Review: Conga Master

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A variation on the Snake formula, Conga Master is a simple arcade party action game about club hopping, forming lengthy conga lines, being mean to pigs, and evading alien abduction. Yes, it really is as silly as it sounds.

Your dance with extraterrestrials, cats, pigs, and, mostly, weirdo characters parodying pop culture figures begins at the Secret Flamingo–the first of six main nightclubs also including hotspots like the Roller Disco and Lucky Strike bowling alley–where the objective is to form the most epic conga line ever. The chosen character shakes his groove thang automatically, boogying across the dancefloor while a straightforward two-button control scheme is used merely to turn and guide the charismatic guy or gal where you want him or her to go, either using the A and D or Left and Right arrow keys on keyboard or, with a gamepad, the analog sticks or shoulder buttons.

In order to keep the Momentum bar poppin’, other dancers found at the club need to be wooed into joining your conga line, which is done by maintaining close proximity with the NPCs long enough for a circular icon that appears by their heads to fill up. Their interest begins to wane if you shimmy too far away, and their attraction meter resets completely if you accidentally bump into them. Tough guy bullies, slippery mop trails left by janitors, banana peels, and waiters can be found roaming the club just waiting to bust your conga groove should you zig when you should’ve zagged. Unlike those dancefloor hazards, pigs actually like to get down and just want to join the conga line like the humans–but don’t let them because doing so results in a penalizing momentum drop. Poor little piggies.

The longer the conga line grows, the less power each added dancer refills the Momentum bar. Maintaining a long line thus demands careful snaking of the line around larger crowds while simultaneously avoiding hazard elements, so that multiple dancers join the line in quick succession, building combos for larger boosts to momentum as well as your high score. Holding down both turn buttons triggers a hyper-speed turbo effect, a mechanic that becomes integral to getting from point to point more quickly, in the process preserving momentum and any lingering attraction meters. Each club contains special VIP areas that only become unlocked when the conga line grows to a certain length, as well as hidden powerups to temporarily increase attraction range and effectiveness, add an instant momentum boost, or pause momentum drain for 10 seconds. The stages are populated in random configurations that are never the same, but memorizing the map layouts is important to help general navigation.

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During the story mode, the primary goal to advance is gathering the proper mix of dancers for the line. NPCs come in four moods or styles, marked by icons like hearts, a top hat, light bulb, and a smiley face with shades. Four bars associated with these icons fill up on the screen’s left sidebar, and once they’re all green only then does the exit door open so you can leave and lead your conga line to the next spot. After a post-dance minigame in which buttons are mashed to flee from a chasing UFO seeking to abduct conga line stragglers, you’re awarded dollar bills based on the total number of dancers gained that level. Those bills determine how many spins you get on a wheel of fortune, which offers the chance to unlock new characters, gain bonus power at the start of the next stage, or a pig that represents winning absolutely nothing. (That’s the pigs’ revenger for not letting them join the conga line!) Keep an eye peeled for the kitty cats hidden one per club throughout the story, because finding and adding all six to the conga line in one playthrough is the only way to enter Conga Heaven and achieve the true ending.

Other modes include endless play on any of the unlocked club stages, complete with online high score leaderboards, as well as a selection of six multiplayer party modes. Each one playfully references some other iconic video game franchise in title alone: there’s Cut the Conga, Mortal Konga, Command & Conga, Grand Theft Conga, The Last Conga, and Conga Hunter. Cut the Conga has competing players form lines and then attack each other with scissors to cut down opposing players’ lines. Grand Theft Conga is a twist on king of the hill, where players fight for control over a single dancer, luring him or her to a colored zone in their corner of the screen to fill a percentage meter for every second in control. Mortal Konga is a bubble-popping competition in which players get a short time to build a conga line of pigs trapped inside bubbles and then try to knock into other players’ pigs to pop all of their bubbles. Command & Conga is the lone co-op mode, putting two players in control of a pair of dancers tied together at the hip, and challenging them to move and turn in unison to build their shared conga line.

Unfortunately for players without local friends to get funky with, the multiplayer modes currently are not online enabled. However, in local play these modes are fun party game diversions for 2-4 players. Multiple camera options are provided as well, including split-screen or a dynamic zoom camera that seamlessly scales in and out based on the proximity of players to one another.

Quirky, random humor is a large part of Conga Master‘s appeal, which is very strong indeed when joined forces with the colorful, cutely animated pixel art and the catchy soundtrack of hand-clapping, finger-snapping samba and electronic tunes. As mentioned earlier, many of the playable characters are references to or parodies of pop culture icons such as Walter White, Marty McFly, Chuck Norris, Elvis, Taylor Swift, Freddie Mercury, and Mulder and Scully from the X-Files. The club environments are also brimming with odd characters and events, from a dagger-wielding crab to a crocodile attacking a bartender, an octopus tentacle lurking up on a patron from the toilet bowl to club-goers fighting, passed out, or barfing in bathroom stalls. Even The Dude and some of his Big Lebowski cohorts can be found around the Lucky Strike bowling alley level if you look close enough (see top screenshot).

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Everything about Conga Master is lighthearted fun…until suddenly it isn’t. By that I mean it’s a game that’s a goofball blast in short bursts, but over extended sessions the one-note gameplay and the same six-pack of songs wear out their welcome on the dancefloor. The greater problem then becomes the fact that you’re literally forced to play long sessions to accomplish anything. In story mode, progress does not save between clubs, which means there is no way to save and quit anywhere along the way. On a good run, clearing every club on the first attempt, the story mode can be finished within an hour, so the progression isn’t particularly long. But until you’ve played enough to unlock better characters and settle into a groove with the mechanics and maps, you’re likely going to need multiple attempts at each club, and that’s when the required play time becomes frustrating. On my first complete run, the final level took me five or six attempts on its own, so my total play time ballooned well past two hours. All in one sitting. Because I couldn’t save, quit, and take a break. It just sucked away a lot of the enjoyment and made progressing a chore. Playing the story mode is a must, too, because it’s the only way to unlock new characters as well as stages for endless play, so it turns an entertaining experience into a grind.

Conga Master is a fantastic idea for a game and mostly is a hoot, but certain aspects of the design could have been executed better to make the game quicker to get in and out of and less time absorbing. At times, I played with a smile on my face, bopping my head to the beat while doing a little office chair or standing desk boogie. At other times, instead of bopping my head would nod forward, my attention fading in and out as the same looping track droned on and the gameplay failed to evolve past a certain breaking point. There is somewhat of a weird balance to the gameplay as well where it is more difficult at the beginning of every level, but then once passed a certain threshold it almost becomes too easy. For the most part, though, snaking a conga line across the wacky dancefloor locales has a smooth flow that has a way of sucking you into a Zen-like trance groove. Conga Master‘s silly antics carry it a long way, but you have to be willing to sink in quite a bit of time and patience to become comfortable with the controls and memorize the club layouts in order to ultimately achieve a sense of accomplishment.

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Pros:
+ Funky fresh take on Snake-like gameplay
+ Goofy sense of humor
+ Groovy tunes and pixel art
+ Fun local multiplayer party games

Cons:
– No way to save story mode progress
– Too much dancing in one session gets old
– Unlocking characters is a random grind
– No online multiplayer

Game Info:
Platform: PC
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Developer: Undercoders
Release Date: 9/14/2016
Genre: Action/Party
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by publisher

Buy From: Steam or GOG.com for $9.99.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!