With its start as an arcade novelty, the rhythm game genre as we know it has a long history of using game controllers disguised as drums or maracas or electric guitars--as well as a wide variety of music--to coax people into arcades who'd be otherwise intimidated by six-button fighting games and such. Men, women, and children alike have taken to rhythm games because of their intuitive appeal. Donkey Konga very much falls into this same category, and as the name suggests, it features its own proprietary bongo controller. Indeed, Nintendo and Namco's new GameCube rhythm action game starring Nintendo's barrel-smashing gorilla makes a serious effort to appeal to the whole family--which is great if you're buying the game for the whole family, though it kind of limits the game's appeal for players with more specific musical tastes. Donkey Konga's broad, sometimes bizarre range of music will probably be hit-and-miss for most individuals.
Monkey or mule, Donkey Kong has a pretty good sense of rhythm.
The beauty of the DK Bongo controller, which comes bundled with the game and looks like a basic set of bongo drums, is that it's largely self-explanatory. Though, aside from the obvious left and right drum pads, there is a small microphone in between that is there to sense the sound of a hand clap. Ultimately, tapping the sides of the bongos or simply saying the word "clap" into the mic seems to get the job done, too, which speaks to the extreme sensitivity of the microphone. Using these three basic motions--hitting the left drum, hitting the right drum, and clapping your hands--Donkey Konga builds a full-on rhythm action game. By design, it's fundamentally easy to control, but that doesn't prevent Donkey Konga from offering a hearty challenge.
The conceit behind Donkey Konga almost doesn't require explanation, either--you hit the drums in time with the music--but the way this action is presented onscreen doesn't necessarily play directly to the strengths of the DK Bongos themselves. A row of icons scrolls from right to left, and your goal is to perform the corresponding action once an icon is inside the small circular target on the far left of the screen. The icons themselves are color-coded, with the yellow icon standing for the left drum pad, the red icon for the right, and a pink icon for smacking both at once, along with a blue starburst icon for claps. Having to decode the colored circles, which can come at you at a pretty fast clip, is an extra layer that Donkey Konga could have done without. The interface is still functional, though, and the game gets plenty of mileage out of it.
Using this one interface, Donkey Konga offers a few different modes of play. The street performance mode lets you pick any song you please and play through it for coins--the more accurate your drumming, the more coins you'll earn. Coins can then, in turn, be used to unlock minigames and songs in other modes. The unlockable minigames include a whack-a-mole clone, a banana-juggling game, and a vine-climbing race that evokes memories of Donkey Kong Jr. These minigames are a fine distraction, and though they don't have much lasting value, they provide a glimpse of other possible uses for the DK Bongos. If you have a buddy and a second DK Bongo controller (you can play the game with a standard GameCube controller, but, as you can probably imagine, this is pretty pointless) you can play co-op in the challenge mode.
On the other hand, the battle mode is strictly a head-to-head versus experience, in which two players try to outscore each other. The game adds a bit of chance to the battle mode with the introduction of a few special icons. The game borrows the "POW" icon from the original Mario Bros., and, when hit, this icon will take away a chunk of your opponent's score. A slot-machine interface will also randomly appear during battle mode, and at the same time you'll get three drum icons with the word "stop" over them. If you can hit all three of these icons with the same level of accuracy, you'll get a substantial point bonus. If competition, be it against the computer or another player, isn't your thing, the jam mode strips out any point tallies and lets up to four players just play.