very time the company does something in the least bit novel or wacky, the faithful start hyping the coming of another title that displays that "trademark Nintendo innovation." For this reason, expectations about Donkey Konga have been surprisingly high for what is, in essence, a solid yet not very ambitious rhythm game. It’s also not a very good example of "Nintendo innovation" – for a couple of reasons. Most importantly, it’s not even developed by Nintendo (Namco actually helmed the project). Secondly, it’s not particularly innovative, as the game seems content to stick closely to the conventions of the genre as defined by the leader in the field, Konami, the creator of both Dance Dance Revolution and DrumMania.
DrumMania is the most obvious influence on Donkey Konga. Much like that arcade sensation, you must simply bang your bongos and clap in time to the music. There are "notes" that indicate whether you need to hit the left bongo, right bongo, both bongos simultaneously, or clap (which is picked up through the built-in microphone). As is common in the rhythm or "bemani" style, the symbols scroll towards a target, and you get graded on how on-beat your drumming is. On the easiest difficulty it’s a breeze, but unlocking songs in the arduous Gorilla mode ups the challenge considerably.
However, I was displeased to find that it was very easy to "cheat" in a couple of ways, one of which I feel should have been noticed and corrected before the final version shipped. Although the game instructs you to hit either left, right, or both bongos depending on what note is displayed, I quickly learned that it never penalizes you for hitting both bongos when only one was correct. By "doubling-up" in this fashion, the game then becomes a matter of simply double hits and claps, which drastically reduces the difficulty, and will allow nefarious gamers to easily gain an unfair advantage during multiplayer modes. Also, because the microphone is so sensitive, a slight tap on the side of the drums will substitute for claps.
The multiplayer modes are fairly simple, and all are just slight variations on the single-play Street Performance contest. You can go head-to-head in Battle, which awards a winner based on precision or collaborate in Challenge mode (which lets you see how far into the selection of songs you can get before fouling out) or just plain old get busy in Jam Session. Truth be told, multiplayer is probably where most aspiring skinmen will get their kicks. With four people, it’s pretty crazy, with each player adding a new layer to the dense polyrhythmic funk.
As a solo title, Donkey Konga gets old pretty fast. The song selection is decent, but I started to get a little sick of some of the more kiddie-oriented fare. There’s also not much to unlock except for the same songs in Gorilla difficulty (new tracks would have been nice), some admittedly cool new drum set sounds, and a few very pointless minigames. Let me tell you, after spending a good bit of time to unlock what was basically a botched version of Donkey Kong Jr., I was a little miffed.
While I can’t fault Donkey Konga’s simple brand of fun, especially when playing with a few friends, I also don’t think this does much to distinguish itself from the pack. If I wanted a fun, music-oriented party game, I’d much rather play Karaoke Revolution or DrumMania.