After a long absence, Sega has decided to revive one of their beloved party games, Samba de Amigo: Party Central. This game takes place in a world where Rock Band and Guitar Hero are no longer the most popular rhythm games and where the biggest event of the year is always Just Dance from Ubisoft. How has Sega updated and enhanced the Samba de Amigo experience in the nearly fifteen years that it has been available?
The core gameplay, however, transfers across to the Nintendo Switch with ease. Even though a Joycon Pro is compatible with the game, why would you want to? Getting up and shaking your Joycons like real maracas is what’s entertaining. The Joycons are held by players with both hands, held straight up like maracas. The six gates that are always shown on screen correspond to the direction in which players hold their maracas or controllers; they should shake the controller when colored spheres roll from the screen’s center to the gates and tilt the controllers in the appropriate directions when the orbs move over to the gates. It’s fantastic to have a straightforward, compelling concept, like with any decent rhythm game, especially because it’s playable straight out of the box on the Switch. Naturally, Samba de Amigo has a lot of unexpected elements to spice up each song. In addition to having you shake your maracas, the game will occasionally present posing instructions, which require you to arrange your maracas in a certain way. Fortunately, you don’t have to strike the identical stance; otherwise, some of the handstands may be difficult. At times, you’ll also need to respond to the game’s suggestions by doing things like swinging your arms like Carlton Banks or spinning the maraca. You can lose your Perfect rank if you make mistakes on any of these prompts, as they all contribute to your ultimate score. A Roulette orb may also be thrown out by the song; if you shake in rhythm with these, a dice roll will be thrown out, forcing you to play a mini-game in the middle of the song. These are constantly different and can be a lot of fun. Some examples include having to “shake hands” with a flurry of characters flying towards the screen, playing a quick game of baseball by swinging the Joycons, or just doing some basic “exercise” where the game requires you to move quickly. Every song has a lot of variation; it’s never just you swinging the Joycons. Additionally, it guarantees that there are plenty of opportunities throughout group sessions for participants to point at the screen and exclaim, “Oh~!” in response to a challenge of some kind.
And that’s just the bare minimum of the gameplay. In addition to the standard rhythm game, Samba de Amigo: Party City has a ton of other gaming options. For example, solo players can play Streamigo, in which they must complete songs and meet goals like doing a specific action a set number of times in order to become well-known online. In the entertaining World Party mode, you compete against 19 other players in three rounds of elimination. With some of the interruptions that players can send one other—one of which completely eliminates gates from the screen, causing you to miss inputs—this mode can be a little unfair. The Party For Two mode offers four distinct modes in addition to the standard head-to-head matches. The “Love Checker” mode assesses your compatibility based on how well you can maintain your shakes in time, and there’s also a special mini-game mode that revolves around the mid-song roulette options.
Engaging in any of these game modes grants you experience and in-game currency, which gamers may use at the Gallery to purchase new clothing items, skin textures, or replacement maracas for the series’ main character, Amigo. The game unlocks some components based on your in-game rank in addition to dollars. Playing the game also allows you to unlock in-game accomplishments, which revolve around achieving certain goals like getting flawless vocals in songs or shaking the maracas a certain number of times. There are lots of performance options in Samba de Amigo to help fight screen latency.
The true problem, though, is that there isn’t much Latin American music in the game Samba de Amigo, despite the fact that it has a lot of Latin American aesthetic elements. Taking out Vamos A Carnaval (which is also the unofficial theme song of Samba de Amigo; without it, you could as well play Dance Dance Revolution without Paranoia), just 10 of the forty songs on the list have a Latin influence. The selections are decent enough, though; special recognition should be given to Pitbull’s rendition of Shake Señora by Harry Belafonte and Ricky Martin’s The Cup of Life (especially the “Spanglish” version). And I suppose Sega deserves praise for including La Bamba and Macarena into the year of our Lord 2023. But while I can see why a rhythm game would need to include crowd-pleasing tunes like Tik Tok or Good Time, incorporating songs like Bon Jovi’s You Give Love A Bad Name or the J. Geils Band’s Centerfold into your game is a strange choice. I’ll overlook Sega’s lack of exhaustive knowledge about merengue, bachata, or salsa singers. Even still, as someone with a Latino heritage, I find it strange that a game with so much Latino symbolism doesn’t have more Latin American music. Rubén Blades, Juan Luís Guerra, or Celia Cruz would have made the ideal soundtrack.
At least Sega managed to get in several music from their other properties: the enjoyable Theme of Phantom R from the sadly forgotten Rhythm Thief, several of the beloved Sonic the Hedgehog tracks, and even Baka Mitai from the Like A Dragon series. Nevertheless, extra recognition should be given to Go Go Cheer Girl, who is Space Channel 5’s only representative!
Samba De Amigo: Party Central is still a fantastic bundle and Sega did a fantastic job bringing back one of their more overlooked franchises, despite these reservations. The adorable polygon-men of the pose prompts transport players back to the Dreamcast’s successful launch of the series; the quirky group of Amigo and friends exude a charm that only Sega characters can; above all, though, the system is reliable and enjoyable, brimming with all the arcade-y goodness that great party games require. We’re tied to all of Sega’s old forgotten weirdos, so the devoted will probably get this one sight unseen. However, anyone who isn’t a die-hard Sega fan should think about adding Samba de Amigo: Party Central, along with Mario Kart and Wii Sports, to their collection of party games.