stubbornly goes silent

We meet in the fabled Tribunal hall today to pass judgment on Nintendo’s first venture into music games that require special controllers. Donkry Konga, rise and step forward.

*The game does so. (Do I HAVE to explain to you how to just pretend? DO I?)

Donkey Konga, the Tribunal has brought you forward today for one purpose: to prove yourself to our judges, and to the world. Nintendo may be known for many things, but “music” games aren’t one of them at this time. So you are already unique in this respect. You are also incredibly unique for needing your own controller in order to play the game correctly. Very reminiscent of the Bemani series of games Konami has created. But despite how unique you are, it all comes down to this: are you any fun? That is what we will be deciding today.

Your judges today are Lee Baxley, Misha, and Adam. All three have pounded their bongos until their hands are raw (NO, not like that. PERVERTS!), and are ready to pass judgment on you. So…


JUDGE #1: Lee Baxley

If you know me, then you know that I’m a sucker for rhythm games. It started with Ephemeral Fantasia, with it’s guitar mini-game, based off Konami’s Guitar Freaks. I never got big into DDR, but I enjoy it. And I keep hoping that they’ll bring one of the other Beatmania games (Bemani, Drummania, Guitar Freaks) to the states.

Well, Donkey Konga is not a Beatmania game, but it’s as close as we have for now, which makes me happy. The game comes with two great bongo drums, and there are 4 different “notes”: left drum, right drum, both drums, or clap. It’s a lot of fun to play, especially with a friend, and it even has mini-games you can play, including a really awesome juggling one which uses the drums.

The best part about the game is the song list. There are some really great games in here, and most of them are arranged very well for play with the game. Nothing beats getting REALLY into the groove and playing the bongos like they were the real thing. The only problems are the few songs that DON’T go well with the game. On the Road Again by Willie Nelson is one of those. And the notes you hit don’t go well with the song as a whole, so it’s hard to play simply because there is no groove to get in to. Fortunately, those songs are few and far between. Most of the songs are excellent.

In my opinion, Donkey Konga suffers from only one drastic flaw. The scoring system is set up in a way that you get points for hitting a correct note, and points removed for hitting a note incorrectly, or missing it. Because of this, it is entirely possible to get completely perfect on a song, up until the last note, and still not completely fill up your score bar. Whereas, you can miss a decent amount near the beginning, then ace the song, and your score is maxed. This annoys someone like myself, who wants all golds for the songs. See, you get a silver if you pass a song, but you get gold if you max out the score meter. Sadly, there appear to be no bonus songs or anything of the sort, but it’s still a goal to attain.

While this isn’t the greatest rhythm game out there, it’s certainly a good one, and having it based on a Nintendo mascot doesn’t detract at all from the game itself. In fact, it makes one think that there will be more games of this sort to come. I personally say bring them on!

THE SCORE: 7.5/10

JUDGE #2: Misha

Ambling round the ECTS last month, I happened across a huge queue at the Nintendo stand. Investigating further, I came across a set of bongo drums and a very Beatmania-esque screen. I waited my turn, and selected the “Super Mario Bros theme” as my track.

And was instantly hooked. As was everybody else who played it. And now the full version has arrived, with even more songs, and harder difficulty levels, and it’s even better than I recall.

Matching Konami’s legendary series was always going to be tough, but Nintendo and Namco have teamed up to achieve this; while the game retains much of what makes the Bemani series so great, there’s more than enough new little twists to make the game stand out.

The bongos themselves are simple yet effective, and a perfect balance between response and durability. The song list is excellent (Lee’s jealous that the PAL version has “99 Red Balloons”) and it has a HUGE ‘passer-by attract factor’ – Over an hour or so on a Saturday afternoon, things escalated from “me having a quick game” to “everybody in the house taking turns”.

There are a few minor (and one fairly major) quirks with the game, but nothing that truly detracts from the experience. A true standout in the Rhythm Game genre.

THE SCORE: 8.0/10

JUDGE #3: Adam

Don-key Kon-ga! Nintendo had me almost giddy with anticipation for this title, and I wasn’t disappointed. Nintendo’s first foray into the world of rhythm-based gaming is a solid effort. The core experience works well, with a responsive (if sometimes tough) grading system for your bongo slaps and claps. The drums control perfectly, and the microphone for claps is perfectly tuned. Most players will want to turn the sensitivity a notch or two above default for softer clapping, but this is a matter of taste. The menu-system is workable, but Nintendo made an odd choice with the difficulty ratings for songs: they’re relative to the difficulty of other songs in the same category, rather than a universal difficulty scale. While this doesn’t hurt the game by any means, it can be confusing.

One of the biggest problems I’ve had with Donkey Konga is the song list. There simply aren’t enough songs to give it extensive replay value; for the first iteration of what will hopefully become a full-fledged rhythm-based franchise, the number of songs is respectable but still somewhat low. This will be remedied by future song packs, but it’s still a problem now. A quarter of the songs have simply no use whatsoever. These include most of the Kids’ songs, which are an insult to anyone over the age of five, but also “On the Road Again,” “Rock Lobster,” “Stupid Cupid,” and the “DK Rap.” The first is woefully out of place, and the latter three are simply asinine and irritating. Even the “Pokemon Theme” has more appeal than these. The pop songs range from fair to good, but the best songs are those that are least popular, such as the Hungarian Dance and Turkish March, as well as the genuine conga music. The Nintendo fan service is highly appreciated, and deserves to be much more prominent, as they mix nostalgia with good songs and enjoyable play.

The Appeal factor for this one is oddly split. The Bongo controller is fun, pure and simple, and it draws crowds of onlookers who can barely resist the urge to try it. In fact, it has far more newbie appeal than DDR, since it doesn’t appear so skill-intensive and physically draining. The song list, however, will definitely put off a lot of players, particularly since the Kids’ songs are the first on the menu. I understand Nintendo’s desire to be a family company first and foremost, but songs like the “Campfire Medley” are simply patronizing. The rest of the soundtrack is family-friendly without being unplayable to every other demographic, making the nursery rhymes even worse.

The game’s balance is good, but not great. Monkey difficulty is easy to pick up, and can be mastered within an hour, and Gorilla is fast enough and complicated enough to give even seasoned rhythm players difficulty, but Chimp difficulty level isn’t a fair middle ground; the line between harder Monkey songs and easier Chimp songs is negligible, but there is a vast disconnect between harder Chimp songs and easier Gorilla songs.

It has a fair amount of innovation, surprisingly. The multiplayer goes above and beyond the standard VS mode with its Duets and Quartets, making a much more cooperative experience, good for pulling in girlfriends or casual gamers who are usually put off by competitive multi against friends with far more experience with the game. The inclusion of mini-games is appreciated, but only Banana-Juggling is worthwhile. The Vine Climb’s controls are unresponsive to the point of unplayability, and the Whack-A-Mole is just boring.

With the strong possibility of future song packs for Donkey Konga, and the forthcoming DK: Jungle Beat (the platformer that uses the bongo controller, which stands to be one of the most innovative takes on the genre in years), spending the money for such a specialized new controller is easily justified, unlike a DDR dance pad. Overall, DK is definitely worth a purchase if you’re a fan of rhythm or party games, and worth a try even if you’re not.

THE SCORE: 7.5/10

The Tribunal has spoken! And now, to the final judgment…

SCORE #1: 7.5
SCORE #2: 8.0
SCORE #3: 7.5


It is the decision of this Tribunal that Donkey Konga is a good first game in what hopes to be a continuing series. Opinions on the song list vary, but most everyone can find a few songs they like to play over and over again. The additional mini-games pale in comparison to the main game, and are probably best left ignored. But the main game shines when more than two people get together and jam cooperatively. Easily a great multi-player game, and a decent single player romp as well. You may no go forth, Donkey Konga, and rest assured that music game fans will be all over you.


We now dismiss all the attendees to this gathering. But we shall require your presence again, once The Tribunal deems another to prove itself…