Last week I had the chance to learn a few basics about Sabar drumming. The Sabar is a traditional drum used in Senegal, played by using one hand and one stick. Playing the Sabar drums reminded me of a video game that I used to enjoy playing: Donkey Konga. Donkey Konga, developed by Namco and published by Nintendo, is a video game in the rhythm genre that was released in North America back in 2004.
It’s a really simple game that uses the DK Bongo controller, which looks like bongo drums. Donkey Konga is extremely family friendly. The “controller” literally has two drum pads that you can hit or press, which is much less intimidating than a typical controller. The DK Bongo also recognizes when you clap, (alternatively, you can just say “clap” or tap the sides of the drums) so there are a grand total of 4 different possible inputs you can make with the drum: hitting the left drum, which corresponds to a yellow music note on the screen; hitting the left drum, a red note; hitting both simultaneously, a pink note; and clapping, which is symbolized with a starburst shape. Despite the simplicity of the design, the gameplay is satisfying, and it can be as challenging as you want it to be. There are three levels of difficulty: Monkey, Chimp, or Gorilla. Playing at the Gorilla level offers some complicated twists, such as rapid changes between having you mimic the melody or the background rhythm.
And how about the set list? I don’t really know what Namco was thinking, except that they wanted to make this game accessible for a variety of players. I’m not sure if that really explains why the set list seems to be a bizarre combination of Nintendo melodies (including songs from the Mario series and the Legend of Zelda series), elementary school sing-alongs (can you sing, “Yankee Doodle”?), and contemporary pop rock, which gets about as “contemporary” as Blink-182‘s “All the Small Things.” It really is a strange assortment of songs, but chances are that you will find a few songs that you genuinely enjoy playing.
As far as graphics are concerned, it’s more about the lack thereof. The background is fairly stagnant, which is not a concern for the player who is entranced by the notes flying by, but isn’t swell for those simply watching; however, you can use the Jam Session Mode to get the whole family playing at the same time.
All in all, Donkey Konga is fun and a heck of a lot easier than the Sabar drums!