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Destructoid review: Samba De Amigo

8:23 PM on 10.29.2008 // Jonathan Holmes

Samba De Amigo is the direct ancestor of not one, but two of gaming's latest controller crazes; musical instrument simulators and motion sensitive controllers. Back in the dying days of the Sega Dreamcast, before Guitar Hero or the Wii Remote were anywhere to be seen, Samba De Amigo featured maraca shaped controllers that could feel it when you shook them. Keep in mind, this was back in the year two thousand, when we all were so happy that the world didn't end after the release of the Y2K virus that everything seemed wonderful and amazing, even maraca shaped joysticks.

Like so many Dreamcast games, Samba De Amigo quickly carved out its own cult following, but failed to gain much mainstream success. Not only was the game on a console that was already on its way out, but it cost over seventy bucks due to those pricey maraca controllers. Now Samba De Amigo is back, this time on the Wii, for nearly half the price it cost on the Dreamcast.

Is the game the mind-blowing, Latin/Japanese joy-bomb it promises to be, or does it just blow? Hit the jump for the full review.

Samba de Amigo (Wii)
Developed by Gearbox Software
Published by Sega
Originally released on September 23rd, 2008

Despite being a big Dreamcast supporter, I never got to play the original Samba de Amigo. By the time it was released, I had used my entire Dreamcast budget on Seaman, and really couldn't afford another expensive, gimmicky game in my life. Despite this flagrant disregard for the game's initial release, I've always had an affection for Samba de Amigo and Samba, the game's aptly named mascot. There is just something fantastic about a videogame monkey who is so friendly looking that he actually comes off as sinister. Samba is the Chucky of the videogame world, and for that, I'll always be rooting for him. It's with that in mind that I first started in on Samba de Amigo, with the thought that it would really be a damn shame (but sadly quite typical of modern day Sega) for characters this well designed to be wasted on a game that's not fun to play.

Sega-phobia was just the tip of the iceberg of trepidation I had towards this title. My real fear was that Samba de Amigo would be another mindless waggle-fest in the style of EA's Boogie, a game I found utterly disappointing. I'm happy to report that Samba de Amigo has nothing in common with that non-game, and it's all the better for it.

Being a maraca simulator, Samba de Amigo does involve some rattling and shaking of the Wii-remotes, but the real task at hand here is precision arm placement. Just a Dance Dance Revolution is like videogame Twister to a beat, Samba De Amigo feels like semaphore code to pop music. The game's objective is to get your arms in the air, put them in the right place, and then shake the Wii-remotes in alignment with on-screen cues, which are always easy to spot despite the non-stop chaos going on elsewhere on screen. 

Shaking the Wii-remotes on time is a big part of this game, but that bit almost feels like an afterthought. Winning or losing in the game is mostly decided by your ability to get your arms in exactly the right place at the right time, and its not as easy as it looks.

Where the original game's controllers could sense where your arms are positioned via some sort of mysterious space magic, this Wii port relies on reading the angle of the Wii-remotes in order to detect their position. Point them to sky and the game knows that you're holding your arms in the air, point them towards the ground and the game knows that your arms are down, and point them at the TV and the game knows their out in front of you. It's a good control system, in theory anyway. In practice, it's a tad bit busted. Not broken mind you, but far from perfect.

The main problem with the game's controls is that the act of shaking the Wii-remotes inherently alters the angle that you're holding them. Due to this design flaw, there are times when the game gets confused as to what angle your holding the controller at mid-shake, and that can screw up your entire game. Staying extremely controlled in your shakes and arm placement, as well as carefully calibrating the controls before you start, will lead to a marked reduction of these flawed moments, but they'll never truly go away. It's like the rhythm game equivalent of a bad camera in a 3D game platformer. It's a nuisance, it can cause you to die unfairly, but can be dealt with if you're patient.

The patience is will be well worth it if you love the genre of excer-gaming. Like I was saying, Samba de Amigo has more in common with DDR than anything else, including Guitar Hero or Wii Music. After an hour a day of playing this game for a week, my arms definitely got sore. Playing Samba de Amigo and DDR at the simultaneously would likely be the greatest calorie burning game of all time, though I have no idea how anyone's mind could possibly handle all that stimulation at once.

Besides the non-stop fiesta that is the game's visuals, the game's main source of stimulation is it's excellent soundtrack, which covers artists ranging from the Harry Belefonte to Jennifer Lopez. The covers, by WaveGroup Sound, are pretty well done, and if your like me and you actually hate the way a lot of pop singers emote (I'm looking at you, Rob Thomas), it will actually be nice for you to hear some enthusiastic amateurs sing their songs in their place.

Also worth mentioning is the game's ample bonus content, with involves unlockable characters, songs, and sounds for your maracas. It's these last unlockables that are the most entertaining; ranging from the sound of a trumpet, to babies crying, to that of a young man screaming. It's a plethora of instruments only surpassed in mass by those found in Wii Music, which is saying a lot. There are also the downloadable song packs, which cost five hundred Wii points each. This is fantastic for those who'll never want Samba de Amigo to end, but will be completely ignored by anyone who feels like forty dollars was already a steep enough price for this game (which will likely be most of you.)

All around, Samba de Amigo is probably the best "arm dancing" game I've played yet (don't laugh, the Wii has tons of 'em), but unfortunately isn't billed as such. If you go into this one expecting a music based game, you'll likely be disappointed. The physicality, lighthearted attitude, and a willingness to make an ass of ones self that Samba de Amigo requires is likely more appealing to the DDR crowd than anyone else. If you're charmed by the game's characters and have an affinity for angling your arms in different directions, it will be easy for you to enjoy Samba de Amigo.  The controls take some getting used to, but they are workable. If you already don't like the look of the game and/or the idea of putting your arms at "ten and two" to the tune of Tubthumping, then there is nothing here for you. 

Score: 6.0 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)

Jonathan Holmes, Bad Joke Uncle
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