Title: Samba de Amigo: Party Central
Release Date: August 23, 2023
Reviewed On: Switch
Genre: Rhythm, Party
Every so often, a long-standing publisher will dust off one of their dormant “classic” franchises for a surprise revival. We’ve seen it happen a few times over the last few years, with SEGA dropping new Virtua Fighter, Soul Hackers, and Alex Kidd titles more than ten years after their previous entries. Still, this actually isn’t the first Samba de Amigo revival, as Gearbox Software ported the original game to the Wii in 2007, but as the first new game in two decades to carry the name, does Party Central hold up?
Modern rhythm games tend to fall into one of three categories. There are the precision-based titles that ask for split-second reflexes, like osu!, Theatrhythm, or Friday Night Funkin’, and then there are games that are much more about moving your whole body, like Just Dance or Dance Evolution. The last category is more of a spectrum between the two, where Dance Dance Revolution sits closer to the precision end and Samba de Amigo closer to the movement end.
Party Central plays much like the series’ previous titles, especially the Wii version. Rather than trying to hit precise targets, the note you hit depends on the angle at which you’re holding the Joy-Con when you shake it. Typical beat-based sections are frequently interrupted by prompts to pose, make a dance move in rhythm with the song, or draw a shape in the air with the controller, and one of the greater challenges on harder difficulties is either rapidly switching back and forth or sometimes doing multiple activities at the same time.
This sounds like it could be a nightmare, but honestly, I was having an absolute blast as the game switched things up so quickly. Replaying songs isn’t much of a chore when the player is constantly tasked to change their position, dance, or jump. However, I noted from the beginning that the actual maraca-shaking is not the most precise. This affects multiple parts of the experience and is, unfortunately, my biggest running issue with the game, but we’ll come back to that when it affected me the most.
The song list is stacked for a $40 title, and while there are a lot of pop tracks available (I’m not complaining), there’s a solid diversity of other genres, too. Also included in the game are several SEGA-original tracks, most notably Open Your Heart and Escape From the City from the Sonic Adventure titles. I’m highly impressed by what they managed to put together here, and the idea of even more coming later through DLC is enticing.
The game has several modes to choose from, though I wasn’t able to do any multiplayer during the review period. My critiques mostly revolve around the core gameplay, which is likely applicable in every mode. There’s the normal “rhythm game” mode, presenting you with the whole song list and challenges you to beat high scores; World Party mode, a knockout battle mode for up to eight network players; Party For Two, which is the typical local two-player mode, Online Play, the same but for online, and StreamiGo!, the effective career mode.
I’m most interested in talking about StreamiGo! because it’s where the game’s most significant (and, honestly, only) flaw really affects things. In lieu of a story, this mode tasks you with completing challenges given to you by in-universe influencers in order to gain followers and take on more challenges. This is by far the easiest way to earn coins to spend in the character shop, and the first few million followers came without much trouble…until I hit a wall.
Samba de Amigo is one of the least precise rhythm games I’ve played and is overall very generous regarding button input, particularly in the motion-control mode. (You can also play the game using the analog sticks instead of shaking the controllers, but it’s much more difficult without giving you more accuracy and probably a perfect way to exaggerate your stick drift.)
Many, many times, I found myself either doing correct inputs by accident or getting credit for hitting notes I should have missed, and sometimes, it would be the other way around, dropping my combo despite me having done the correct motions. This is generally fine – this is a franchise about shaking controllers and doing goofy poses more than getting perfect combos – at least, until the game actually does task you with getting perfect combos.
I quickly reached a point in StreamiGo! where every challenge I had yet to complete was to either get a high number of perfect beats consecutively or finish a song while missing less than four or even two notes. I wasn’t even a quarter of the way in when I found my progress significantly blocked because while you do still gain followers if you fail a challenge, you only get about ten percent of what you would have earned for succeeding – meaning that my only real way forward was to grind if I couldn’t reliably complete the request.
This frustrating speed bump makes the lack of true accuracy a genuine problem. When there aren’t any stakes for failure, like in the normal game mode, the most important thing is whether the player is having a good time. As I’ve said, I was absolutely enjoying working up a sweat and making my neighbors concerned with all the jumping around I did. But when that precision is required to make progress, it goes from a minor annoyance to an irritating mood-killer.
The good news is that you don’t have to engage much with this mode, as the regular rhythm game mode will still give you coins to spend in the extensive customization shop. The game’s delightfully crazy Lisa Frank-esque aesthetic extends into dressing up Amigo in everything from his usual ponchos, to modern streetwear, to enough rainbows to make a Pride parade jealous. There are dozens of options to switch out his regular maracas with – I went with idol-concert light wands – and you can even buy new sound effects to play during the songs when you hit a note. I definitely can’t accuse this game of lacking effort, especially given the very reasonable price tag.
Samba de Amigo: Party Central is an updated sequel to a cult Dreamcast classic that goes much further than the bare minimum on almost every level. The song list is incredible, the graphical style is exciting, and the asking price is right on the money. It’s an excellent party game to add to your Switch lineup. Still, I can’t help but wish some consideration had been given to the surprisingly extensive single-player mode for what the average player will be able to do, given the title’s chaotic nature and the lack of perfect accuracy.
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