Originally created 11/04/04

Titles raise bar of excitement to new level



Nintendo has created what could be the ultimate house party video game with Donkey Konga.

It's the first title designed to work with the company's new DK Bongo controller. The plastic device looks like a real bongo drum and up to four of them can be plugged into a GameCube.

Think of it like Dance Dance Revolution, but for hands instead of feet.

Don't expect much of a workout, though Konga will surely make your hands hurt. I found that it's not really necessary to pound on the drums. Tapping gets the job done.

Initially I had to turn down the sensitivity of the drum's built-in microphone, a simple procedure with the included adjustment option.

There's a good selection of more than 30 tunes, from children's Pokemon songs to Queen's rousing rock stomper We Will Rock You. That darn Queen song still plays in my head: Left-right-clap! Left-right-clap! We will, we will, rock you!

Colored circles scroll across the screen and let you know whether you're supposed to clap, or tap the right or left drum pad. You're judged by how well you sync your drumming to these cues.

Harder settings involve more beats per minute, and it soon becomes really tough to keep up. I often broke down into laughter amid the frenzied drumming chaos, but that's what's so fun about this one - making mistakes in front of a crowd is the real entertainment.

This E-rated game is best with several playing at the same time, but at $50 per drum set it's rather expensive.

THERE'S ONLY ONE thing better than riding a halfpipe ramp in Tony Hawk's Underground 2 - doing it in real life. Since I'm pretty sure that's never going to happen, I'll keep on defying gravity in this new game from Activision.

This sequel is actually the sixth game in the line of skateboarding games bearing the name of alternative sports superstar Tony Hawk.

It's packed with customization options, crude humor and, of course, lots of incredible tricks.

The controls are superb once you master them, and there are some neat new stunts, including one where you can spin around atop trash cans.

The levels are set in Boston, Barcelona, New Orleans and elsewhere and are bigger than before.

There's a story mode, where you rise from skating rookie to take part in a "Word Destruction Tour."

It pits Mr. Hawk and other professional skaters against a band of malcontents led by Bam Margera, the star of MTV's pain-inflicting humor show Viva La Bam, in a globe-trotting quest to wreak havoc, such as hurling tomatoes at pedestrians.

The emphasis on off-the-board action is an odd decision, considering this is a skateboarding game. I preferred the included "Classic Mode" and its emphasis on pure skating.

I used the new freak-out feature often. When you miss a jump and come smashing to the ground, press the buttons quickly to fill up the freak-out meter, sending your character into a board-smashing rage.

This T-rated game is available for the GameCube, PC, PlayStation 2 and Xbox.

One feature I was really looking forward to was missing in the Xbox version I played - support for online multiplayer games. It's quite an oversight to put it on the PS2 but not Microsoft's very popular Xbox Live service.

This is surely the most thorough skating game ever, and perfectly captures the acrobatic thrill of the sport. But I wonder whether there's enough new stuff for fans to pony up yet another $50.

Unless you're a die-hard fan of last year's Tony Hawk's Underground and feel slavishly compelled to own the sequel, you might want to rent first and make sure it's really worth the money.

GameplayTitle: Donkey Konga (Nintendo, donkeykonga.com/$50)

Platform: GameCube

Rating: EThe verdict: HHHH out of HHHH

Title: Tony Hawk's Underground 2 (Activision, activision.com/microsite/thug2/, $50)

Platforms: GameCube, PC, PlayStation 2 and Xbox.

Rating: TThe verdict: HHH out of HHHH