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Review: Samba de Amigo: Party Central Is a Joyful Rhythm Revival

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Samba de Amigo Key Art
Image via Sega

Samba de Amigo is one of many Sega franchises that the company appeared to forget about. Originally an arcade rhythm game, it was ported to the Dreamcast and later the Wii before disappearing. Which is why it’s such a pleasant surprise to see it back with a full sequel. Samba de Amigo: Party Central is designed to bring the series back to a new audience.

Samba de Amigo: Party Central retains the original game’s focus on shaking maracas to the beat of various songs. In this case, the Switch’s Joy-Cons are the maracas, shaking them to the on-screen directions. Orbs will float over to six circles, and players will need to shake in the right direction to earn points. At times, the game will ask you to pose, pointing the Joy-Cons in specific directions. You’ll also sometimes be asked to trace a line across the screen like you’re a Disney Channel cast member in the mid-2000s.

It’s a simple game, as most games in the genre usually are. This simplicity is Samba de Amigo: Party Central’s greatest strength. It’s an easy game to pick up from the get-go, especially since the Joy-Cons are a natural replacement for the Dreamcast’s maraca controllers. Before playing, I wondered why the game was a Switch exclusive, but the second I finished my first song, I instantly understood. There is no way to replicate this with a standard controller.

Samba de Amigo Amiga

Screenshot by Siliconera

This basic gameplay is incredibly fun. There’s a primal joy in landing notes correctly, and the intuitive nature of the controls often leads to a natural flow. Simply lose yourself in the music, let the rhythm guide your hands, and you’ll find yourself sweeping into a decent combo. When you get into the zone, it can feel like this goofy arm flailing is making you the most amazing dancer in the world. It’s also horrendously addictive, as quite often my attempt at playing for only an hour turned into two or three. The “just one more song” feeling latches onto you and refuses to let go. It’s pure arcade fun.

It helps that the song list is generally excellent. Naturally, your mileage may vary based on your taste. What I do know is that I loaded up the game, saw my eternal summer jam “I Won’t Let You Down” by OK Go, and instantly knew I was in for a good time. It should be stated that there is a contemporary pop focus here, with popular music from the last ten years or so dominating the list. So you can expect the likes of Lady Gaga, Carly Rae Jepsen, Ariana Grande, Rina Sawayama, and Icona Pop, among others. But there is also “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “Karma Chameleon” for the dads in the room. Meanwhile, Sonic the Hedgehog fans in the audience have been granted “Escape from the City” and “Fist Bump” from Sonic Adventure 2 and Sonic Forces respectively. Sonic himself even makes an appearance during these songs, which is nice of him. (There is also launch DLC that adds more Sonic songs.)

What may be a disappointment for fans of the original Samba de Amigo is how little the game lives up to the “samba” part of its name. There is a severe lack of Latin flavor here, mostly relegated to a cover of “La Bamba,” the grimly inevitable inclusion of “Macarena,” and some original tracks from the first game. It’s a real shame considering how much the original game was built around that vibe, but I guess the kids like Pitbull more these days.

That said, this could change with DLC. We already know that K-Pop is on its way, as is the Like a Dragon/Yakuza karaoke classic “Baka Mitai,” so it’s possible that a Latin pack could (and should) be thrown in somewhere down the line.

Samba de Amigo Sonic

Screenshot by Siliconera

While the gameplay was fun, there were times when I felt the detection was a little bit off. I’d usually find downwards notes to be especially picky, often requiring me to uncomfortably tilt the Joy-Cons upside down. Occasionally I’d be holding the Joy-Cons to the side for a pose and the game would show the maracas pointing at me or the floor. Whenever this happened, I wished there a calibration mode that would have helped the game and/or my Switch get a better sense of where I was standing.

Similarly, the HD TV lag that often plagues games in the genre is present, and it’s not easy to fix. There is an option to compensate for lag like many modern rhythm games, but it’s presented without context, so you need to keep moving in and out of songs to test it. Once again, a calibration mode that could figure this out for you (with an allowance for manual adjustment) would have been much better. If Rock Band 2 could have this in 2008, there’s no excuse now.

It’s a minor gripe though, and if you’re playing this at a party as the title implies, you’ll likely not care all that much. Where it becomes a problem is in the single-player mode, Streamigo.

Samba de Amigo Slides

Screenshot by Siliconera

Streamigo sees you facing off a series of challenges to gain followers on a fictional social media site. As you gain more followers, more characters offer you challenges until eventually you’re the samba ambassador for the entire universe.

For the most part, this is an excellent single player mode. You complete challenges and earn followers, which unlock more challenges. You also unlock a small number of followers even if you fail, which is a nice anti-frustration features as you make some progress regardless of your rhythmic talents. Challenges usually involve you achieving a certain rank or number of points, while others ask you to hit a specific number of Perfect notes. There are also boss battles where you have to play well enough to convince the audience to side with you over your rival. The cast of characters you encounter in each challenge are colorful and silly in the best ways. You have Max, a breakdancing cat, Rabbina, a sequined masked rabbit with a massive online following, or two cheetahs dressed as the Blues Brothers, among others. This mode is also a brilliant way to expose yourself to the wider song list outside of the basic alphabetical list in the main rhythm mode. Yes, this does mean you have to play that Maroon 5 song against your will, but let’s not hold that against the game itself.

However, if I must criticise this mode, it’s how its difficulty is structured. Some early challenges that require perfect execution of the song you’re playing. A “No Boo” song will allow exactly 2-4 missed notes before failing you. A “Perfect Combo” song requires you to flawlessly execute a bunch of notes in a row and a single “Great!” rating or less resets the counter. These are perfectly fine challenges for hardcore players wanting to test themselves. They’re less fine when frontloaded while you’re still getting used to the game’s quirks and slowing early progression. They even appear much less as you progress, so it feels like these challenges were placed in reverse of their intended difficulty curve.

The aforementioned detection issues also contribute to the frustration of these challenges. Getting a “Boo!” ranking on a note simply because your hand happened to drift slightly outside of your Switch’s view is mildly annoying normally. When you require absolute accuracy in these challenges, it’s obnoxious.

Samba de Amigo Max

Screenshot by Siliconera

That said, these issues failed to kill my joy at playing Samba de Amigo: Party Central. That’s just how good this game feels to play, that even these kinds of technical issues can be overlooked. 99% of my playtime was joyful, and that’s the important thing. I didn’t get a chance to try out any of the multiplayer options, but considering how fun the base game is, I fail to see how adding friends to the mix would make it bad.

Samba de Amigo: Party Central is the welcome return of a quirky classic rhythm game. While musically it’s now more Selena Gomez than Selena, and some technical issues threaten to get in the way, the game remains excellent. Add some friends to the mix and it truly will be the center of any party.

Samba de Amigo: Party Central will be released for Nintendo Switch on August 29, 2023.

Samba de Amigo: Party Central

8

Samba de Amigo: Party Central is a welcome return to a quirky classic rhythm game. While musically it’s now more Selena Gomez than Selena, and some technical issues threaten to get in the way, the game remains excellent.

Food for Thought
  • For those averse to motion controls, there is an option to switch to button presses instead. Not as fun, but a useful accessibility feature.
  • Word of warning: do not be like me and play for three hours straight. My arms were not happy the next day. Take regular breaks.
  • The only problem with having lots of side characters is the inability to play as them instead of Amigo himself.
    If you want to know more, check out Siliconera's review guide.
    Leigh Price
    About The Author
    Leigh is a staff writer and content creator from the UK. He has been playing games since falling in love with Tomb Raider on the PS1, and now plays a bit of everything, from AAA blockbusters to indie weirdness. He has also written for Game Rant and Geeky Brummie. He can also be found making YouTube video essays as Bob the Pet Ferret, discussing such topics as why Final Fantasy X-2’s story is better than people like to think.