The fifteen of you who actually bought a SEGA Dreamcast might remember a little rhythm-based game called Samba De Amigo. Using a set of Maracas, players shook their arms and body to the beat in order to score massive points. Personally it’s my favorite rhythm game of all-time because it was easy to play and the infectious gameplay always kept me coming back for more. Now Nintendo is looking to cater to the same type of people with a similar game called Donkey Konga. As the namesake implies, gamers use a set of bongos to rock to the beat. And while the design is pretty nice, the inconstancies in the gameplay make the game less enjoyable than it should have been.
Before we go over the game I feel that Nintendo should be commended for its efforts in this release. At the standard $49.99 retail price point you get a copy of the game and one set of Bongos. When companies release these kinds of games they like to charge an additional $10 for the peripheral. Personally I always thought it was inane to have to pay an extra $10 just to play the game the way it was meant to be played. By charging less, Nintendo effectively helped its cause because gamers will probably want to invest that extra $10 into an extra set of bongos.
That’s because the bongos are the key to enjoyment in this game. Oh, you can play with the standard GameCube controller but it takes most of the fun out of the game. It’s kind of like playing Dance Dance Revolution without the dance pad. In essence, you’re still going through the same motions but your body is physically out of the game. They’re simple to use too. Differentiating between your left and right hand is half the battle; knowing how to clap is the other half. As the song progresses notes will travel from the right side of the screen into a “sweet spot” on the left side. How well you time your actions in accordance with the beat will determine your score. It’s the basic groundwork of every single rhythm-based game out there, so if you’ve played one you should have no trouble getting into this one. Furthermore, the game is based off of Namco’s Taiko Drum Master so those familiar with it shouldn’t have a problem with DK.
Nintendo decided to lock a huge portion of the game from the start, but you’ll still have a lot of options available to you. There’s the Street Performance mode which serves as the game’s core single-player mode. In it you can play songs and earn coins which can be used to unlock other goodies. Initially only the Monkey and Chimp modes will be available to you. Monkey is a great place for newbies to start as it’s the easiest of the three modes. Anyone who has played this type of game before will want to start at Chimp and work their way towards Gorilla. For multiple players there’s a head-to-head Battle Mode and a Jam session which can accommodate up to four players. In Battle Mode two players take on a song and try to compete for the highest score. To spice it up a bit there’s a POW block (from the Mario games) which when hit will take away from your opponent’s score. A slot machine that’s activated by hitting three specific notes and a roll-off at the end of the song also add some spunk to the battle. The multiplayer Jam Session is a lot of fun, especially if you have three rhythmically-inclined friends on hand. The last is a Jam mode which is one of those lame hidden note modes. As the song plays you’ll only get a marker telling you that a note belongs there, but no mention of which note it is. It requires you to memorize the song in order to be successful. While it’s logical if you’re an actual musician, it’s just inane when you’re trying to sit around and have fun with a video game.I was a little concerned when I saw the initial track listing for this game last year. It’s hard to imagine how songs like ‘Loco-Motion’ and ‘I Think I Love You’ would fit in with this thematic. Thankfully the audio engineers hired respectable bands to perform covers that fit in with the bongo theme. So that means you’ll get respectable covers of ‘All the Small Things,’ ‘On the Road Again,’ ‘Rock Lobster’ and ‘Louie Louie.’ All told there are more than 30 tracks available for your perusal, and while that seems like a lot on paper it’s actually a rather paltry amount. In addition to the licensed music the game features remixed versions of popular Nintendo theme songs that were altered to fit in with the theme of the game. Of course there’s a huge downside to this as well. Most of the songs are geared towards younger audiences and only a handful will appeal to hardcore gamers. After some time you’ll find yourself narrowing your play list down to about five or six songs while ignoring the rest entirely.
When playing the game I never felt like the designers were able to grasp the concept of bongos. Being that I lived in Ashland, Ore for three years I was able to experience the miracle of bongos first hand. As any good hippie can attest, a bongo helps to keep the rhythm and set the pace much like a bass drum. In DK the bongos run the gamut from the chorus line, to the melody to the rhythm. What made Samba De Amigo so addictive was that it really felt like you were playing maracas in a band. In DK you never quite feel like a bongo player in a conga band. At times you’re the main attraction but the effects are so quiet and subdued that your ears will pick up on the melody of the song instead of the sounds that you’re making.
The look of the game is amazing, if only because it brings back so many memories of 1999. Namco decided to go for that pre-rendered look for its characters that was found in the Donkey Kong franchise, but decided that decent animation was too much and rid the game of it. What you have is some sub par character models that feature close to 10 frames of animation. Calling it embarrassing might be understating just how horrible the characters in the game look. Sadly the rest of the interface looks just as bad; although the notes are visible the backgrounds are very bland and generic. Actually they’re just still images that pan along as the player progresses in the song.
In terms of audio the game merely gets the job done; nothing more, nothing less. Similar games such as Sony’s Amplitude went the extra mile by including support for Dolby Pro Logic II. Apparently Nintendo was content with delivering the music to two channels instead of immersing the gamer in the sound. What you get is a decent audio experience that should have really been more. Everything sounds good but the music lacks that extra oomph to get your body into the action. Probably the best audio comes from the actual bongos themselves. While they’re not real bongos (they have a sort of rubber top to them and are constructed of plastic) they emit a satisfying sound when hit.
To add some more variety to the game Nintendo included some mini-games that can be unlocked via the coins you earn in the Street mode. There’s a pretty fun juggling game, an interesting rope climb game and a rather pointless whack-a-mole variation. All of them have their merits and serve to prove that there are further uses for the bongo mechanism outside of DK. Don’t look at them as the main attraction though because they’re merely there to add some diversity to the game. Other unlockables are available that change the sound that come from the bongos. They’re fun but none of them really fit in with the music.
With the GameCube market being as weak as it is, buying Donkey Konga should be a no-brainer. It’s not the best rhythm-based game out there but it’s a fun one that players of all ages can truly enjoy. Some of the tracks in the game are troublesome and the graphics look like they’re straight out of 1997, but honestly, what are you going to spend your fifty bucks on? Pokemon Colosseum? Yea, I didn’t think so.
Its poor track listing won't win over older audiences, but fans of the rhythm-based genre will probably be able to forget the shortcomings. It's a fun little game and Nintendo's decision to pack in a set of bongos at no extra cost was a great move.
Rating: 7.8 Above Average
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.
It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.
It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.
When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."
As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.
When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.
Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile