Bongo Bong

The embittered old cynic in me is deeply, deeply ashamed. The old cynic watched in horror as I entered Game, stylishly sauntered over to the Gamecube demonstration pod, checked to make sure there weren’t any attractive, single blonde girls (with black-rimmed glasses) watching, and with the minimum of fuss, started whacking the bongos.

I don’t usually do this sort of thing, you understand. I’ve always viewed ‘speciality’ controllers on consoles as barely being worthy of a second glance. This attitude has not been helped by the fact that so many of these things come with awful games. Particularly back in the 8- and 16-bit days, where you had such delights as the Sega Activator, the Nintendo SuperScope and the Power Glove. The Sega Activator looked great in the adverts but was fundamentally flawed in that it didn’t actually work. The Nintendo SuperScope came with 6 terrible games, and as for the Power Glove, well — brave though it was of Nintendo to release a wanking peripheral, it still never really took off.

These were the items you’d ask your parents for every Christmas. Fun for all of, ooh, five minutes, they’d get used on Christmas morning and then you’d get back to playing regular games with the regular D-pad. The peripheral would be consigned to the back of the wardrobe, where it would rot alongside the Lights Alive machine and the Ghost Castle board game, before one day being thrown out.

Papa was King of the Congo.

Despite the failure of the early novelty controllers, each generation has its share so I imagine there’s money to be made from them. For the Sega Saturn, an analogue joypad (similar in style to the Dreamcast controller) was released specifically for its failed intellectual property (and cult classic) NiGHTS. Sega’s last hurrah, the Dreamcast, loved its peripherals. Not only did you have the mouse and keyboard attachments for first-person shooters and Typing of the Dead, and the now-usual array of steering wheels and dance mats, you also had the maracas for Samba de Amigo, a microphone for Seaman and a fishing rod for Sega Bass Fishing. Honestly, a fishing rod? Jesus, just go fishing!

Then there’s the Xbox, with its Steel Battalion controller. Adding about £200 to the price of the game, this is a pretty hardcore peripheral, with 40 buttons and foot pedals and even an eject button which needs to be pressed when you’re about to die, or else the game will wipe your saved games. What is it with the Xbox and giant, oversized, military ugliness anyway? It’s as if people can’t decide between having an Xbox or joining the TA. Still, at least all these novelty controllers have a function; the forthcoming Resident Evil 4 Gamecube controller is sadly not a working chainsaw — you never actually use a chainsaw in-game. Still, it’ll be nice to see The Daily Mail in a furore about a Nintendo product for a change.

No article regarding console peripherals would be complete without a mention of the infamous Rez trance vibrator for the PS2, so let’s consider that done and move on.

Deep down in the jungle I started bangin’ my first bongo.

So anyway, there I was, in Game, my inner cynic writing stern letters of protest to his MP. I hadn’t intended to go near them — the game on display was Donkey Konga, a rhythm action game where you just bang (and sometimes clap) along with whatever song is playing. Nothing unusual so far, nothing we haven’t seen before, and I have Space Channel 5 for the Dreamcast anyway so I figured I was pretty much set for rhythm action, even though I’ve never managed to complete the damn game. It’s the last level — the fuckers make you repeat the necessary beats and taps in reverse. I just can’t do it! It’s hard enough keeping the rhythm under normal circumstances, but backwards? I’m not Justin Timberlake, you know.

Bongos, yes. I had a go anyway. Curiosity, you know? I chose Supergrass’ Alright for the song as I am a Man of Taste and Substance, and things got underway.

Now, I think I kept my cool, more or less — what little I have, anyway. When the game requires you to not just bang some bongos but clap loudly as well, though, you have to be pretty much resigned to your fate — you’re going to look like a fool, a foolish fool, and the trick is not to care. And to my surprise, I found I was enjoying myself.

Every monkey’d like to be in my place instead of me.

Not only was I enjoying myself, but people were stopping to watch me play. This was unfortunate — as mentioned elsewhere, I’m generally quite shit at games at the best of times, and now here I was not only being shit at a game in public, I was also displaying the fact that I basically lack any sense of rhythm. I’m just grateful nobody asked me to jump. But it didn’t matter! Yes, I sucked, and had no idea whether a purple circle meant bang left, bang right, or clap, so I didn’t really know what I was doing, but it was fun and people watching stayed to have a go afterwards, so it must have looked fun as well. I’ve seen the same reaction to the Nintendo DS, which is basically one whole novelty system — it’s unusual enough to attract people’s attention, and simple enough for people to just grab it and have a go.

So I now own some bongos. I didn’t get Donkey Konga at first; instead I opted for the single-player platform game Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat. It’s fantastic stuff — you bang on the left drum to move left, bang right to move right, clap to hit things, both drums to jump — it’s actually quite a rush when you get into the swing of things. Donkey Konga is on its way to me, though — curse Game and their random £19.99 special online deals.

Cause I’m the king of bongo, baby, I’m the king of bongo bong.

They’re surprisingly nice to use and have a pleasingly high housemate-annoyance factor, and I wish you could use them as regular controllers — playing Soul Calibur 2 or Ikaruga on the bongos would probably be a good workout. Sadly they only replicate the left and right shoulder buttons and the start button, so it’d be a bit tricky. Currently you get one set of bongos free with each bongo-game so you don’t have to spend any more than you would on a regular game, so there’s not much risk involved of wasting money on a peripheral that only has awful games, and it makes it easier to organise multiplayer sessions when everyone already has the controller. There’s vague murmurings of a four-player Donkey Konga session here at The Company, so I’d better start practicing.

By Paul Haine, in