“Donkey Konga”Namco Limited.Format: Nintendo GamecubeGenre: Rhythm/Action1-4 PlayersESRB: Rated E (Everyone)MSRP: $49.99Requires DK Bongos (one included).

Four out of five stars

When two suspicious, unsolicited, large brown boxes land in the A & E mailbox, strict security measures are implemented to ensure the safety of all who are present.

“It’s not ticking,” noted A & E music writer Drew Tabke, as he launched the first brown package across the room with a swift dropkick.

A & E press manager Chris Whipple picked up the second box and smashed it against his forehead.

“No Anthrax,” Whipple asserted. “Must be a professional job.”

A letter opener was quickly found in assistant news editor Eryn Green’s desk, and everybody stood back as Green cautiously opened the boxes.

Amid a typhoon of packing peanuts, two sets of miniature bongos emerged, along with a Gamecube disc and instructions on how to play the game.

Everyone stepped back in awe.

“It’s like,” whispers Whipple, “It’s like Dance Dance Revolution for your hands!”

Once inserted into the Gamecube, Donkey Konga’s title screen lights up with a picture of Donkey Kong and his faithful companion, Diddy (Sean Combs, we found your cousin!) dancing with bongos in hand.

As the game informs, Donkey Kong and Diddy found some bongos and wanted to become rock stars. When they became famous, they planned on stockpiling all the bananas in the known world.

Unfortunately, Donkey Konga players are forced to (vicariously) live out their dreams of becoming the next Thundergod through two pixilated monkeys.

Luckily, there are some ways to monkey one’s way to the top of the Donkey Konga circuit.

The ‘Street Performer’ mode rewards drummers with different upgrades, such as various sound kits and more difficult versions of the Konga tunes, which include everything from “Oye Como Va” to “The Pokeman Theme Song.”

Players can also win mini-games, though they’re slightly disappointing-the ‘Banana Toss,’ despite the initial appeal of being able to control Donkey Kong’s banana juggling skills, quickly loses its shine.

But, Donkey Konga makes it hard to cry over spilled bananas once the beats get moving.

Much like Dance Dance Revolution, making the beat in Donkey Konga is all about timing. Players get to watch as colored circles fly across the screen-red for right bongo, yellow for left, purple for both, and a star for claps-and when the colored circles reach the end of the screen and line up with players’ targets, it’s time to throw down the beat.

The color scheme works well-red and yellow are easy colors to identify respective drum beats with, red being the most dominant (right-hand) and yellow the less assertive (left-hand).

The built-in microphone/clap sensor inside the bongos can be tweaked to low sensitivity levels (in case there are other clappers in the room) or high ones (so clapping is only a matter of tapping the bongos’ sides-perfect for late-night, quiet Donkey Konga-ing), so it’s never too late or too early to bongo it up.

But with any game so centered on music, the songs the game uses are of paramount importance. And as for the Konga songs? Well, they’re better than the standard rhythm-game fare, but not by much.

Having packaged songs like Santana’s “Oye Como Va,” The Crystal Method’s “Busy Child,” and Blink 182’s “All The Small Things” almost seems too good to be true for a game like this…and it is.

The actual versions of the songs weren’t licensed, so Nintendo did the next best thing and copied them as best they could. The result is a handful of facsimiles that sound like the originals, but don’t carry the same oomph. For a company with as much money and power as Nintendo, the move to use weak cover songs is, well, cheap.

Especially considering the price of these bongo bad-boys: the game only comes with one set of bongos, and each additional set costs $40. And this isn’t a game that’s to be played alone, so the second set is imperative.

If you’re looking for a unique gaming experience for home, and aren’t afraid of looking like a monkey, go ahead and pick up Donkey Konga. Nintendo claims to have more titles up their sleeves to use with the DK Bongos, so after you finally master the beats to “The Impression That I Get” without having to even watch the screen, they might get some more use, too.

The learning curve on the game really isn’t that hard; in fact, it’s really an easy game to go used to. Donkey Konga’s simple design, engaging gameplay, and I-look-ridiculous-doing-this appeal makes for a pretty clean, good party.

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