Samba De Amigo: Party Central

Platform(s): Meta Quest 2, Meta Quest 3, Nintendo Switch
Genre: Rhythm
Publisher: SEGA
Release Date: Summer 2023


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Switch Review - 'Samba de Amigo: Party Central'

by Cody Medellin on Sept. 15, 2023 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Samba de Amigo: Party Central marks the return of the rhythm action series with a playlist that will get you and your friends moving thanks to 40 hits from the world’s most popular genres including EDM, pop, Latin, and more.

The original Samba de Amigo was released in arcades at the end of 1999, when rhythm games were taking over the arcades due to the unbridled success of Dance Dance Revolution. With Konami also making arcade games featuring popular instruments like guitars, keyboards, and drum machines, Sega went for something a little more offbeat by using maracas with a heavily Latin-influenced soundtrack. The game was well received, though the Dreamcast port a year later was marred by the fact that the maracas were needed to make the game feel similar to the arcade. Those peripherals almost impossible to find domestically, and they only worked some of the time. Several years later, the game was done up again for the Wii, where the motion controls meant that everyone could experience the game the way it was meant to be played. It was fun, but a proper sequel was never in the cards. More than a decade later, we finally get that sequel in the form of Samba de Amigo: Party Central on the Nintendo Switch.

The core mechanics of the game remain the same as it did for past entries and rhythm games in general. There are six hit zones in the middle of the screen laid out in a circular fashion. Circular notes come from the middle of the screen toward these zones, and your job is to time your action so that the note is hit at the same time it reaches the middle of the hit zone. On occasion, you'll be asked to perform a pose where you hold the maracas in the highlighted zone or mimic the action presented on-screen. You'll also be asked to move the maracas separately by tracing a given line. Compared to the previous games, there's more to do than simply shaking maracas, which makes it feel more like a dance routine than playing an instrument.

One of the newer additions is minigames, as they are built into the song instead of relegated to their own game mode. Hit a question mark mode, and you'll get a roulette wheel that determines which minigame you'll play. One has you trying to hit several baseballs perfectly. Another has you hit notes with the correct maraca, as one is labeled for love and the other for peace. It seems like a strange thing to do until you remind yourself that this is a game where the backgrounds feature a cornucopia of random things, from dancing sharks to jaguars playing instruments — and all at a frantic pace that makes every event feel like a fever dream.

Samba de Amigo can be played with one of two control methods, and the Joy-Cons are the preferred instrument for most. You'd hold one Joy-Con in each hand vertically and oriented so that you can hit the triggers and corresponding L and R buttons with your thumbs. To activate each note, you make a shaking motion toward and away from your body while the Joy-Cons read positional data. All you need to do is raise or lower your arms corresponding to the height of the hit zone. The HD Rumble does a fair job of mimicking the rattle of the beans inside a real pair of maracas, and dancing or posing reads positional data just like when you're shaking for various heights.

The system works well most of the time, but positional data isn't perfect. It only takes a minimal amount of movement to switch between middle and high hit zones, but the game sometimes fails to register in the lower zones on the left side. If you're trying to play competitively or going for a perfect run, it's more noticeable on the normal difficulty compared to the higher ones, since you don't have as many notes bombarding you at a time. This isn't to say that the system is broken, as it works well enough for a party or casual setting, and it is the best scheme thus far for this game, but you need luck on your side if you want to use this method for perfect runs and high score chases.

The second control method is with traditional buttons and analog sticks. In a number of rhythm games that rely on peripherals, defaulting to this method means taking the easy way out, as the more forgiving nature of the game means it takes less precision to complete a song. What's surprising is that the title seems to realize this and tries to make this method more challenging. Notes can be hit with the face buttons for the right side of the screen and the d-pad for the left side of the screen. You can also use each of the analog sticks to accomplish this, and while that seems like it isn't going to be as good as the buttons, you might find it to be your preferred method since those sticks are essential for pulling off poses and tracing lines. The game seems to make you do more poses and trace more lines if you're using a standard controller versus motion controls. Both methods are viable, without one feeling much easier than the other.

Samba de Amigo contains several modes, all of which solidify the game's offbeat vibe. Rhythm Game is the standard mode where you choose a song and start playing. The 40-song soundtrack still has some Latin-inspired tracks, like Sega's own "Vamos A Carnaval" and "Azukita" with Steve Aoki, Daddy Yankee, Elvis Crespo and Play-N-Skillz. There's also a healthy amount of pop music, like "Tik Tok" by Ke$ha, "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club, "You Give Love a Bad Name" by Bon Jovi, and "Let's Take A Shot" by Pitbull. There's even some representation from Sega's own games with songs like "Baka Mitai" from the Yakuza series making an appearance alongside "Fist Bump" and "Escape from the City" from the Sonic games. Most of the songs seem like a strange fit for maracas, but they work well enough in action that only the purists will mind that the classic and modern stuff outnumbers the more Latin-flavored tracks. The only real knock against the song list is that these are truncated versions of the songs, so expect some parts to be artfully omitted.

Party for Two is the local multiplayer mode, which has four modes of its own. The standard rhythm game is present, along with one where you play all of the minigames. Love Checker is a standard of the home ports, as you team up with a partner to see how well you sync with one another. Show Down is more of a standard versus game, where the loser needs to deal with a consequence that plays outside of the game. It's strange but different.

There are some things that could've been done better. You can only see one character, which is also a problem when playing against others in Online mode. You'll see the charts, but seeing only one monkey dance is disheartening when previous versions showed both monkeys without any issue. Secondly, the game requires both players to use the same control method, so one person can't use the Joy Con's motion controls while the other uses the Pro Controller. Finally, the game always requires you to sync the controllers before every song but only in this mode. It must be a bug, considering how annoying the process is when playing with large groups.

StreamiGo is the campaign mode, and it plays into the strangeness by making it a battle on a social media platform. The goal is to get the most followers to become the face of StreamiGo, and you'll need to challenge other characters to do that. Pick a character, select one of their challenges, and off you go. Some of the challenges are straightforward, such as reaching a score threshold; others are tougher, such as trying to finish the song without missing a note. Alongside those primary challenges are secondary ones, like keeping a consecutive note streak going. These are optional, but they provide some nice bonuses.

The mode is quite good if you want more from a rhythm game aside from just playing the songs. The game seems to have you replay the same song multiple times. Even with the first two characters you can challenge initially, you'll have to play "XS" and "Tik Tok" twice, and this only gets more prevalent, as the game doesn't space out the appearance of the songs in the playlists. It's fine if you're playing in short bursts, but it can be annoying if you're playing for longer stretches.

The last mode is World Party, which is a Battle Royale-style mode for 20 people. The game takes you through three stages with three randomly picked songs. The difficulty increases as you go through each stage, and the lowest-scoring players get culled as you move on to a round of 16 and then a round of eight before a winner is crowned. While you can play with skill alone, the mode provides power-ups to use against opponents, such as changing the speed of their songs or erasing some of their scoring zones so they'll miss notes. It's maddening and cutthroat but a ton of fun. One thing that keeps the quirkiness factor going is that this all takes place in space, and any eliminated players go screaming into a black hole before the next round. It's humorous in a dark way, despite no one actually dying from that event.

Tying together all of these modes is a slew of progression and economy systems, all in the name of unlocking various cosmetic elements like new maracas, sound effects, outfits, colors, and profile pics. Completing a song gets you XP, which unlocks stuff with every gained level. You also get coins for completing a song, so you can buy more cosmetics that can't be opened by just leveling up. World Party gives you a different form of currency: golden coffee beans for completing each round. Some stuff is only unlockable with these beans, but you can also trade in coins to get those beans. The system feels like it was designed as if the game were free to play, minus a way to buy the currency using real-world money. It's ultimately inconsequential, since you aren't unlocking new songs with these methods.

Samba de Amigo: Party Central is a fun title that still has some faults. The use of motion controls is fine until the game misreads your movements, while the more traditional gamepad method works well because it does more in mimicking motions and being challenging in its own right. The lack of focus on more Latin-themed music is disappointing considering the nature of the maracas, but the variety of music ensures that it's trying to reach a wider audience that enjoys the likes of Just Dance. The modes are fun, but the grind in replaying certain songs multiple times to earn more currency for cosmetics can be bothersome, especially given the presence of two different currency types. Samba de Amigo remains a charming rhythm game experience that genre fans will enjoy if they can forgive those quirks.

Score: 7.0/10

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