Claaap Your Hands!!
I knew I had to have Donkey Konga the moment it was announced. I had always been intrigued by music games, but they never seem to get released on Nintendo consoles. After hearing Miyamoto repeatedly praising Samba de Amigo, it seemed only a matter of time before Nintendo came out with their own take on the genre. Now Donkey Konga is out in Japan, thanks to a joint effort by Namco and Nintendo, and I’m having a blast introducing this crazy new contraption to family and friends.
Donkey Konga comes with its own two-barreled Konga Drum controller. There are four types of inputs: the left drum, represented on-screen by a yellow half-circle; the right drum, represented by a red half-circle; both drums, represented by a pink circle; and the drum even recognizes hand claps, signified by light blue bursts. These symbols move across the screen in time to the music, and you have to hit the drum as they cross the beat mark. Your accuracy is rated as good, ok, bad, or miss, and the game also tracks "combos" of how many decent hits you get in a row. Although it’s quite obvious, it should be noted that playing on the Konga Drum is an entirely different experience, requiring a lot more energy than most games. You may find yourself quickly wanting a breather, with a sweaty back and sore palms, and on the higher settings, you’ll feel some significant mental fatigue as well. Due to the speed and precision required, it would be quite ill-advised to play when you’re tired or drunk -- although it does make for quite a laugh for onlookers.
In the game’s main mode, there is a meter that fills with every good beat, and you have to cross a certain threshold to "complete" a song. Fill the meter up completely, and you’ll get a gold medal. You also earn coins in this mode, which can be used to unlock mini-games, expert level songs, and various sound effects that take the place of the default conga sound. Most of the replacement sound effects get annoying fast, but they are pretty funny when you first get them. There are barking dogs, people ooh-ing and aah-ing, Pikmin sound effects, Mario sound effects, cell phones, tambourines, maracas, and more. The other instrument sounds are the best for obvious reasons. You can only take so much of dogs howling.
There are over thirty songs in total, all of which are available on the easy, hard, and expert difficulty settings. There is a huge variety in the styles of music, including a couple of songs from other games, classical tunes, Latin, folk, J-Pop, and anime and TV show themes. Nintendo fans may be disappointed with the lack of game themes, since all we get are a Super Mario Bros. medley, the Monkey Rap from DK 64, and the Donkey Konga theme. However, some of the other songs are still Nintendo related, including Kirby and Hamtaro anime themes and songs from the Japanese Pikmin and Starfi commercials. All of the songs are fun to play despite their varied styles. I thought I’d be at a disadvantage, not knowing many of the songs, but instead, I’ve been introduced to a whole new library of tunes that I likely wouldn’t have heard otherwise.
As far as difficulty goes, the hard setting seems best for most people. It really pulls you in and keeps you active in the music, without running your brain into the ground. The easy setting is good for getting people into the game, but starts to feel too slow after a bit. On the other side, the expert level has so many quick beats that it’s hard to follow how they fit in with the music and it quickly exhausts you both mentally and physically. The expert setting truly is for experts looking for more of a challenge than a good time. And if you happen to get through all of that, Donkey Konga also features "COOL" versions of all the songs at each difficulty setting. With the COOL settings, all the cue symbols are replaced by simple barrels, and the player has to have the beats memorized. It seems ridiculously impossible, but it’s the ultimate challenge for the most hardcore Konga players.
In addition to the main mode, there is also a two-player battle mode, a one- to four-player free session mode, and a challenge mode for one or two players, putting you through song after song until you’re either too exhausted to go on or have beaten your way through every track on the playlist. There are also some goofy little mini-games to unlock, including a whack-a-mole game featuring King K. Rool, a vine climbing game, and banana juggling. None of these are anything special, just mere novelties since you’re using the Konga Drum instead of your regular controller.
For importers, there isn’t much to worry about. Basic katakana recognition will help you get to the right difficulty settings and unlockables, but once you find your way to the song list, you can hear each song play before selecting it. Another perk for importers is that if Donkey Konga does come to North American shores, it will likely have an entirely different song list, making it more like buying a sequel than getting the same game twice. The game doesn’t really have a firm release date outside of Japan, so if you’re interested, there’s really no reason to wait. The price may seem steep at first, but when you compare it to other music games requiring fancy dance pads and the like, it’s right about average. You can order Donkey Konga through our partners at Video Game Depot.
While not an entirely original idea, at least we finally have a fun and addictive music game for GameCube. The genre’s been almost non-existent on Nintendo platforms, and perhaps Donkey Konga will prompt Sega or Konami to start bringing their own games to GameCube as well.