Unfortunately the songs are all arranged for one, two or four players. With the correct number of participants, the drumming action is either completely self-contained, with one person doing the whole lot, or split into parts that bounce back and forth between drummers, which sounds absolutely fantastic.
If you have three players then you actually get a four-player arrangement with the computer taking the place of the missing band member. Consequently a hearty clap-clap-thump-clap sequence that would travel all around the room in a four-player game becomes clap-clap-thump...silence. The computer plays the missing sound through your speakers but it doesn't compare to the noise you get from a real player, and can sometimes throw you off your rhythm.
The music selection on the disc is detailed elsewhere in this review, and contains a good, eclectic mix of styles. Some of the songs from the Japanese version have returned, while some of our favourites have been ruthlessly excised in favour of Supergrass numbers. Or rather, Supergrass cover versions - all the tracks are performed by soundalikes who make a convincing job of it. Mostly. We weren't fooled by the reedy Michael Jackson impersonator on I Want You Back, but it still sounds good. As with the Japanese game, it's often the unlikeliest songs that make the best drumming tracks, and you may find yourself passing over familiar tunes in favour of the old swing or orchestral numbers.
On the negative side, only one of the mini-games is really all that good, and the game's lifespan is forcibly stretched by the inclusion of a mode where you have to play the drum notes entirely from memory. Needless to say, that part isn't for everyone. It's also a shame there isn't some way of editing drum patterns so you can challenge your mates to replicate your own rapid-fire solos, or swap new rhythmic creations via memory cards. And, while we're in greedy mode, we would have appreciated a couple of alternative arrangements for each track - maybe an all-clapping one, or something like that.
Donkey Konga isn't one of the prettiest Gamecube titles but at least the simple, functional graphics are nice and clear: you'll never make a mistake because you couldn't see the notes. Even during the mini-games, where the designers could have gone to town with some of Gamecube's built-in visual effects, the graphics are barely as good as Donkey Kong Country for the SNES.
And yet looks have rarely been less important in a videogame. You'll be hooked on Donkey Konga before you've made it to the end of your first song, and once you get a few other players involved, this will be the first thing you want to load up after an evening at the pub, or the one and only thing you'll be asked to load up during a civilised family gathering.
It's an expensive game when you factor in the cost of buying extra sets of bongos, but we wouldn't be remotely surprised if it turns out to be the most collectible Gamecube title in years to come. Get it while you can.
Donkey Konga is out now on Gamecube