Version tested: Wii
Re-issuing dusty old back-catalogue titles on the Wii isn't perhaps the most imaginative or exciting thing SEGA could have done. Some new games would have been nice. But with a completely overlooked ace up their sleeve like Samba De Amigo, you can't blame them at all. Fondly remembered for being one of the more outlandish rhythm-action games of the early part of the decade, its GBP 99.99 price point and ridiculously limited release on Dreamcast meant that Sonic Team's effort became little more than a collectible curio. If you're one of the 2000 UK gamers who bagged one, lucky you. The superb maraca controllers remain, to this day, the most joyfully silly gaming peripheral ever made.
The premise is utterly daft, and the game is all the more endearing for it. You play an unhinged-looking, square-headed, sombrero-wearing, maraca-shaking monkey. You can tell he's happy. He's undoubtedly had his fill of bananas, and now wants to express his undying love for latin rhythms by shaking a set of maracas in time to the joyous music. Don't we all.
The gameplay couldn't be much simpler, and nothing fundamental has been changed from the DC original (including the visuals; these remain as striking as they ever were, with the addition of Miis). In what amounts to a slight variation on the Dancing Stage gameplay, you have to shake the maracas (in this instance the Wii remote and nunchuk) in the appropriate direction at the right time. An amusing, brightly coloured animated scene plays out in the background and the screen is overlaid with six markers, telling you whether to shake up, down or in the middle as the blue dots hit them. As you might expect from a rhythm game, the objective is to get the timing right and build up your score multiplier, ending each song with the highest possible score and grade.
Occasionally during all this maraca shaking madness, you have to "pose" or "hustle" in the manner depicted. Posing involves holding the maracas still in the direction of the highlighted circle, while hustling is a little more involved and tasks you with rapidly waving one or both of your maracas between the illustrated positions. In short, you'll look like an absolute banana while you're doing all of this, but that's obviously the point. While suitably inebriated, this could be the stuff of legend.
As with the Dreamcast original and its Japanese-only Ver.2000 upgrade, there are quite a few modes eked out of such a straightforward game mechanic. The main career mode serves as a means of unlocking the 40-odd songs and numerous throwaway unlockables (like maraca sounds). Within each of the four difficulty levels are roughly five stages, each with a number of songs to run through. It's not the most inspiring way to experience the game, but becomes a necessary evil if you want to be access particular songs that otherwise remain off-limits in the regulation single or multiplayer modes. Easy and Normal difficulty prove to be an absolute doddle, with A grades routinely dished out to those with even the vaguest sense of timing.
Beyond that, the limitations of the Wii remote's motion-sensing capabilities become apparent at the exact point you really need them to be reliable. Try as Gearbox might, the bald truth is that the Wiimote is far from an exact instrument in precisely judging where you're shaking. Time and again, just as you're building up a great multiplier, a simple repetitive moment can be misinterpreted, leaving you staring balefully at your hands, wondering why that shake was deemed incorrect when all the others were fine. At lower skill levels, you can afford the odd hardware-related slip-up; you'll make it through anyway. But, really, the routines are basic enough that you shouldn't be making any mistakes.
Needless to say, the imprecise nature of the controls starts to weigh heavily once you're faced with more complex routines and manoeuvres. You'll go from being able to do each song with your eyes shut to hitting a brick wall the minute you progress to Hard mode. It almost works perfectly when asking the player to perform very deliberate actions, but demands an unreasonable level of precision later on - a level of precision that is currently beyond the Wiimote. While the expensive Dreamcast system employed was capable of triangulating the position of each maraca relative to the sensor bar, Gearbox's Wii system relies on static acceleration data. While this is a clever alternative on paper, it has limitations when you're being asked to move from high to low to medium positions in quick succession - while also shaking in time. It's a nice workaround up to a point, but it doesn't quite work in the white heat of maraca-shaking insanity.
That's not to say you won't have fun with Samba De Amigo anyway. The fact that you can now easily engage in multiplayer goes some way to making up for some of the worse faults, while some of the throwaway modes are fun in small doses. There are five basic multiplayer options: Quickplay, Battle, Love Love, Classic and Mini-games. Classic is, as the name implies, the standard game. Quickplay is just you and a mate competing for the best score. Battle is a tug o' war, as you aim to pull off enough successful moves so that a bomb is lobbed over to your opponent's side and takes away some of their energy. Love Love (a.k.a. Couples) is utterly throwaway; your "compatibility" with your partner is based on how synchronised you are with one another during play.
The mini-games, meanwhile, are similarly lightweight distractions and none linger in the memory. Pinata is a rather pointless game of seeing how quickly you can bust one open, Guacamole is a basic riff on whack-a-mole, Monkey See, Monkey Do is a Simon-Says move-matching affair, and Volleyball is an unforgivably awful, completely unplayable take on the sport. Strike A Pose, meanwhile, tasks you with pulling off as many poses in the alloted time, Power Rush has you shaking the maracas as fast as possible, while Dance Dance Amigo involves keeping up with the frantic on-screen routine.
With those simple gameplay mechanics at its core, there's not a great deal of substance to Samba De Amigo once you get over the initial novelty value. But that's not, and never was the point. Its role is as drunken party distraction, with winner-stays-on contests and belly laughs as a succession of people look completely stupid while waving imaginary maracas and generally dancing around like an excitable sombrero-wearing monkey. But how long will the fun last?
Much of the potential enjoyment comes down to how much you enjoy lightweight rhythm-action party games, and how much booty-shaking latin flavoured tunes and kitsch pop you want in your life. If doing the Macarena and punching the air to Ricky Martin sounds like your idea of a top night out, then perhaps Samba De Amigo is the game for you. Me? I'm more of a dirty rock slut, so you shouldn't take any notice of what I think. Pushed into party game shame, I'd personally much rather noodle away at Rock Band and practice my rock falsetto while donning a fetching Brian May wig. Horses for courses. When it comes to monkeys shaking maracas, I'll do my best Ian Brown swagger to Fool's Gold, thanks.
Apart from the obvious fact that party games have moved on an awful lot since Samba De Amigo first appeared, there's no denying that the control system just doesn't quite translate as well as it might have - and that can only hurt its appeal in the long run. There's still a decent amount of daft fun to be had out of this joyous little game, but it's definitely best sampled in small doses.
6 / 10