Sunday, June 12, 2005

Donkey Konga!

Since the early years of the PS1, musical rhythm games have been very rare, yet very fun. Games like Dance Dance Revolution and Parappa the Rapper became not only classics, but spawned many sequels that also became hits. The games were simple, but they drew so many fans that amazed many in arcade and homes alike. Now, Nintendo is treading that water with its drumming game titled Donkey Konga. What seems to be a lot like a weak use of a Nintendo mascot and a great way to gain a good accessory for the Gamecube, doesn’t really live up the name of the music genre, but it’s a great first attempt for Nintendo.

Right off the bat, you can’t help but notice (or play without) the Bongos. They look like actual bongo’s and are made out of hard plastic. They look somewhat wimpy at first, as they tops of the bongos are made out of a thin plastic fabric that looks like you could tear through it in only a few hits and then you’d have to go out and buy another for $35. But that is not that case. The bongos can take quite the beating and resist dirt and keep very clean. It’s a good, sturdy controller, but will really only serve one purpose.

Of course, the bongo has four options. You can hit the left bongo, the right bongo, both bongos, or take advantage of the built in microphone and clap. There’s also a start button, but that doesn’t do much throughout the course of the game except start games. Pretty much, the entire game consists of these four controls being rhythmically scrolled across the screen to the beat of the song. When a yellow icon appears you hit the left bongo, when a red icon appears you hit the right bongo, purple means you hit both, and blue means that you clap. Of course, clapping can not only get annoying to your hands and the people around you, but there are other options. Although thy aren’t recommended in the manual, you can yell, hit the side of the bongo’s, or do anything else to make noise that will set off the microphone. This is the only bug on the bongo, although the bongos don’t always pick up when you hit them, you can adjust the sensitivity to however soft or hard you like it.

Of course, you didn’t buy Donkey Konga for the bongos. The game consists of a few modes. The main mode that you’ll be playing the majority of the time is ‘Jam Session’. This mode lets you just play the songs to gain coins to which you can buy different sound for your bongos or mini-games. You begin by selecting the difficulty, monkey, chimp or gorilla. The three difficulties don’t add much except more notes. After you select the difficulty, it’s time for you to select a song. Each of the songs accompanies their own difficulties. The difficulty of the song is shown by a bongo drum. The more bongos, the harder the song. These bongos don’t make the songs significantly harder, but adds more 16th and 8th notes, making your hands and eyes work faster.

For each of your beats, you’ll earn a rating. If you hit the note perfect or near perfect, you’ll earn a ‘Great”. A note that’s almost right gets you an ‘Ok’. If you’re way off, you’ll receive a ‘Bad’ rating. And, if you really suck, or just plain don’t hit the bongo you’ll receive a ‘Miss’ rating. For each rating you receive, you get one step closer to getting a new bar. For every ‘Great’ or ‘Ok’ rating you receive, you’ll gain a bar. You must get three in a row, or you don’t get a bar. If you receive a ‘Bad’ or a ‘Miss’ in between those three, the slate will be cleaned and you’ll have to go for another combo. If you don’t receive enough bars by the end of the song, you won’t pass. If you do accumulate enough bars, you’ll earn a medal. The closer you are to getting the entire bar filled up, the better the medal.

Along with medals, every song you play through you earn coins. Depending on the rating of the beat, you’ll earn more or less coins; good ratings will get you more coins, while worse will get you less. With coins, you can buy all the extras in the game. These extras don’t consist of new songs or anything cool like that, but instead the right to unlock certain song on the Gorilla difficulty and different bongo sound sets. This leads to low replay value, as you get everything right off the bat. Of course, there are three bongo oriented mini-games, but their rather cheap and not much fun at all.

Of course, there are some gamers who take these rhythm games to the absolute max, and Nintendo didn’t forget about them. After jam session, there’s jam mode. If you’ve taken the time to memorize every single beat, then you can play a song in jam mode. In jam mode, no symbols go by, only bare barrels. If you’ve played the song enough, you probably know the order that the beats are coming in, and that’s what jam mode counts on. The difficulties still apply, which can even take the extreme to the extreme. If you get sick of jam session, which you most likely will, and don’t have any friends around to jam with, jam mode offers quite a challenge.

However, if you’re not up to the challenge that jam mode brings, you can try out challenge mode, for a very, long, time. Challenge mode consists of every song in the game, back to back. You start out with your bar full. For every couple beats you miss, you lose a bar. You can get that bar back like you normally would and this makes it a little too easy. Once your bar empties, the challenge is over and your score is recorded. This mode can go on for hours, even days if you’re skilled enough. Taking breaks is recommended, as play can get pretty tiresome on players wrists.

There’s no reason to bang away at the bongo’s if the song selection isn’t just right. Donkey Konga’s selection is rather…eccentric. Ranging from a rather kiddy version of Bingo, to a tropical version of numerous Nintendo themes, Donkey Konga has some good ideas, but overall they’re rather odd. About halfway through the song, as you finally get in a groove, it fades out. This leaves much to be desired, and is rather lame. Although, some songs play all the way through, they’re still rather short.

And, although there are song rather weird songs on Donkey Konga, some classical hits make its way into the selection, which is a nice change of pace from ‘Campfire Medly’ and ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’. The ‘Turkish March’ and ‘Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G Minor’ are just a few of the classical songs thrown into the mix. The entire list of songs are:

All The Small Things
Busy Child
Dancing in the Street
DK Rap (Donkey Kong 64 Theme)
Donkey Konga Theme
Happy Birthday
Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G Minor
The Impression That I Get
I Think I Love You
I've Been Working on the Railroad
Itsy Bitsy Spider
Kirby: Right Back At Ya!
The Legend of Zelda Theme
Like Wow
The Loco-Motion
Louie Louie
Mario Bros. Theme
On the Road Again
Oye Como Va
Para Los Rumberos
Pokèmon Theme
Right Here, Right Now
Rock Lobster Rock
This TownRow, Row, Row Your Boat
She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain
Shining Star
Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing) *my personal favorite*
Stupid Cupid
Turkish March
We Will Rock You
What I Like About You
Whip It
Wild Thing
Yankee Doodle Dandy
You Can't Hurry Love

While during play, most people are too busy breaking their wrists and playing the game to notice Donkey Kongas graphics. Although cel shaded, Donkey Konga has a nice look to it. As you hit your bongos, DK will hit the exact same one in the upper left portion of the screen. Although his reaction is somewhat delayed, it’s a rather fun animation to watch, especially after the song is over and you can beat on the bongos all you like. Also, when you do well on a song, banana chickens begin dancing and hopping around with Diddy and Kranky Kong at the bottom of your screen as well as some rhinos and other animals. These animations aren’t done in detail, as most rhythm games don’t focus on graphics, but more on the core gameplay.

Sadly, the game sounds about as good as it looks. The bongos sound rather blocky and some of the sound effects are horrible. The same cannot be said for the songs though. They sound rather professional, but sound like they were sung by either Richard Simmons or a group of five year olds. This can be rather disappointing, especially during rock songs like ‘We Will Rock You’, as some of the atmosphere is ruined. So, there’s not much good to be said about the sound, which is sad, because the entire game is based around music. It’s not good, it’s not bad. It’s a little lower than average.

Overall, Donkey Konga is a good game for those fans of the musical rhythm genre. If you’re looking for a great, high-quality game to add to your collection, skip Donkey Konga. But, if you’re looking for a barrel of fun and a neat accessory, Donkey Konga’s your game. It’s bright, colorful, and more fun than a barrel of monkeys, but that’s about it.
The Evil Ryan Von Levingston


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