Donkey Konga 3
Perhaps you're like me and were intrigued by Donkey Konga, a rhythm game featuring Nintendo's Donkey Kong, produced by Namco, in which the player beats on a specially made bongo controller. Perhaps you were also like me, when after you saw the American song list for the U.S. version of the game, you were much less excited. It doesn't help that the third Japanese iteration of the series includes songs by Asian Kung-Fu Generation, Orange Range, and other well known (and for me, well loved) songs. Fortunately, the Gamecube's ability to boot foreign games (with some help) comes to the rescue.
However, it takes a little bit of work to get a Japanese game to play on a non-Japanese Gamecube. It's not quite going out on a wing and a prayer, but there are things to be aware of. First off, you're going to need a Freeloader disc. You boot Freeloader before booting a game from a different region and after the Freeloader disc has started, you insert the foreign game. It's a bit of a pain, but the process is better than getting Japanese games running on the Playstation 2, and since the Xbox has no foreign games of consequence, we'll just leave that aside. There are other ways, including modding your Cube, but this seems like the path of least resistance. Of course, you'll also need an importer who will sell you the game. I used Play-Asia for both Freeloader and Donkey Konga 3. Other than a couple of extra days in getting everything to me, there was no difference in using Play-Asia to import a game, as compared to buying a domestic game from a reputable online store.
There are, however, a couple of caveats: for whatever reason (I'm told Namco games are finicky) Donkey Konga 3 won't save on a foreign memory card, which the game's oh so helpfully informs you in Japanese when you boot it. It's not a huge loss; there are unlockable songs and sound effects, but they're not really important. It's not an issue with every import game (Naruto Ninja Taisen 3 saves just fine), but it is something to be kept in mind. Secondly, Donkey Konga 3 doesn't come with the bongo controllers. One will need to purchase the controllers separately, or with Donkey Konga or Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat. I did the latter, buying them with the American release of Jungle Beat, and the U.S. controller works perfectly with the Japanese game. It's enough to make one wish for regionless PSP and DS software, but overall the process is not too bad.
Onto the game itself. Donkey Konga is a rhythm game featuring Nintendo's main monkey, Donkey Kong. For the most part, Mr. Kong is simply eye-candy, as the real draw is drumming along to many different songs. Unlike say, Dance Dance Revolution, in which the player dances on a pad, Donkey Konga has the player furiously beating a specially made bongo controller. The songs in the game feature timed beats by either hitting the right or left bongo drum, both together, or clapping (which the controller picks up on its small microphone). It's a simple formula, but it is actually a blast to play, once one has gotten the hang of it. The simplicity also allows people who usually don't play video games a chance to join in the fun. On its hardest settings, Donkey Konga 3 is no walk in the park. The difficulty for the most part increases with the player's ability (and the game itself is good about telling you how difficult a song is), so novices and experts alike can enjoy some bongo-beating fun.
But yet, there isn't that much more to the whole formula. Yes, there are some fun mini-games and some different modes, including a random song mode. There are plenty of unlockables, such as different bongo sounds and more songs, mostly older Nintendo themes. But outside of the absolutely wild multiplayer feature (which frankly, is worth the price of however many bongo drums you can get your hands on), the long and short of Donkey Konga 3 is beating those drums. You're not going to find a kart racing game or a fighting game hidden on the disc, however, the combination of the three Donkey Konga titles and the fun Jungle Beat does make bongos a tempting proposition. Although Donkey Konga 3's gameplay is easily picked up, it does take a long time to master and for a player that enjoys it, the game is very rewarding. The game can get rather intense, and it is not uncommon to really wear out one's arms after an hour and a half of play.
The song selection is good, and fans will surely find a set of favorite tunes. The genres range from J-Pop to anime, game music to Latin. Much of the reason that I bought Donkey Konga 3, as opposed to the first or second iterations of the game, were for songs like Asian Kung-Fu Generation's 'Reraito,' Orange Range's 'Hana,' and Dragonball Z's classic 'Cha-la Head Cha-la' theme. Most of these songs are not sung by the original performers (with the possible exception of the first Pokemon anime theme, which makes sense), which is somewhat disappointing. It's especially heart-breaking since the game's Japanese advertisements listed the band names with the songs, leading one to assume that the game contained the original versions of the songs. However, in addition to those songs, while playing the game, I found some new favorites, including one song by Puffy Ayumi, and a few listed under 'variety.'
It's 2005. Most gamers know whether they enjoy these musical games by now. If you do, and you have a Gamecube, Donkey Konga 3 is worth the import. Sure, the game is likely to come to America, completely gutted and filled to the brim with crappy English pop music. But for Japanese pop culture fans, Donkey Konga 3 is a treasure trove of fun moments.