Clap your hands, everybody. Everybody, clap your hands.
Rhythm games have been around for quite some time now, but there has been a problem plaguing the genre. Too many of them cater to those who are in the hardcore crowd. The high level of difficulty associated with the genre has locked out many people who would like to enjoy them. Namco and Nintendo have teamed together to bring Donkey Konga to the world. Donkey Konga is an enjoyable rhythm game that invites players of all skill levels to join in on the fun.
Donkey Konga follows the standard of most games in its genre. The game uses a special controller, in this case a pair of conga drums shaped like barrels, to make music along with the game. After picking a song, it loads up and the game begins. A series of “notes” scroll from the right and side of the screen to the left where eventually they roll over a marker. The object of the game is to hit the correct note when it reaches the marker. The more accurate you are, the more points you will score. A certain amount of notes must be hit correctly in order to pass the song.
Donkey Konga has four different notes. There are notes for the left and right drums individually, and one for hitting them both at the same time. However, what makes Donkey Konga different from many other rhythm games is its fourth note. The fourth note requires players to clap their hands. The clap sounds are picked up by a microphone, which is buried in between the two conga drums. Clapping adds a whole new level of interaction to the game, and gives it a very social dynamic. For example, if you have less drums than friends playing the game, those without drums can fill in and do the claps. And, of course, there’s also the factor of being able to mess around with your pals and set off their claps early (by clapping yourself, or perhaps screaming something like “PAN!”). In addition to these four notes, there are also various drum and clap rolls. Rolls require players to beat the same note repeatedly to score higher, though they do not count towards accuracy.
The meat of Donkey Konga is in its single player “Street Performance” mode. In this oddly named mode, the goal is to simply play songs and collect coins by doing so. There are three difficulties available for this (and most) modes. The first difficulty level is intended for those who are total novices to the genre. The notes are sparse and not the least bit complex in this mode. The medium level is intended for those who have played rhythm games before. Still, those who are really into the genre are still going to find this fairly easy. However, it is a good step up from the easy level (especially for those who start on easy). In both of these lower difficulty levels, all the songs are unlocked from the start. On the hardest difficulty level, every song remains locked. Songs must be purchased from the “DK Town” to be played on hard mode. The good news is that hard mode does offer some challenge. It’s never near as hard as a game like Dance Dance Revolution gets, but the difficulty is still fairly up there on the hardest songs. There is also a challenge mode, which will test you on how many songs you can clear in a row without failing.
As far as multiplayer goes, there are a few ways to play. The aforementioned challenge mode is available for up to two players. A competitive battle mode also allows for two players. Finally, there is Jam Session mode, which can accommodate up to four drummers.
Battle mode pits two players against each other to see who can score more points in a song. While playing through the song, a few special events will show up along the way. The first is the POW block. Hitting the POW block will zap the other player’s score and put them way behind. Second is the slot machine. Three notes in the song are specially labeled “STOP!” notes. Getting the same accuracy on all three of these notes will match up three reels on a slot machine, awarding anyone who accomplishes it a handful of points. Finally is the most fun of the three events, the drum roll contest. This event usually occurs at the very end of the song and tests to see which player can hit the drums more during the roll. The winning player is given all the points both players earn during the roll, plus an extra 1000 points. This event can turn a loser into a winner and, because it occurs at the very end of the song, it is very intense.
Unlike the Battle mode, which is competitive, Jam Session is very laid back. This mode has one to four players simply jamming out songs having fun. The songs note tracks are split into four and each drummer plays a different part of the song. The arrangements for Jam Session are fantastic and playing with three of four players is a total blast. Sadly, there is no real option for competition in Jam Sessions. While it is fun to jam out songs, it would be nice if there was also a battle mode available for three and four player games. Also, there is only one difficulty level for the mode; the individual song difficulties range from those across the three levels. Unfortunately, this limits the song selection for a group of players looking to play at a particular skill level.
Donkey Konga’s song list is a varied one. It clocks in at 33 songs, which run the gamut from children’s songs to hits from various decades, a couple classical songs, and rounding them all out are a couple songs from various Nintendo games or cartoons based on Nintendo games. Overall though, the song list skews slightly young. It lacks the hits of today to keep fresh with gamers in their late teens and early 20s, with a couple of exceptions. Also, it’s worth noting that the songs included in the game are not their original versions. While Nintendo may have licensed a bunch of songs to put in their drum slapping fun-fest, they did not use the original recordings of these songs. Instead, all the songs have been re-recorded and sung by approximations of the original artists. This doesn’t take very much away from the game though, as most of the recreations are strikingly similar to the original songs.
Donkey Konga is an excellent music game for beginners, though those experienced in the genre will most likely find it lacking in the difficulty area. Still, the game manages to be a lot of fun with its unique Donkey Kong theme and conga drum controller. Donkey Konga does manage to pull in those who normally wouldn’t play a rhythm game, and its smooth difficulty curve is responsible for this casual appeal. Nintendo and Namco have done an outstanding job at crafting a rhythm game that will appeal to gamers of almost all skill levels. It also makes an exceptional multiplayer title to just sit back and have fun with.