To the beat of a different drum.
Every young musician dreams of one day joining a kick-ass rock band, touring the world for free and smashing furniture in exotic hotel rooms. But since most of us skew towards the William Hung side of the rock star spectrum, Nintendo and Namco have hooked up to deliver Donkey Konga, a bongo drumming rhythm game. The gameplay and concepts are solid, but the feel and execution seem tailored for a younger audience.
According to the instruction manual, the story begins with Donkey Kong and padawan Diddy Kong finding a set of abandoned bongos on the beach. With nothing better to do (at least until the next Mario game comes out), the simian pair decides to pound out a rhythm with gleeful abandon. To make his boring story more interesting, I've decided that intergalactic space hippos (hungry, hungry ones, of course) are threatening the fate of the universe, and Donkey and Diddy are the last line of resistance. Rock on, monkey saviors, rock on.
Donkey Konga comes with one bongo accessory. The bongo drums are essentially giant buttons hidden underneath a rubber surface with a little microphone jammed in between the two drums to catch handclaps. On-screen indicators will direct you to either clap or strike the right bongo, left bongo, or both. Sometimes you'll have to drum roll or "clap" roll as fast as you can. While performing, you earn coins which can be used to purchase songs, mini games, and extras. The better the timing, the better the score.
This rudimentary gameplay works on the strength of its simplicity. If you can knock on a door, you can play this game. Plus, the embarrassment factor is far less daunting than Dance Dance Revolution or Karaoke Revolution, so it's really easy to jump in, except when you reach the more difficult modes.
There are a few ways to play Donkey Konga. Street Performance is the main single-player game, having you play songs for coins. You can also Co-Op with a friend or play a Battle mode, both of which are fine and make for lively bouts of group drumming. A few unlockable mini-games, including a no-brainer Whack-A-Mole variant, are here as well. Three difficulty settings help add some life by requiring more complex rhythms the higher you go.
The game's marketing campaigns show a group of twenty-somethings sitting together beating their drums. Right. Now snap back to reality, which is that Donkey Konga is clearly targeted towards children.
Just witness the song selection. About half of the tunes are goofy kid songs, like the Pokemon theme or the dreaded Donkey Kong Monkey rap, which is without a doubt the most heinous gaming-related song of all time. There's even BINGO, which is actually a perfect song for the game.
Thankfully, there is some more mature and varied content here as well, featuring such strange old songs as 'On the Road Again', 'We Will Rock You', and 'Wild Thing' alongside Blink 182's 'All The Small Things' and 'Right Here, Right Now', which hasn't been in the here and now for a good ten years. Not exactly contemporary smash hits, but what do you care; you're just smacking a drum anyway.
Speaking of which, your hands will hurt after a while from all the clapping. Instinctively, you'll want to use the edge of the drum surface for that secondary sound, but try hitting the sides of the drum instead of clapping; that way, only one hand gets injured instead of two.
For all its good intentions and creative design, Donkey Konga isn't quite as intense or skill-driven as other games of its kind like DDR or Karaoke Revolution. More mature gamers or actual musicians will probably grow tired of it after a while.
Visually, Donkey Konga isn't terribly exciting. The look is clean and utilitarian, straight out of the original SNES Donkey Kong Country. It's a bit of a letdown, but you're listening more than looking, so it's not a big deal.
What truly rocks is the game's affordability. Donkey Konga comes with one bongo accessory in a neat and tidy $50 package. What a sweet concept. Remember that Dreamcast maraca game, Samba de Amigo? Those maracas cost practically $100 a pair, and that game could only handle a max of two players. For much less, you can easily afford four sets of Konga drums for a full group game. Take that, bourgeois capitalist maraca pigs at Sega! The bongo is the instrument of the people!
Sure, you can take your Konga drums out into the cruel world and try your hand at the real thing, but then you'd be just another weird musical hobo wandering around Berkeley. Donkey Konga is a fine game for living room drummers, and provided you don't intend on going pro, is a worthy instrument.