(GCN / GameCube)

Donkey Konga (GCN / GameCube)

Game Review

Donkey Konga Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Peter Willington

Moving to a new beat

Donkey Konga is a pretty average rhythm action title when purely viewed as a piece of software engrained upon a small disc that one slaps onto the GameCube's spindle. Without a "true" Donkey Kong platformer on the horizon Nintendo rather shamelessly took the beloved characters of the franchise and transposed them into a title for the rhythm action crowd in 2004, one year before Guitar Hero would stake its claim on the genre and ultimately grind it into the ground.

With its influences derived from Bemani, though in a less abstract manner than similar show and repeat games such as Pop 'N' Music and even Beatmania, Donkey Konga presents just four commands to be followed: tap left, tap right, tap both together and clap, immediately removing much of the fiddly physicality inherent to the multi-hold combos found in Activision, Konami and MTV Games' juggernauts.

The track list too reads like one found in your typical 'Mania title and though this article focuses on the songs included within the PAL outing – each territory having a repertoire to call their own – the aural direction remains constant. Covers of popular tunes of each region feature, taken from across a deep cut of genres. Nena's 99 Red Balloons float past Richard III by Supergrass, watched by the punky stylings of Blink 182 who look on from afar, too busy with All the Small Things. Indie, rock, pop, funk, dance, classical, even a few modernised renditions of Nintendo themes; it's all here and it's all music that even the meanest spirited music critic would label "instantly recognisable".

"Instantly recognisable" is also what the meanest spirited games critic might call the title's play structure too. Aside from a few largely forgettable mini games that experiment with the title's unique controls – that would clearly come to inform much of Donkey Kong Jungle Beat's off-kilter rhythm action – the main thrust of play is selecting a song and playing it well. A stream of coloured circular symbols slide from right to left, as they cross a line underneath your on-screen avatar of Donkey or Diddy Kong striking them at the correct time results in a Good or Perfect being awarded. These add to a running total that when tallied up as the final bars play out, determine whether your run of that track has been successful.

This all sounds remarkably familiar doesn't it? It's a form and structure not dissimilar to the niche titles that came before it, albeit wrapped up in a primate skin. Yet it is not the software that makes Donkey Konga special.

To see why DK deserves attention years after its release, you need to avert your attention from the TV screen and instead to the lump of plastic resting on the floor in front of you. The controls are simple and this is streamlined further by the title's greatest asset: the DK Bongos. With the exception of the input method of Let's Tap, there is perhaps no more obvious an analogy for rhythm in a game than a small barrel-shaped peripheral to beat in time. It's immediately obvious to participants how the real world act of hitting the tactile plastic "skin" of these drums will translate to the percussion of the selected song and herein lies its beauty.

Being able to provide meaning to an abstraction of music performance encourages inclusion. With inclusion comes group play, and it's here that Donkey Konga's true strengths are revealed. If we fast forward two years to 2006 and the release of Nintendo's Wii, a system that promised a stripped-down game experience for players of all ages, we see the similarities between the Wii Remote and the DK Bongos.

Just like the Wii's pack-in title Wii Sports, the method of control is reduced, given physical actions everyone can relate to. To hit a drum, you hit a drum; to swing a golf club, you swing a golf club. Since "non-gamers" can translate real world skills to the title more easily than learning title-specific actions and button presses, their inhibitions towards play in public weaken. For those of a shy disposition the size, shape and design of the DK Bongos is knowingly ridiculous and requires the participant to be seated, again removing the barrier of standing up and "performing" to a room of friends. Couple this with the software's selection of diverse tracks and you're left with an experience that's difficult to resist for even the most stubborn curmudgeon.

Donkey Konga was ahead of its time in terms of the rhythm genre; its focus on a social experience, pipping to the post the mainstream rhythm action scene by a year and Nintendo's own strategy for enticing the casual gamer by two. Without the bongos the title is an average addition to the Bemani pantheon; with them it's a remarkably forward-thinking outing from one of the most remarkably forward-thinking companies in video games today.


Easily overlooked by an audience that has seemingly had its fill of music based titles, this is a staggeringly fun party title that shines with four players. Even if the rhythm action genre isn't you thing, Donkey Konga marks a transition of MO change at Nintendo, enticing gamers from all walks of life in to sample its simple bongo-based wares, while retaining the core principle of playability first that the publisher is synonymous with.

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User Comments (22)



47drift said:

Loved this game to death. The second one was neat too, despite it having less video gamey songs.

I really hope a third installment happens eventually. I played this one more than I can even remember.



NESguy94 said:

I loved this game! The second one wasn't nearly as good. Didn't Japan already get Donkey Konga 3.



Slapshot said:

I wonder how many hours I spent banging away on those bongos? Hmmm, I think I just might have to spend a few more today after reading this review.

Great review Peter!



XCWarrior said:

I own the game, its fun, but the song selection is meh. I'd give it a 7, but because of the bongos it is worth playing.



Linkstrikesback said:

1st one was ok, not much variation in the amount of songs included though. 2nd one had horrificly terrible songs.



SKTTR said:

So there are at least 7 different Donkey Konga games. From region to region each Donkey Konga game had a different music setlist: Donkey Konga (EU, NA, JP), Donkey Konga 2 (EU, NA, JP) and Donkey Konga 3 (JP).

Well, most of my favourite songs are on DK2EU and it has more interesting modes than DK1EU (and more songs and better graphics as well). But DK1EU had some good songs too. I think it all depends on your favourite songs.

I've completed both of the EU versions on the hardest setting, but I thought the jam modes were unbeatable. I still have three DK Bongo Controllers and need to pick up a fourth one for completion. 8/10 for both games.



NintyMan said:

I've seen a lot of hate for this game, but it really is a blast to play in multiplayer and it even gives you a good workout on the harder modes. If anything, I wish that it would've played the whole song instead of just the first part of it. Personally, I love it. The first Donkey Konga is my favorite because there were more video game songs and even the TV theme songs for Pokemon and Kirby Right Back at Ya! Not to mention that there was a few good 80's hits on there as well. Donkey Konga 2 had a couple more songs I didn't care for, but it still had some neat ones here and there and I liked the backgrounds that it would show as I played.

My sister still plays them when her friend comes over, and I wouldn't mind playing this and Donkey Konga 2 to remember good Gamecube memories. I wish there had been a Donkey Konga 3 for the states, but sometimes you can't have everything.



PSICOffee said:

I've never played these games, and kind of always wanted to, but I didn't want to shell out the cash for the whole set (I just bought Jungle Beat on the Wii anyway) just like I never played DDR Mario. Living in the US, I can only imagine the terrible mainstream music presented shudder

While reading the review I thought you were going to end with a low score, mentioning average things (didn't expect an 8). That was pretty long-winded to say it seems average but is fun with people and you play sitting down so don't be shy and came before the Wii and Guitar Hero and Nintendo is great because they innovate. Curmudgeon? To each his own, I guess.



Retro_on_theGo said:

Whoa, I was just thinking about this game! I was trying to figure out the name. I was about to give up and figure I made it up. Then this review comes out! Weird Coincidence. Great reviee. I really liked this game back then. I wish I still had my gamecube so I could play this



Hokori said:

@1 they had a 3rd but it was Japanese only, but I dont see why they wouldnt release it on the VC for wii U I was manly video game songs from Nintendo and Namco



SilverBaretta said:

Got so many hours of fun with this back in the Gamecube days. I like the sequel's modes better though.



TheGreenSpiny said:

This review was terrible. Though I guess he got his main point right, those DK Bongos were awesome and really versitle. Wish they would have released DK's Barrel Blast (or whatever it was called) for the 'Cube or at least with bongo support for the Wii version. And DK's Jungle Beat was one of the best platformers ever.

The interface for this game was terrible. Didn't like how the notes scrolled from right to left instead of bottom to top. Made it a bit confusing to keep up with. Also the reason I finally stopped playing both of them was the fact that you could only play one song at a time and then get kicked back to menu screen- really annoying.



SamuraiShyGuy said:

I never played this and I actually forgot about it. I always wanted to play it though. But I'm sure it would be hard to get 4 people with 4 bongos together.



SwerdMurd said:

man this game sucked There was a slight lag when using the bongos which completely ruined it for me and the song selection was really limited and terrible. Scroll from right to left was also terrible. Interface wasn't good.

Not a lot went right with this game, imo. 8/10 is beyond kind.



komicturtle said:

Love this game a lot. I was cleaning up my room today and found the bongos and had an urge to play the game. Wish Donkey Konga 3 made it out- since I heard it was much better than the first 2.



LittleIrves said:

Picked this up recently after finding bongos for cheap. Pretty amazing. Sitting a non-gamer friend in front of this and saying, "Check this out," then watching their face go from curiosity to embarrassment to utter joy is a beautiful, beautiful thing.



colortvgame said:

Two or three years ago, something compelled me to buy a Spice Orange Japanese GameCube and Donkey Konga 3. The reason I didn't just use the Freeloader was that the game is unique in that it wouldn't save unless played on a Japanese console.

...And I've barely played it! What a travesty. Mark my words, I will make sure it gets a proper play. Just not quite yet.

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