It was a few months ago that I was introduced to the video game known as Taiko: Drum Master. (This name is translated from the original Japanese title, “Taiko no Tatsujin.”) I was immediately intrigued and connected it in my mind to Dance Dance Revolution, another excellent Japanese video game import. It has since made quite an impression on me – such that I now own one version of the game, and this semi-review of it is considerably later than I was anticipating it to be. Then, just today, I happened to purchase Donkey Kong Jungle Beat: a side scrolling action video game played exclusively with special a bongo controller.

The First Encounter
I live two floors down in the apartment building from my girlfriend’s brother, Brandon. Since we both play video games a lot, our proximity makes for a lot of video game playing visits. It’s not unusual for me to “walk home” from his apartment in pajama-like attire. On one such video game visit, I saw Brandon setting up what appeared to be some sort of drum – a taiko drum, it turned out. He had just picked it up on eBay, one of the finest places I have found games of all sorts. My first reaction was extreme excitement – to the extent that my girlfriend searched for it on eBay shortly after we first saw it.

Japanese vs. American Taiko Drum Master
Brandon’s version of the game was one of the Japanese editions. As of this writing, there are at least 7 Japanese releases of the game, including one special Anime version. On the other hand, there is only one American version. The caveat is that in order to play any of the Japanese editions of the game, a Japanese Playstation 2 is required – something you can’t just find in your neighborhood video game store. Fortunately, since the advent of online shopping, it has become incredibly easy to find products from around the world. I was therefore somehow able to find myself a Japanese Playstation 2. I then was able to find a version of Taiko Drum Master that came with a Japanese taiko drum – not that the American one won’t work, but the artwork on the Japanese box is in my humble opinion much nicer.

I realize that this all begs the question: isn’t it just a little bit over the top to buy a Japanese Playstation 2 just so you can have access to the Japanese editions of a taiko drumming game? I humbly submit that it is far better to pay a couple of hundred dollars for a Japanese Playstation 2 rather than to have one game option, which includes in it a lot of American pop music which I quite frankly don’t care for. The fact that I didn’t have any Playstation to begin with didn’t hurt matters, either. I think in the battle of spending the two hundred on the Japanese Playstation 2 and having the song “Toxic” as an option, the former won hands down.

The game is reasonably easy to learn to play, but the mastering of the game is an entirely more difficult matter. As a song plays, you have to pound out the beat to the song using the taiko drum. Whereas in Dance Dance Revolution you have to hit a directional arrow when the arrow hits a certain point on the screen, here you have to hit the drum in a specific manner when one of the different symbols arrives at the left side of the screen. A small red circle indicates that you are to hit either side of the drum. A small blue circle means you should hit either side of the drum rim. A large blue or red circle means you have to hit both sides of the drum or rim at the same time with your two drum sticks. There are other icons which appear as well, such as the long yellow line that is meant for encouraging quick drum pounding action. I’m probably making it sound too complicated but it really isn’t.

The part of the game that really makes it all the more difficult is keeping up with the rhythm. There are faster songs, slower songs, and then songs which change tempo quickly throughout the piece. Those are probably the most difficult songs. Despite often being quite frustrating, in that you can miss a few beats and fall short of a perfect score, playing this game is incredibly therapeutic. After a long day of working hard, pounding a drum is often just the ticket to feeling better. Moreover, there is the feeling that you are contributing to the music, in the capacity of the drummer. For me, making music sound better by adding a nice rhythm section is thoroughly enjoyable.

Donkey Konga / Jungle Beat
Like Taiko Drum Master, Donkey Konga and Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat were both developed by Namco. I haven’t extensively played the original Donkey Konga but since I purchased Jungle Beat I have been playing that a lot. The concept of Donkey Konga is similar to that of Drum Master but you have bongos instead of a taiko drum. Furthermore, in addition to being able to hit either one or both bongos, you can also clap your hands, and it is recognized by the drum’s microphone. Therefore, alternating between drum beating and clapping is that game’s challenge.

With Jungle Beat, the developer took things one step further. Jungle Beat is what would appear to be another successful game in the Donkey Kong Country line, but the gameplay is entirely different. What makes the gameplay so different is that it is all controlled with the bongo controller. Moving to the right is accomplished by hitting the right drum, left with the left drum. Hitting both will make you jump. Clapping, in this game, seems to be one of the most important elements. In the game, you are supposed to collect beats, in the form of bananas. Simply running into a banana will get you one beat per banana, but clapping creates a sonic wave form around you which spreads out, collecting nearby beats. Certain moves allow for combination patterns, making one beat worth two, three, even eight times its normal value. There are enemies aplenty in this game, which can often be rendered unconscious with the clap maneuver.

The bottom line is, if you have any rhythm whatsoever, this game is extremely fun. Like drum master, it is extremely therapeutic and even more so in the visual sense. Rest assured that making Donkey Kong pound an enemy boss into submission using the bongos is quite the good stress reliever. Though Jungle Beat may be quite short in terms of having not that many levels, it has astonishingly good replay value in that there are tons of things to be discovered in each level. Then, when you wander onto Web Sites where people discuss how many thousands of beats they collected in a level and you realize that you only managed six hundred, you feel compelled to return and try it again. Different techniques yield higher or lower beat achievement.

After a long day at the office, or wherever you may work, you may feel frustrated from things that may have happened during the day. While some people may drink away their pain, or use a variety of illegal (or legal) narcotics, there are two healthier, more fun alternatives. They come in the form of Taiko: Drum Master and Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat. Why destroy yourself when you can give one of these drum games a good, hearty beating?