If you're still holding onto that pristine Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set with official maracas, now might be the time to load up eBay and cash it in. Amigo is returning, courtesy of SEGA and - of all people - Gearbox Software, and thanks to the Wiimote and nunchuk the bonkers old pose-matching maraca magic is as hilarious and exhausting as ever, with new moves and features that take advantage of the game's new home.
Like the Dreamcast game before it, Samba de Amigo puts six big round icons on the screen surrounding your character, like points on a hexagon, and pushes small, circular icons towards them from the centre. Your job is to shake your maraca - or in this case Wiimote and nunchuk - when a small icon reaches the centre of a big one, and to do the shaking at head, waist or knee height depending on which big round icon is involved. Like all the best rhythm games, your actions synch up with a song playing over the top - in Samba's case usually a jaunty Latin rhythm like Livin' la Vida Loca, or something similarly crowd-pleasing like the Rocky theme music.
It's not just shaking you do though; occasionally you're asked to hold a pose, for which you get only a second or so to arrange yourself before the game judges you. Messing this up, or missing a lot of maraca shakes, lowers your rating. Samba Wii also sees the return of Hustle mode from the Japanese Samba de Amigo: Ver. 2000, which added motion prompts, where you perform a slow drumming action between two of the six shaking positions, wave the maracas above your head or even perform a 360-degree rotation. There's also something called Love Love mode, and judging by the attract sequence video we saw while we were letting the game idle for a few minutes to make a few notes, this could be some sort of co-operative affair where you and a friend join forces to waggle the controllers.
Speaking of which, on the Dreamcast the maracas performed a basic positional measurement based on a sensor at your feet, which helped gauge whether you were shaking them at the right height or not, but now, thanks to the gran-seducing motion sensors of the Wiimote and nunchuk, you can do, er, exactly the same thing. And thanks to the Wiimote's built-in speaker, you can even recreate the rattling noise of the old SEGA peripherals, albeit only in your leading hand.
When Ellie tried Samba Wii for the first time though, it didn't really work, and she was told to shake the maracas more gently to get the right response. Fortunately, the sensor code appears to be much more robust now, and a "calibration" screen at the beginning of each session helps you work out exactly where in 3D space you're being asked to waggle. You can also swap between left- and right-handed settings depending on which hand you like to hold the Wiimote with, leaving you with no excuse if it turns out you have the hand-eye coordination of an arthritic sloth.
There are four songs available to check out in the build we're shown - Samba de Janeiro, Cup of Life, Vamos a Carnaval and Hot Hot Hot - and whichever you pick the game is played out against one of Samba's delightfully ridiculous backdrops, rife with dancing banana buildings, spinning suns, prancing balloons and water fountains and lots of jolly-looking spectators. 480p graphics make it a lot easier to discern the silly details, and thanks to integration with Nintendo's Mii system - something we don't see enough of in third-party Wii games - you can also marvel at your Mum hanging from a balloon or that Mussolini you made for a joke bouncing up and down on a flying trampoline. Naturally you can also associate a Mii with your player profile, although it's not clear yet if you'll be able to actually play as one. For the moment we're being Amigo the monkey, although this is a limitation we're happy to accept as long as he's wearing a sombrero.
Samba de Amigo for Wii is currently down for release in the summer, and with a few months left to go SEGA's still coy about certain things - including what that Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection button is doing on the main menu, although downloadable songs would seem like the obvious implication. On the plus side, the code we're shown openly advertises its support for four players, and shared-screen battles with one of SEGA's PR people are as manic as ever, as both of us take things far too seriously before pretending we weren't. So, barring an 11th hour cock-up, this should do its job, and we look forward to testing it extensively with our friends Pinot and Grigio later this year.
Samba de Amigo is due out on Wii this summer.
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