Over the last 30 years, Donkey Kong has appeared in just about every kind of game you can imagine. Platformers, Racing, Fighting, Golf: he's done it all. In fact there's even an entire trilogy of games about DK jamming out with famous bands like Queen, the B-52's, Devo, and even The Jackson 5. If you don't remember those, just keep reading.
In 2002 Rhythm games were still a brand new concept. Not many companies were making games about pressing buttons in time to onscreen prompts. However Nintendo, always ahead of the times, foresaw the potential fortune to be made if this formula could somehow be married to popular music. So, they invented Donkey Konga.
It was a rhythm game that allowed players to jam out to the most popular licensed music of the last 50 years. Donkey Konga was revolutionary, and a great example of Nintendo pulling out all the stops. Not only was it a game like no other, it also required a controller like no other: the DK Bongos Controller!
Now, I know what your thinking: "It's just a set of plastic bongos." Not so, gentle reader! Normal plastic bongos don't have an internal microphone built into them. Here's how it worked: players could select from a variety of musical tracks to. As these tracks played, players were instructed to tap on the Bongo's two drums in different sequences, as well as clap. This is where the microphone came in, as it could pick up external audio cues like clapping. Admittedly they were pretty much designed exclusively for Donkey Konga. They didn't see much use beyond being the default controller for Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, an awesome platform game for the GameCube. However, they remain usable even on modern day consoles. The Bongos were natively supported on the Wii, and provided you have an official GameCube adapter, they're even compatible with the Wii-U.
The Bongos made for a deceptively simple controller that had only two real buttons, (three if you count the start button) but could require ages to master tapping them perfectly in time to the game's soundtracks. And this is where Donkey Konga really shined. You see, it had a grand total of three versions released, and each of them had a different set of songs. If you lived in Japan, you got a lot of J-Pop, Anime, Video Game tunes, as well as a few percussion heavy Latin rhythms, to round things out. These all fit the game's theme perfectly.
However, if you bought this game in America or Europe things got weird. I suppose Nintendo realized that it would be pretty difficult to localize a game based around Japanese songs, so they decided to contract musicians that might better resonate with any given territory. So, Europe and America got their own unique sets of tunes.
In America, this consisted of everything from The Partridge Family's "I Think I love You," to Devo's "Whip It," to The B-52's "Rock Lobster." Meanwhile, Europe had exclusive access to Chumbawamba's "Tubthumping," The Jackson 5's "I want you Back," and Nena's "99 Red Balloons." It's all over the place and neither has many tracks with a particularly strong beat. This is a real issue since, the plastic bongos actually prompted an in-game noise every time you tapped them.
So, when you start playing Jesus Jones' "Right Here Right Now." You won't just be hearing the original track, but rather "Right Here Right Now ft. Your Own Synthetic Bongo Noises." You could even unlock new, non-bongo sound effects to be produced every time you tapped the controller. Hearing your own thumps and claps is still a ridiculously satisfying mechanic on tracks that suit it well, like Queen's hard-hitting "We Will Rock You." However it gets hard to ignore when you start pounding away backup percussion to the bubbly pop of Leslie Carter's "Like Wow."
Interestingly enough, "We Will Rock You" was a US exclusive track. Europe got "Don't Stop Me Now." That's right, Nintendo paid for the licensing rights of two Queen songs, but didn't include both on a single disk. This would seem like a brilliant marketing strategy, if it wasn't for the fact that they region-lock all their games. As it stands, omissions like this are just baffling.
But I digress, Donkey Konga was enough of a success to warrant a sequel with an even more eclectic track list featuring Soul Asylum, R.E.M, and Smash Mouth. Donkey Konga 2 actually managed to earn a Teen rating for its edgier songs. But again, that was only in America and Europe. Japan just kept sticking with more J-Pop and anime theme songs.
Donkey Konga is still an extremely fun, if unusual game. And its many quirks have only made it more memorable with time. The bongos work extremely well, and provide a gameplay experience that is wholly unique. The game's only real blunder was being too far ahead of its time. It was released two years before Guitar Hero, which was pretty much the same game, with a slightly more complicated plastic instrument. If you own a GameCube or Wii, it's definitely worth checking out, if only to behold the wondrously bizarre spectacle of a cartoon ape rocking out to Blink-182.