Review: Samba De Amigo (Nintendo Wii)

Samba De Amigo
Developer: Gearbox
Publisher: Sega
Genre: Bemani
Release Date 09/25/2008

Wow. Has it really been nearly 8 years to the day when Sonic Team first brought the original Samba De Amigo to the venerable Sega Dreamcast? Man, I’m old. I still remember that SDA was one of the last really big hits for one of the most underrated systems of all time, as well as one of the most expensive. Man, were those maracas pricey. Heck, they still are if you try to get a pair on Ebay.

With the motion sensitive controls of the Wii, it was merely a matter of time before Sega decided to remake one of the first, and most popular, rhythm games of all time. With Gearbox Software taking up the development end from our beloved Sonic Team, one has to wonder if the sequel can hold up to the amazing level of quality the original is remembered for. Either way it’s time to shake your wiimotes like maracas and pray you don’t have wrist strain in the morning!

Let’s Review

1. Modes

If you are looking for a plot, then go away. This is just flailing your limbs to a Latin beat and nothing more.

Amazingly there are a lot of modes to this game. Let’s do a brief rundown of each one.

“¢ Career. In this mode you play through several different challenges, which are just groupings of songs. At the halfway point and end of the challenge you unlock things ranging from new sound effects to new songs to play in the multiple versions of Single or Multiplayer Mode

“¢ Quick Play. Play just one song and try to get a high score.

“¢ Classic Mode. Play two songs in a row and if you do good enough, you earn a third song. Again, try to get the highest score possible

“¢ Love Love. With either a friend or the computer, and try to see how synchronized the two of you are. Instead of a score, the game acts as a love meter and judges your compatibility. Cute and weird

“¢ Battle. This is the Vs. Mode of the game. Try to get the higher score while also knocking your opponent out.

“¢ Survival. This is the endurance challenge. You just keep playing songs until you run out of life. Each mistake whittles your maracas gauge down until you are done.

“¢ Guacamole. This mini-game is “Whack a Mole” from the Chuck E. Cheese you went to as a little tyke.

“¢ Power Rush. Rocks are falling. Shake your maracas to break them! Them faster you shake, the faster they break.

“¢ Strike a Pose. Complete multiple poses and mimick Mr. Pose.

“¢ Dance Dance Amigo! Mr. Pose in back, but this time you are mimicking his dance routines.

“¢ Monkey See, Monkey Do. This is basically the old tabletop game SIMON. Copy the pattern and timing exactly.

“¢ Pinata. Break the piñata as quickly as you can. Similar to the car smashing in Street Fighter II

“¢ Volleyball. This is my favorite of the mini-games. It’s a nice little volleyball send up using maracas and the beat. A lot of fun, and pretty easy to get the hang off.

“¢ Training Mode. Well, duh.

“¢ Records. Check all the high scores.

As you can see there are a lot of modes in the new Samba De Amigo The majority of your time will be spent in Career or Quick Play, but everything here is quite enjoyable and I was really impressed by the depth Gearbox brought to the series. The usefulness /entertainment value of each game varies due to control detection (I hate you Mr. Pose!) With over a dozen ways to play Samba De Amigo, you’re sure to find some mode you really enjoy.

Modes Rating: Great

2. Graphics

For the most part, the games visuals are a slightly touched up version of the Dreamcast’s visuals. That might sound like a negative at first but in truth, there are a lot of Dreamcast games that look better than what is currently available for the Wii. I’m a huge fan of the stylish visuals of the game, with its unique character designs that sometimes border on being creepy, and the extravagant backgrounds . One thing that really stood out to me was the use of a Mii in the game. Pick your Mii and they’ll be in the background in full Salsa regalia, shaking and dancing away with the other characters in the game. Very cute and although not needed, it’s a great interface with the Wii.

Although the graphics can be very distracting at time while playing the main mode of the game, one can’t deny that it’s a beautiful game and it is great to see the SDA style return to a modern console.

Graphics Rating: Good

3. Sound

Wow. The music in this game is fantastic. Keep your Guitar Heroes and your Rock Bands – THIS is one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard all year and I’m not really the kind of guy who listens to Miami Sound Machine or Ricky Martin. Still, the music is so infectious and perfect for the game that you can’t help but love the tunes. A lot of these songs are actually familiar to me thanks to movies I watched as a child that played Mambo music. “Papa Loves Mambo” for example, or who could forget Harry Belafonte’s “Jump in the Line” from “Beetlejuice” Possible my biggest mark out moment in the game was during Amiga’s Challenge in career mode. I played a random song and I realize I knew the song but I could remember where. I found myself playing the song three times in a row trying to remember how on earth I knew this song. Finally it hit me. It was a modification of “El Bimbo!” You might know this particular song as the one always played at the Blue Oyster bar in the Police Academy movies. Wow. That was random and awesome. The only thing missing was the Simpsons bit that kept running through my head while playing this song.

Bart: Dad, why did you take me to a gay steel mill?

Homer: I…don’t know son.

Steelworker: We work hard. We play hard.

Note to Gearbox: Get C&C Music Factory’s “Everybody Dance Now” as a downloadable track and you have a perfect twofer in classic mode.

The music is amazingly well done and even with the cover versions of licensed tracks, the only one you can tell right away isn’t the original group or singer is “Tubthumping” by Chumbawumba.

If you are a fan of Salsa, Mambo, Tango, or any of the other forms of music contained in this game, it is a must buy just for the tracks. Even if you don’t consider yourself a fan of these genres of music, like I did, you’ll be amazed how many of these songs that you know and more importantly, that you find yourself liking.

Sound Rating: Unparalleled

4. Control and Gameplay

The controls for Samba De Amigo make or break the game depending on how astute you are while playing. For one thing, you always want to have the back of the controller facing the screen and the side with the buttons facing you. This will cut down on detection issues, especially with Mr. Pose when he wants you to point both controllers in the same direction. As well, you can cut down on detection issues by going with the Wiimote/Numchuk setup instead of the double Wiimote option. The only problem with this is that sometimes the cord connecting the two is too limiting for you to fully dance around like an idiot while playing. Although it may be too much information, the big problem I found with this method is that I clotheslined my genitals with cord on more than one occasion with the harder songs due to the speed and momentum. NOT FUN.

The main game plays where you swing your maracas in one of six areas on your screen. The goal is to hit the balls as they enter the center of each area. The closest you are to the ball being in the exact middle of the area, the more points you earn. The better you do, the higher your rating. The more you miss, the lower the rating. This is all fairly cut and dry, except that the big problem seems to be collision detection with the faster paced, higher difficulty songs.

I won’t deny that I had this problem at first, but then I realized what the problem was and how to counter it, something very few people seemed to have clued in on so far, so let me share it with you. The game judges how you did by not how hard you swing your maracas or even if you are holding the maracas high, low, or in the middle. Instead it is judging by the ANGLE WHICH YOUR WIIMOTE IS TRANSMITTING TO THE SENSOR BAR. So if you are doing a high right hand maracas shake, make sure you are flicking your wrist with the wiimote, numchuck, or sold separately maracas controller held correctly so the game registers the angle at which you play. Before I figured this out I was a bit frustrated, but even then I never had a score lower than a B, and once I was able to figure out the best way to hold the maracas and still dance around my living room while my rabbits stared at me like I was having a seizure. I never scored less than 95% correct. Yes I still missed the occasional hit, but nowhere near the level being reported online by reviewers and confused gamers. Although it may be an off-putting or frustrating to hear me saying, “Keep the angle of your controller in mind,” after doing it for a few songs, it will be second nature to you.

At the end of the day, one would think that the Wiimotes were a perfect fit for Samba De Amigo , but there really needed to be fine tuning of the controls, and there simply wasn’t enough of that. I may be really good at this game, but if everyone else is having a problem and I’m getting perfects, then the answer obviously isn’t, “Alex knows how to play the game and you don’t.” It’s, “Alex figured out a working solution to the problem. Gearbox, you delayed this bloody game for over a year so how on earth did you not fine tune the controls?”

So yes, I had a lot of fun with the game, but if I hadn’t figured out a way to compensate for the general control detection issues, I’d probably be one of the guys swearing and ranting about the issues this game is reported to have as well. Once you figure out the trick though, the game plays pretty well and it feels natural in your hands while you shake shake shake. Does the game play as well as the original Dreamcast version? No way, but it does play better than a lot of third party games for the Wii I’ve had the misfortune to experience.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Above Average

5. Replayability

With approximately four dozen songs to play and several oft-kilter mini games, Samba De Amigo can keep you busy for a long time. The downsides, of course, are the control issues that can pop up and the inevitable wrist strain from too much flicking. There’s not a lot to the game, and playing by yourself gets boring quickly, but as a party game SDA has the potential to be a lot of fun if you can circumnavigate the detection issue. With the right mindset and people you can even ignore the controls because half the fun is watching people play the game.

Replayability Rating: Above Average

6. Balance

Because of the control issues people have been mentioning, the game really doesn’t deserve a high score here. Gameplay issues inevitably lead to balance issues after all. For me though, I found the game to be exceptionally easy. I was always getting A’s, even on the highest difficulty and to score a 98% or higher was commonplace. I found the game to be very simple, predictable and not challenging in the slightest. Compared to other rhythm games like DDR, Pump it Up: Exceed or Guitar Hero, Samba De Amigo is really showing its age here.

There is no real middle ground here. You’re either bound to be frustrated with the controls because the game isn’t catching your movements, or you’ll be amazed at how bloody easy it is to get an A on a song. Hustle mode, which adds the posing and dancing to the normal mode’s shaking of the maracas, does make things a bit harder, but that’s only because the game has certain issues with pose detection unless you hold controllers properly and there is generally a movement to hit immediately after a dance move so you have to hustle. Again, it comes down to odd controls so it’s very hard to be positive abount the balance in any way.

The game isn’t fundamentally broken in any way, but it does have severe balances issues that impede any real sense of fun if you’re playing alone.

Balance Rating: Bad

7. Originality

This is another category where SDA doesn’t fare so well. The game is a remake of an eight year old title, containing nearly the same exact (albeit expanded) track list as the original. Ouch. In 1999/00, SDA was highly original and there weren’t a lot of games like it on the market. These days? Pretty much every game for the Wii uses similar motion detection controls and there are so many bemani and/or rhythm games out there, SDA just doesn’t have the chance to stand out from the pack. There are many games that do the rhythm thing with optional extra controllers better, but this still remains the only game to give you the feel of maracas or that specializes in Latin dance music. Points for that, as well as reviving a Sega franchise we haven’t seen in some time aside from those awful Sega Superstars games.

Originality Rating: Mediocre

8. Addictiveness

I really got into the game. In one sitting I poured through over half of career mode. That time shaking my maracas and fanny added up, but I didn’t even notice it. I was having a lot of fun and enjoying the music, and even more so once I learned the trick to improving the control detection. Even though solo player is nowhere as fun as the multiplayer mode, I still was able to get into the game and it never failed to put a smile on my face.

Samba De Amigo has its issues to be sure, but the game’s music, style, and core gameplay are a lot of fun. So what if you can’t get a perfect score because the game wasn’t able to detect 2-3 of your hits per round, you’ll still get an A, you’ll still have fun, and you’ll still be happy you played it.

Addictiveness Rating: Good

9. Appeal Factor

Anyone can have fun with Samba De Amigo. It’s catchy, it’s stylish and it’s silly. Like most games involving virtual instruments, it’s about the immersion in the experience over all else. Granted some people will get frustrated with the higher difficulty songs, and some people will prefer normal to hustle and vice versa, but no game is universally loved.

Again, the game works best in a party atmosphere where you’re not treating the game as SERIOUS BUSINESS and trying to unlock everything or get through career mode. Just take a deep breath, enjoying the music and remember that when you’re having a SDA get together, you’ll all have varying degrees of control detection problem, so who cares. In that situation, it’s just about having fun, dancing around, shaking your wiimotes and laughing your ass off. When that becomes your mindset, have a 98% instead of a 100% isn’t that big a deal and really, it shouldn’t be anyway.

Appeal Factor: Good

10. Miscellaneous

I had a lot of fun with Samba De Amigo The music, graphics, and gameplay were all quite catchy and I was quite happy with the whole experience? Would I pay $50 for it? I actually would, as it comes down to a little more than a dollar a song. Same with the three pack of songs you can get as downloadable content. Three songs for $5? It’s cheaper than a song for GH3 or Rock Band, so why not? Hopefully there will be more to come, but from the general reaction to the game, I have a sinking feeling this is all the downloadable content we’ll be getting.

Samba De Amigo will most likely be staying in my WII library. Unlike all my other systems that are chock full of RPG’s and Shoot ‘Em Ups, my Wii is filled with rhythm games and rail shooters. This is probably not a game I’d play on my own, but with friends? It will be brought out.

Also, a bonus point here for Ulala and Sonic showing up. Surprise!

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

The Scores
Modes: Great
Graphics: Good
Sound: Unparalleled
Control and Gameplay: Above Average
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Bad
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Good

Short Attention Span Summary

With some sketchy controls, Samba De Amigo requires some trial and error by the player until they can figure out the best way to hold the wiimotes to ensure proper movement detection. Once you figure out what works best for you, SDA is actually amazingly fun and pretty hard to put down. It boasts the second best soundtrack I’ve heard in a game this year (Endless Ocean takes the gold there) and although it’s not as good as the original Dreamcast version, it’s still one of Sega’s better releases this year.



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