Developer: Gearbox Software
Release Date: September 23, 2008
Are you a fan of music?
Note that I didn't say "music games" or "rhythm games" or anything like that, just … music. The spirit of music, the soul of music, the funk and the groove, the power of melody and beats! Can music move you if you let it?
Furthermore, are you open to other genres of music besides rock 'n' roll? If you are, and you have a Wii, then you're in luck: Samba de Amigo is right up your alley.
The music gaming scene, at least outside of Japan, is becoming a bit "one-note" lately, for lack of a better term. Anywhere you go, you're bound to see a game that encourages you to play a fake plastic guitar, or to mime a guitar, or to star in a band with guitars, or snap on and finger a keypad that's making believe it's a guitar — and all to the same recycled pop rock music, in most cases. That is fine, don't get me wrong — heck, you should see the number of fake instruments I have in my apartment, many of which are shaped like guitars — but after a while, one starts craving something a little different. (Especially since the Elite Beat Agents developers have decided to do karaoke now.)
Samba de Amigo flies in the face of current profitable convention. It's a breath of fresh air due to its bringing Latin music into the arena of rhythm gaming. Salsa, mambo, rumba, merengue, you name it: All of that stuff was made for this particular genre.
It's beat- and percussion-heavy, and not only tests the prowess of your fingers and wrists, but also that of your whole body. Samba de Amigo ahead of its time back in the Dreamcast days, and it was criminally overlooked back then due to its limited distribution. Now that music games are all the rage as well as gigantic moneymakers for corporate publishers, hopefully Samba can get the attention and appreciation it so richly deserves.
So what is Samba de Amigo? Glad you asked! The way it works is this. As you can see from our screenshots, six colored rings adorn the screen in various directional positions. Balls will flow into these rings to the beat of the song. Your job is to tilt the Wiimotes to position them, and then shake them like maracas just as the balls meet the rings. It's a very simple premise, but also one that will not be mastered until weeks of practice is put into it. Even after you do master it, you then have to see how well you dance while shaking to the beat. This is because, in Samba de Amigo, it's impossible not to want to dance. You may think you're too tired to move during some extended play sessions, but all of a sudden "Conga" or "Mambo No. 5" or even "Tubthumping" will cue up, and your whole body starts moving practically on its own. This game is that powerful.
Samba knows what it's working with, too, because the other mechanic it sports is known as Hustle mode. Turn it on, and throughout the song, you'll be asked to dance in various positions while waving your virtual maracas wildly. It's great fun, and a great way to get up and move.
The big question is, then, how well do the controls transition from the arcade and Dreamcast versions? The reason this is important is obvious: If the maraca mechanics don't work just right, the party's over. Fortunately, I am pleased to report that the controls are spot-on 95 percent of the time. Every once in a while, a hiccup or two happens, but rarely is it the fault of the remotes as opposed to lack of user skill (and I've already beaten the hardest mode this game has to offer, so I've had ample time to test them out). There have been reports of the controls not working by various review outlets and series fans, but while I sympathize, I'm just not seeing it. To be honest, having been a disappointed with the Wii Remote time and time again, I'm incredibly impressed with how Gearbox managed to get this sucker working.
Now, I won't be so naïve as to suggest that there will not be times when you think the controller is to blame for mishaps. However, my advice to any players here is, simply, to practice. It really does make perfect. Your body will become faster, your mind will recognize the rhythm, and you will improve at the game as a whole. Higher rankings and scores will follow, completely in line with every other music game out there. Samba, more so than most titles, isn't a game where you might be able to bumble or play catch-up through a song by hitting random notes and beats on the fly. It requires practice and precision, which is ironic for a fully motion-controlled game. Your motions and the beat of the music must work as a well-oiled dancing machine for progress to be made.
(To a point, anyway. Due to the nature of the Wii control system, trying to dance like this will send the whole thing out of whack, but if you are good enough to dance like that and still get perfect scores, odds are that you have access to the original Dreamcast maracas or the arcade game anyway —in which case I'd encourage just sticking with what you've already got.)
There's one catch to my claims, however — a standard-definition television set is recommended. Whether Gearbox actually forgot to implement one or didn't have enough time to do so, there's no sort of HDTV lag compensation in this title. This is the one place where they dropped the ball. For days, I thought the controls were to blame when I kept missing beats, but after moving the Wii to my old TV, all was well. It's still very playable and forgiving on an HDTV (especially if it supports 480p as a native resolution), but you have thus been warned.
Fortunately, whether or not you play on a standard- or high-definition set, Samba's visuals are top-notch. They're vibrant, full of life, and it seems that just about everything and everyone on the screen is dancing in some way, from the performers to the buildings, to the sun itself. Thanks to the game's built-in Mii support, you'll be dancing right along with them. Every song you play has a brightly colored party to go with it.
I'd comment on the sound, but, this being a music game, if it weren't good, it'd fail on the spot. As it stands, Samba de Amigo can make even cool-to-hate songs like "Livin' La Vida Loca" and "Macarena" a barrel of fun. I'll leave it at that.
Adding to the fun, addictive maraca-shaking mayhem is a plethora of ways to play, and unlike most games, Samba doesn't falter just because of the number of players present. Several game modes are available no matter how many people are standing around the little white box. A Career mode has been added to bring the title up to speed with current music games. Go through it, and you'll be treated to a bevy songs through increasing difficulty levels, while unlocking lots of goodies such as bonus songs and sounds for your virtual maracas. You can battle each other, or you can play co-op via the game's Love mode. Some mini-games will test your memory or your ability to do dances and poses. There are off-the-wall modes based on games like whack-a-mole and volleyball, and in a true showcase of Awesome(tm), there's a mode that lets you whack away at a piñata. Finally, the original arcade mode is fully intact for the authentic experience. There are also a few Sega shout-outs: Ulala dances with you here, which is a nice touch, and you can look for Sonic in the Career mode.
As it stands, there are only a couple of complaints that could be levied against this game (aside from the lack of HDTV support, which, really, should be standard by now). One is the fact that the tilt controls will take some getting used to, especially when you're trying to employ the "crossover" technique, which is using one hand to point to an opposite-side ring. While advanced scoring techniques are very possible here, getting in a position to do so will take a period of adjustment, especially if you've been raised on the original versions.
Also, while you can see the love Gearbox has for Samba de Amigo in every facet of this game, none of the classic Sega franchise songs (save for "Mexican Flyer," recognizable by fans of Space Channel 5) that were on the Dreamcast versions are on this disc, or currently available as DLC. Mind you, very few have anything to do with the general musical tone of Samba, but hey, that one song from Fantasy Zone fit really well. I miss it.
Still, these are minor gripes. I could sit here and rave about Samba de Amigo for quite some time, but really, it's something that deserves to be experienced for oneself. Samba de Amigo is unlike any game out there — not just in the music genre, but in the whole grand scheme of video game design. While Samba is easy to pick up and get lost in, it will challenge you if you ask it to. However, practice is all that is required to attain proficiency, and the feeling of being able to shake your body perfectly to the beat of a rhythm-heavy song is one of life's great joys. It's great to play by yourself, with friends, or with the family. The fact that it costs $10 less than the usual Wii game MSRP is simply icing on the cake.
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