With our feature on another NAMCO-developed drum-based game running this month, it seems as if there's a theme running for November. That theme, naturally, is to get some electronic drums (or bongos), grab your friends, and rhythm the night away. Why has this never been done domestically before?
Oh, that's right. Rhythm games are few and far between outside of Asia. However, things are getting better!
Now, I'm not the music game maniac that our own Adam Arnold may be, but I've played my fair share of them. I have a few maraca sets for Samba de Amigo (both games), 8 or 9 DDR incarnations (including the Dreamcast editions), and all the Eyetoy goodness I can find. In our household, we have a Red Octane pad, a metal arcade-style dance pad, and a bunch of random lower-quality pads.
When I heard that NAMCO was bringing over the innovative Donkey Konga to North America along with Taiko: Drum Master, I was instantly excited. Now I say innovative, though really, this isn't anything new to Japan. However, it's the first local rhythm game for the GameCube in the US, and I can only hope that it will be successful enough to spark demand for more.
So, what exactly is this bizarre game? To understand Donkey Konga, one must first explore the controller. Imagine two barrel-shaped drums, bridged together with a Start button and microphone in the middle. Each bongo is really one large button. Thus, the controllers can tell the GameCube when the left, right, or both drums are struck, as well as pass along sound data.
To play the basic game, the player selects a song and hits the appropriate bongo (or claps for the microphone) at the right time and earn points. Combos, or uninterrupted streaks where the player hits the bongo right on the mark, are counted and points are tallied. The rules generally mimic those of DDR, for readers out there familiar with that brilliant game series.
There are quite a few extra modes in the game, and perhaps the one making this title stand out the most from its spiritual brother on the PS2 is the ability to use four bongos at the same time. Up to four players can play many of the game's modes, which makes this a particularly fun party game. The only trick is getting people over the fact that they're slapping a plastic drum, but once you've jumped that social hurdle, this game is a riot to play.
Even though this game is the best party game I've discovered this year, there are some significant flaws that keep Donkey Konga from achieving perfection.
While you'll recognize plenty of the tunes in the game, none of them are the originals. They're all covered, and for me, that's a real downer. It's hard for me to listen to "We Will Rock You" if Freddy Mercury isn't belting it out. For that reason, I almost enjoy the Japanese version of this game a bit more because I don't mind hearing songs I don't know - at least I don't feel like replacement singers are botching them up.
As this game is easy to play, but tough to master (unless you're a DDR fiend), it caters to both kids and adults equally, though I can barely stand playing the children's songs included in the lineup. "Bingo", "She'll be Coming 'Round the Mountain", and other soul-sucking tunes are painful for me to play, and yet, hitting the bongo is so darn fun I found myself playing them just as often as anything else.
All I can say is I'd like to see a bongo game with only adult songs on there, but we'll just have to see how the market reacts to this game before wishing for such a thing. While I'm at it, I'd love to see an all anime version of the game (with something more current than the theme from Galaxy Express 999), or a game music version, or an instrumental version. It seems like it would be so easy to develop, though I suppose licensing gets in the way of such tasks.
And let's face it, while Nintendo has some great themes, NAMCO doesn't boast a library of the most memorable game soundtracks. Konami. Square. Rare. Those guys have produced great game music over the years, but I don't think they'll be lending the themes for Castlevania, Final Fantasy, or Battletoads to NAMCO anytime soon.
There are bonus games that can be unlocked, though unlike Super Monkey Ball, they aren't the primary draw of the game. In fact, the main reason I liked this game so much was that it presents an interesting and fun physical challenge. The graphics are minimal, and there are actually some frames of animation and sprites that were ripped straight out of the SNES Donkey Kong Country series. Most of the action consists of Donkey Kong or Diddy Kong hitting a drum or clapping, and that's it. Overall, the graphics are terrible, purely because of the expectations that I have from both NAMCO and Nintendo - they've done better than this in the 16-bit era of gaming.
The menu system works okay, but when you're finished with a song, there is no option to go back to the song select screen. Instead, players are forced to retry or quit altogether, and that bothers me each time I have to cycle through the selections again.
I'm kind of amazed at this game. I mean the graphics are sub-par, the songs consist almost entirely of covers, the game doesn't flow as smoothly as it could, and yet it's a wonderful game. In the end, the graphics are unimportant, the songs are good enough (especially with the Mario and Zelda themes on there), and the menu is only annoying because it doesn't let me get back to playing the game as fast as I would like.
It's an interesting paradox, but the pros far outweigh the cons in this game. I liked this game so much that I went ahead and imported the Japanese version of it (my first GameCube import, though Freeloader users beware; you probably won't be able to save the game on a US GameCube), and I'm most likely going to order Donkey Konga 2 from Japan as well. Of course, I'll get the American sequel, and if the sequels are any better than the first game, then I'll be in rhythm game heaven with four of my friends for the foreseeable future.
Grab this game, and you will be too!
For the curious, here's a complete US song list:
Diddy's Ditties (popular children's songs)
Campfire Medley (MORE children's songs)
Pokemon Theme (the English version)
Kirby Right Back at Ya (also the English version)
We Will Rock You
I think I Love You
All the Small Things
Rock This Town
You Can't Hurry Love
Right Here Right Now
Dancing in the Street
The Impression That I Get
What I like About You
Para los Romberos
Sing Sing Sing with a Swing
Oye Como Va
On the Road Again
Hungarian Dance #5 in G Minor
DK Rap (same song in Japan and the US)
The Legend of Zelda Theme
Mario Bros Theme
Donkey Konga Theme (also the same song in Japan and the US)