Donkey Kong platformers have a pretty high pedigree. They also typically sell reasonably well. So you would think that if the team behind Super Mario Galaxy made a DK platformer, it would not only be pretty darn great, but it wouldn’t land in the “obscure” category. But that’s exactly what happened. And the reason isn’t exactly a mystery. This is a Donkey Kong platformer that you control with a pair of bongos.
There was a time during the GameCube/Xbox/PS2 era when music games controlled by plastic accessories were king. Here in America, Guitar Hero ruled the roost. But in Japan, things were a bit more percussive. Games like Taiko Drum Master were climbing the charts both in arcades and at home, so Nintendo decided to get in on the action with a rhythm game called Donkey Konga. It came with a pair of DK bongos that you would use to tap along to the rhythm of whatever song the game had you listening to at the time. It was relatively simple, but it was a lot of fun. The bongos even had a built-in microphone so the game could register clapping, effectively giving the it 3 optional forms of input: left bongo, right bongo, and clap. Donkey Konga got a sequel in America, and 2 sequels in Japan, but someone in Japan wasn’t satisfied with having the DK Bongos be so limited in their use. No, these crazy bastards designed a Donkey Kong platformer around the accessory, and nobody could have predicted just how wildly successful the concept would turn out to be.
The game is set up like a 2D platformer, not unlike the Donkey Kong Country games. If you tap the right bongo, DK takes a few steps to the right. Tap the left, he takes a few steps to the left. Keep tapping in any one direction, he’ll run. Tap both bongos at the same time and he jumps. Clap, and DK grabs whatever bananas or power-ups happen to be nearby. It’s simple, but effective, and what resulted was a remarkably tactile action game. This method of platforming seems insane when you read about it, and looks even sillier when you see someone doing it, but in practice, it’s an absolute blast. It doesn’t hurt that the game is gorgeous, too.
They also have a lot of fun with the boss battles. DK gets into fist-fights with some nasty looking creatures, and these battles play out like Punch-Out!! matches. You use the different bongo taps to dodge the enemy’s attacks, and when it’s time to counter-attack, you pound on the bongos as quickly as you can, with each bongo tap serving as a punch to the boss’s face. Again, it’s a simple trick, but it feels so natural, it’s almost like the bongos were made for this and not some silly little rhythm game.
It’s pretty obvious why this game is lost in time. It’s not like there’s a huge market for a bongo-controlled platformer, and porting this game without the bongos themselves takes away the most fun aspect of the game. In fact, they already tried porting this game to the Wii with New Play Control: Donkey Kong – Jungle Beat. It… sucked. Swinging your Wii Remote around just doesn’t have the same effect as smacking a pair of plastic bongos, and even with Nintendo giving this brilliant game another chance, it never wound up finding the audience it deserves. Since it was a GameCube game, and Nintendo hasn’t re-released any GameCube games on their digital services yet, this guy is currently only properly playable on its original hardware with the original controller. The bright side is, it can be bought for a song.
So go out and get it! If you’ve never beaten up a gorilla by smacking a pair of bongos, you haven’t lived.