If you like your colour schemes to be conservative then turn away now, otherwise, feel free to soak up the carnival of psychedelic shades present in this, the Wii port of Dreamcast classic, Samba De Amigo. It’s maracas at dawn, and there’s a Latin beat a playin’…
Anyone with a Dreamcast and a loaded wad will no doubt have first hand experience of this unique rhythm game from Sega. Setting punters back around £100 on its original DC release, due to the inclusion of some funky digital maracas and sensor mat, the game wasn’t exactly cheap, and due to the high cost, quickly became a rarity, with original copies still fetching £80 upwards on eBay.
Luckily, for those of us not fortunate enough to own the original DC incarnation, Nintendo has seen fit to give the game another lease of life, and the Wii is, on paper at least, the perfect platform to host this comeback. But is it any good?
For the uninitiated, Samba De Amigo is a rhythm party game, much like games such as Dance Dance Revolution and Space Channel 5, but instead of moving around on a dance mat, you shake maracas to the beat. Onscreen there are six coloured circles, two for high shakes, two for mid shakes and two for low shakes, and by shaking the controllers at the appropriate height when coloured balls pass through each circle, you can rack up your score. This is a very simple principle, and one that should appeal to even the most inexperience gamer. That’s not to say the game is easy, and on later difficulties, the kind of maraca callisthenics you need to pull off will work up quite a sweat.
In place of the DC’s Maracas, the Wii, as you’d expect, uses the Wiimote and nunckuck as the controller, or, if you prefer, you can also use two Wiimotes for true wireless maraca action. Two player modes can also use this wireless setup, if you’ve got four Wiimotes to hand that is.
Various game modes are on offer here, including the original arcade mode, two player battles, and the ‘Hustle’ mode, first included in the Ver 2000 edition of the DC game (which sadly never saw official light outside of Japan). In this mode, it’s less about hitting the beat, but instead focuses on waving the maracas around in dance-like motions as depicted onscreen.
Other additions include the new career mode, which sees you completing songs in stages before moving onto the next set of tracks, and several mini games, including posing with the maracas, a piñata smasher and even a take on volleyball. All of this is wrapped up in enough colour and wacky animations to brighten even the most melancholy gamer.
Unfortunately, even with all of the sumptuously garish presentation, over 40 samba-style tracks and a game tailor made to two player fun, the Wii incarnation falls quite short of the DC’s mark due to some serious control issues. There’s a reason why the DC release cost so much – the controllers. The original maracas were excellent, and could detect movements very accurately indeed, making the game a joy to play. Painfully however, the Wii’s controllers are really starting to manifest some very noticeable cracks, and despite Gearbox’s best efforts, the hardware just can’t really cope with the task at hand.
While the Wiimote is more than happy when detecting the odd shake, twist and turn to great effect in many games, combining this with the need to sense where the Wiimote is in 3D space (i.e. height) doesn’t work all that well. The result is a release that is, frankly, a bit of a frustrating mess at times. The game often struggles to register when you’re actually shaking the maracas in the correct manner, resulting in you missing notes, and possibly killing of a long score chain. And, when it comes to striking poses (holding the maracas in depicted stances), the sensitivity can be awful.
This can all be bad enough on Easy, where missing the odd note isn’t so bad, but crank the difficulty up and you’ll soon grow to hate the control system, as beat after beat is missed, despite your best efforts at shaking the controllers around. This will cause Wiimotes to fly toward the TV, not due to a sweaty-palm, or accidental hiccup, but out of sheer frustration.
It’s true, that with time and patience, you can get used to the controls, and the game does grow on you if you persevere, and nailing each beat becomes easier. But even with masses of practise, the control system still fudges up time and time again, totally out of your control. And when a game relies so much on its control systems, this is unforgivable.
The minigames can also be a thing of ugliness. While the hustle game is a lot of fun (and a great workout), the rest of them fail to impress, especially the downright awful volleyball, which is just bizarre and as clunky as they come. In fact, this is a rare case of less is more, and most of the minigames really wouldn’t be missed, and more songs, and main game modes would be far more welcome.
You may get the feeling that I don’t like the Wii outing of Samba De Amigo, and you’d be right. If you do plough on and get the hang on the controls, and have a few friends around, this will certainly generate plenty of laughs. However, as with any game of this type, controls are god, and you should never have to struggle with them. They should feel like second nature, and should be unequivocally accurate and responsive. Here the Wii edition fails on both counts for me, which is a shame as I loved the DC original, and so wanted to like this too. Oh well, back to Guitar Hero…
Samba De Amigo is out now.