Donkey Konga

Namco reinvents the monkey


The Lowdown

Pros: Comes with conga drum, varying degree of challenge, fun to play, easy to learn

Cons: No extra songs to unlock, not as much variety as other music games, barely fun to play the controller

Purchase at Play-Asia

When Nintendo announced a new Donkey Kong game most gamers were thinking of a platform game, maybe even an action game. Few people, if any, imagined that it would be a rhythm game. Namco isn't a stranger to the music genre at all. In Japan they are well known for their Taiko no Tatsujin series, another drum game. If you take the arcade style gameplay and mix it with the Taiko no Tatsujin series you get the easy to jump into Donkey Konga.

Most rhythm games like Beatmania or Dance Dance Revolution incorporate some type of special controller for use with the game. Donkey Konga is no exception, to play the game you use a set of conga drums that are pre-packaged with the game. Kudos to both Namco and Nintendo for giving people the drums without adding anything over the price of an average game. Most music games normally require purchasing an additional controller or buying a more expensive package that includes the controller. If Donkey Konga didn't come bundled with the drums you still could play the game with the standard controller. Although, the novelty and fun of the game is with using the drums. Moving the analog stick to "hit" the left drum and pressing the A button to "hit" the right drum just isn't that fun.

When you are playing with the conga drums Donkey Konga is a blast to play. Partially because it is so simple to learn that you can just open the package up and play. On the screen there is an icon that indicates your congas. Colored circles move scroll towards the left side of the screen until they reach the conga icon. A red icon indicates you should hit the right drum and a yellow icon prompts you to hit the left drum. If it's pink you hit both of them and if there is a light blue aura around the drum you clap. The conga's have a tiny microphone built in the center to sense the sound when you clap. When you start playing on the easy levels the game seems rather simple. Hit the left drum, right drum and every once in awhile when you see an extended line you beat the drums like Donkey Kong's attack in Super Smash Brothers. The challenge just begins there because the next level up has more notes for you to hit. If you don't hit enough notes on beat to fill the meter at the top of the screen you fail the song. Unlike Dance Dance Revolution and more like Beatmania, the game always lets you play a song until the end even if you don't hit any notes on beat.

Playing through the game's single player mode nets you points that you can spend at the store. One of the neat items you can purchase at the store are new sound effects for the drums. You start out with two sound effects, the standard conga sounds and 8-bit Famicom (Nintendo) sounds. Selecting a different sound effectively allows you to "remix" a song and with the wide variety of sound effects you can certainly do that. Some of the neat sound effects that were added into the game are sound effects from Super Mario Brothers 3, voices shouting Donk-key Konga and the tambourines. Most of these sound effects cost more than a couple of hundred coins, which means you'll be spending time playing the game to unlock all of the sound effects. If you feel that Donkey Konga is becoming too easy you can spend your points to unlock the final "expert" mode for each song. The expert mode is a truly challenging affair that even the best congo-ers will have to spend time to master. If you're tired of the music inspired gameplay a couple thousand points will let you unlock a mini game. One of the mini games has you play whack a mole with Donkey Kong's nemesis King K. Rool. Another game has Donkey Kong juggle bananas that Diddy Kong passes to him when you hit the drums. The mini games are a nice diversion and a nice addition that increase replay value.

Donkey Konga doesn't have the largest song selection compared to other music games. It has a mere 32 songs, with no further songs to unlock. There are some classic Nintendo tunes in the mix like the Mario Brothers theme, the Donkey Kong 64 theme and Kirby's theme. There are some TV themes like Doremon's ending theme and the opening music from Detective Conan in the song bank. For those of you seeking traditional conga music there are tracks like Mambo No 5 and La Bamba, which blend well with it. Then there are some other tracks like the J-pop hit Fly Away and the Hamtaro theme song where the extra conga sounds seem out of place. It is great that there is some music variety, but it would be nice to have songs that mix with the conga addition better. Many of the songs in the song list have deep roots with Japanese culture they appear in TV commercials (yes, the Pikmin commercial theme Ai no uta is in there), TV shows or are pop songs. Of course this is going to be changed for the American release so if you want to play some more "Japanese" style music you'll have to import it.

The graphics in Donkey Konga aren't the game's strong point. Unlike other music games that have background animations to entertain those watching the game Donkey Konga doesn't have much. All you can watch is a steady stream of coins falling down or rising balloons. Probably, the most entertaining thing to watch in the game is Donkey Kong hitting his own set of conga drums. Even the still graphics that explain the game's story look like dated pre-rendered graphics that could have appeared on a lower system. The menu system in Donkey Konga is somewhat convoluted, too. You're forced to bang the drums back and forth to move the menu around. You can select what you want by hitting the start button. This may have seemed like a practical control mechanism for the drums, but it does get annoying when trying to select a specific song or when you are browsing items to buy.

One neat addition that Nintendo did add was multiplayer support. Up to four people can be banging the congas together. When playing in four player mode, or even two player mode Namco has created slightly different segments for each player to hit the drums to. Having four independent sets of beats allows each player to be an important part of the action instead of letting other players carry the team. If you add in the fact that each player can pick their own sound effect you can make some interesting mixes.

Compared to other rhythm games Donkey Konga has a chance to introduce the music genre to those who haven't played a rhythm game before. Mainly because the game comes bundled with the conga drums and is easier to learn than other rhythm games. Another bonus to owners of Donkey Konga is that Nintendo plans to support the game in the future by releasing expansion discs. These discs will essentially contain more songs to play, which will surely expand replay value. If Nintendo does plan on releasing more discs Donkey Konga could become a staple part of the rhythm genre in the near future.

Import Friendly?

Donkey Konga is a simple game to learn so you will not need the manual for it. Although you may want to have some knowledge of Japanese to take you through the menu system.

US Bound?

Nintendo has it scheduled for a September release.

Overall

Donkey Konga is a fun game to play for those into the music genre and the gamer who is looking for something a little different.