The original Donkey Konga
marked Nintendo's first foray into rhythm-based games. It packed 30 tunes ranging from contemporary hits to remixed versions of classic Nintendo theme songs. And of course, Donkey Konga
also shipped with a miniature pair of bongo drums -- the series' decidedly party-friendly hook. As it turns out, the blend of catchy tunes, innovate control and ease of play proved a critical success. Donkey Konga
jammed its way into the hearts of most critics. Beyond that, it just makes an excellent addition to anyone's gaming library. Regardless of how silly it initially seems, busting out the old DK bongos to liven up a stale party actually works.
At the very least, it looks like something everyone wants to try at least once. Even people who wouldn't normally play games would park themselves in front of the television set to see what it's like playing a game with a funky little set of bongos. Guys thought it was funny, girls thought it was cute. Or vice versa. But everyone thought it was, y'know, "kinda neat." So it's no surprise Donkey Konga 2 is set to jam its way into store shelves later this month. Only this time, it comes packin' with new tunes, new mini-games and new game modes. But do these additions warrant a purchase? Do any of these changes place Konga 2 ahead of its predecessor?
The answer to that question is no. Konga 2 neither pulls ahead nor falls behind the original Konga. It just sits right next to it, content with being a little different from its older brother. Think of it this way: Konga and Konga 2 share everything but personality. Where the original presented a nice mix of videogame tunes and classic songs across a broad range of genres, Konga 2 shoots for a decidedly "cool" experience. In the place of oldies' favorite "Louie, Louie" you'll find Stain's "It's Been a While" for example. And you'll discover Smash Mouth's "All Star" has replaced the Zelda and Pokemon themes.
If you find yourself asking what the big change is between the two Konga games, then that's definitely it. Not content with being fun, Konga 2 is dying to be cool. And to many fans of the original, this quest for coolness will only detract from the overall experience. But before jumping into that, it serves to bring Konga virgins up to speed. The series focuses on rhythm and beats. Specifically, you need to either clap or strike the bongo controller in harmony with symbols displayed on the television screen. Different symbols represent different beats, so you'll hit the left or right bongo, depending. The same goes for clapping and the simultaneous slapping of both bongos.
As in the last game, a full pink circle represents a clap, where a red half-circle represents the left bongo and a yellow half-circle represents the right bongo. There are also a handful of elongated notes, calling for a left or right drum roll, simultaneous drum roll, or clap roll. A collection of beats make up a given song, with each beat scrolling from right to left across a stanza. It's your job to synchronize your claps and bongo-play with what you seen on-screen. In short, nothing has changed. It's still simple, fun and entirely satisfying.
Konga 2 still splits between a number of different game modes. The main single-player mode, called Street Performance, lets you play any selection in the 32-song library to earn coins. You then take these coins to the Music Lab (known as Ape Arcade in the first game) where you can spend them on mini-games. Konga 2 features two new mini-games: Rhythm Keeper and Barrel Race. Both these games fit better into the context of the game than the trio of mini-games from the first game, simply because they're rhythmically inclined this time around.
Rhythm Keeper sees you trying to match a specific rhythm without any clues for several measures. It's a lot harder than it sounds. In the main game, nothing much happens if you miss three beats. In Rhythm Keeper, missing three beats is the equivalent of death. And since you can't see the beats, or even anything (such as barrels) representing them on-screen, you'll need to remain focused and extremely beat-savvy. It's not only challenging, but also deeply rewarding when playing against three other players. And damn, if it doesn't hone your skills for use in Street Performance and other modes. Chances are if you master Rhythm Keeper, you won't have a single problem convincing friends and neighbors you're the most hardcore bongo player the universe has ever known.
In Barrel Race, you need to clear a screen of beat-specific barrels. The barrels fall from the top of the screen, as in Tetris, and you need to make them disappear with appropriate bongo action. Miss a beat and your side of the screen freezes, costing you precious seconds. This is especially true when playing against a friend, or four. All in all, both Barrel Race and Rhythm Keeper come across as better mini-games than the 100M Vine Climb, Bash K. Rool and Banana Jungle mini-games of the first Konga game. They not only make more sense, but they're damn challenging, especially Rhythm Keeper. Barrel Race well definitely bring out the competitive side of anyone, so it only heightens the sense of community in Konga 2, even if that sense of community is of the unabashedly violent variety.
But if that's not your thing, you can also take your sack of coins over to the Shopping Mall, where you can buy themed-sound sets for your bongos. You can purchase everything from party-themed to safari-themed sound sets to alter the default bongo sound effect. Finally, you can purchase harder arrangements of every song in the game. These "Gorilla" arrangements supplement the easier "Monkey" and "Chimp"-level arrangements. Folks new to the series will want to stick with Monkey or Chimp while those well-versed in the ways of the bongo will need to fork over the dough to receive more of a challenge.
Street Performance mode in Konga 2 is nearly identical to "Street Performance" mode of the original. But that's not saying there's nothing new. You can now play with another drummer, for one, plus there's the all-new Banana Fairy, which rewards you with coin multipliers when you're drumming well and earning combos. "Jam Session" makes a return disguised as "Concert." Apart from the name change, not much has changed. There's no real pressure, apart from you not wanting to sound like a rhythmically-challenged ass. The only real concern is sounding good by jamming harmoniously. One new element though is the "Synch" score, which earns you extra cheese for, well, jamming harmoniously.
Konga 2 still includes "Challenge" mode, which is essentially a marathon play session. You'll need to clear a set number of songs while trying to keep your "Phonograph Gauge" full. The Phonograph Gauge fills up when you're playing well, and dwindles to nothing when you suck. Keeping with the whole "If it ain't broke don't fix it" thing, "Battle Mode" feels just as it did in the previous game. You still use POW blocks to reduce your opponents score, for example, and you can change your own score (for better or worse) depending on your performance on the Vegas-like slots that appear above of your stanza. Chances are you'll spend most of your time playing with friends in Battle Mode since it's just as fun as it was in the original. Playing with three friends (or strangers) is still good fun and one of the best multiplayer experiences on the Cube.
Still, there's the all-important song selection to consider. Konga 2 tries so very hard to strike a balance between unabashed cheeriness and contemporary cool, but fails miserably. Seriously folks, it's very hard to drum to R.E.M's "Losing My Religion" with a poorly animated simian thrashing about on-screen. Hell, it's just plain hard to drum to "Losing My Religion." And it's not a matter of difficulty, it just doesn't feel right. Bottom line, Konga 2 sacrifices overall coherency for the sake of supposed cool, and winds up the lesser game for it. People who own GameCubes may want to drum along to Good Charlotte (and that's a mighty big may), but for the love of Zeus don't make Nintendo fans live without their most cherished theme songs.
Any other game and this decision may have made some sense. But not here. Sadly, the decision may increase sales. But at what cost? It would have been different if there was some kind of balance between the "cool," trendy music and the "un-cool," videogame music, but there is none. All you get in Konga 2 is the Donkey Konga 2 theme song, and it just so happens that it's one of the best songs in the game. Not because of the lyrics or rhythm, but simply because it makes sense. You'll know when you play it. It's a fun song to play. The developers structured the song to work with the bongos, and it shows. Chances are you'll play through every song at least once, maybe even twice. But you won't return to most of the songs in the Rock/Pop category for the fun it, but just to show your friends and neighbors that their *cringe* favorite song is in a Nintendo game. This isn't to say all contemporary songs in the game feel forced. For example, "Hit em' Up Style" is actually pretty good, and "Habanera" features that beat-heavy, whimsical feel well-suited to Konga 2.
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