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Donkey Konga Package Art
GENRE
Music
DEVELOPER
Namco & Nintendo
PUBLISHER
Nintendo
NUMBER OF PLAYERS
1-4
CONNECTIVITY
no
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Donkey Konga

When Nintendo's exclusive relationship with Rare went up in smoke, many fans were left wondering what would become of Donkey Kong. And, after many long years of waiting, the answer is here -- but it's probably not what fans were expecting. Although many cried foul over seeing their favorite primate reduced to headlining a music game, many others rejoiced to see that Nintendo had teamed up with Namco to finally fill in a niche near and dear to their hearts.

visuals

If you've ever played the Donkey Kong Country series on the Super NES, you have a fair idea of what this game looks like -- because the vast majority of the backgrounds and character sprites were taken straight from those games. It's a nice throwback for fans of the series, but I've never been particularly crazy about prerendered sprites myself. About the only thing being rendered in real time is the image of Donkey Kong -- and Diddy, in two-player mode -- playing his bongos in the corner of the screen.

audio

It goes without saying that a music game needs good music, and Donkey Konga delivers. The musical recordings are pretty good, but it sounds like Nintendo only hired two vocalists to sing them: one male and one female. The American playlist focuses heavily on classic rock, but there's one or two entries in a few other genres -- children's songs, Nintendo video game and TV theme songs, jazz, classical -- to give the game some variety. However, the omission of "Bang the Drum All Day" is inexcusable. Let's hope Nintendo can get the rights to that one for the sequel.

The default bongo noises sound good, so you can enjoy making music even if you're playing with a normal controller. The extra bongo sound effects, however, are sort of hit or miss. The idea of using NES sound effects sounds great until you hear the cacaphony that results when you actually use them.

gameplay

There are several different modes to the game, but they all share the same basic gameplay. As music plays, a string of "drum beats" scrolls across the screen from right to left. When it reaches the "hit" area, you have to make the appropriate noise to score points. The symbols are thankfully quite easy to pick up on: a left semicircle is for the left drum, a right semicircle is for the right drum, a full circle is both drums, an "explosion" is clap, and a stretched beat is a "roll" where you have to repeat it as fast as you can until the whole thing goes past the hit area. Fans of music games like Dance Dance Revolution will take no time at all to adjust, and the uninitiated can pick it up by the end of their first song.

On the surface, it doesn't sound like a very thrilling concept. But in practice, the game shines. The bongo arrangements have been carefully thought out, with plenty of combos and patterns to keep your hands moving. When you really get the hang of the game, you realize that you're not just drudging through a game of musical follow-the-leader -- you're really making music. After about a half hour of playing, I found that I was moving with the music as I played, even though I was sitting flat on my butt. Even the songs that I wouldn't normally listen to -- "Stupid Cupid", "Dancing in the Streets", the "Pokemon" theme, "The Loco-Motion" -- came to life when I put my bongo-playing prowess to them. That's the hallmark of a good music game right there.

The bongos themselves are a minor work of art. They're sturdy, they look like Donkey Kong's barrels, they fit comfortably in your lap, and they have soft, cushy tops that beg to be slapped. Sure, you can just "push" them like any old button, and a gentle tap on the side will register a "clap" on the built-in microphone, but if you're going to do that, you might as well be using a standard Gamecube controller. No, these things need you to pound them on the big beats -- there's something undeniably cathartic about banging on the bongos that you don't get from other games. Just don't get too carried away -- although the bongos themselves have been built to take a beating, enthusiastic Konga players often find themselves suffering from sore palms and knuckles after giving it their all for too long. But oh, is it ever worth it.

As far as music games go, Donkey Konga is only moderately difficult. "Chimp" level is a nice warmup to get you used to how the bongos work and to get your timing down. "Monkey" level has much more sophisticated arrangements, and it's probably where most casual rhythm enthusiasts will settle down to play for fun. "Gorilla" level has a lot more beats and much trickier combos, but it's still nothing the hardcore DDR crowd hasn't seen before. If you're looking for a challenge beyond that, you can try one of the "Jam" levels. They're identical to the first three difficulty levels, but they only show you where the beat goes and not which beat to hit -- you'll have to play from memory.

"Street Performance" is the main single-player mode, where you can take on the songs one at a time. Every time you hit a beat or a drumroll well, coins start pouring into your bank. You also have to fill an accuracy meter; if you can fill it above a certain point, you get to keep all the coins you earn and the song is "cleared". If you fill the accuracy meter all the way to the top, you also get a gold medal for it. Going for all the gold medals is a challenge that will keep completionists busy for hours. There's also a "Challenge" mode where you go through the entire playlist, one song after the other. You start with a full health meter, and every time you miss a beat, you take a hit. It recovers a bit between songs, but if you lose all your health, the game's over.

With the coins that you earn in Street Performance, you can go shopping in DK Town. The biggest attraction is probably the Gorilla level songs, which must be purchased before they can be played. There are also different bongo effects, which are cute to play around with maybe once or twice. And, finally, there are three mini-games that you can buy, including a juggling game, a whack-a-mole game, and an intriguing but ultimately dull vine-climbing game. None of them really match up to the fun of the main game though.

multiplayer

A two-player battle mode has been included, but it's a bit unbalanced by the added rules that give major bonuses and penalties for certain beats. Much more interesting is the Jam Session mode, where you can start up a solo, duet, or quartet, with the computer filling in any empty seats. These are special arrangements that take advantage of the number of drummers you have available. Although score is kept, it's really a mode that you can play just for fun, with everyone playing a different part that adds up to a melodious whole.

overall

Donkey Konga delivers on its promise in a big way. With a lot of help from the music game veterans at Namco, Nintendo has brought Gamecube owners an excellent opportunity to see what they've been missing in the world of rhythm games. It's a perfect game for a lazy afternoon -- it's active, it's immersive, and it doesn't require any commitments to enjoy it. And with the bongos thrown in basically for free, it's a real steal. Konga is a solid recommendation to fans of the genre and the uninitiated alike.

final score 9.0/10





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Staff Avatar Ed Griffiths
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"Nothing can kill the Grimace!"


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