For the first time since 1999, an all-new Samba de Amigo game is here to get you shaking your proverbial maracas to pop music in Sega’s Samba de Amigo: Party Central. Play alone, with one friend locally, or against a host of friends or strangers online in this motion-controlled rhythm game with lots of style, a fair amount of stuff to do, and controls that work well enough to pass.
While you might not be holding maraca controllers like in the original game, when you boot up the game for the first time, you’re beckoned to pick up a pair as the Chosen One, as if you’re part of a long-awaited return to something grand and important. It’s a little silly, but you launch right into a round of the game and are treated with spectacular color, goofy characters, and a beat-pumping pop song. So, it honestly works.
The gameplay consists of six circles, two up, two to the side, and two down on your left and right, where little spheres float by to the beat. Shake your controller when the sphere hits the middle of any given circle, and you’ll be ranked from “boo” to “perfect” on your timing. Gold spheres will indicate shaking both hands at the same time, while blue ones indicate just one hand, and purple means shaking as fast as you can until it expires. As you play harder songs or turn songs up to higher difficulties, you’ll be challenged to move faster, put both hands on the same side, shake one hand with purple notes with the other hits blue ones, and generally exhaust yourself physically as the game gets genuinely difficult to keep up with.
The difficulty spike is mostly in good fun. It’s pretty enjoyable trying to nail all the hard riffs and splits, and moments where you’re prompted to pose in certain positions or guide the controller along a certain path instead of shaking give you brief respite. The only issue truly is that the controls do not feel as responsive as they deserve to me. Playing on an original Switch with original joy-cons, they’re overly sensitive. There were moments when the game thought two directions were being shaken at the same time with a single hand just because the range of motion is so tight. Or, just moving from one position to another would instantly trigger a shake, making it seem like all three directions were shaken at once when only one was intended.
There is no penalty for shaking out of turn, thankfully, so it doesn’t have a huge negative effect on gameplay. But on occasion, it does make you hit something early and mess up your score or make hitting a direction impossible because it was triggered too early. The moves where you have to glide the controllers following an area don’t really make much sense half the time, either, even when the “guide” setting is turned off. The poses never fail, though.
You can experience this all through a classic arcade mode where you compete against yourself for high scores on whatever tracks you please, Party For Two, where you go head to head with a friend locally and online with up to four friends. World Party mode has you competing against 20 strangers to stay in the game over three elimination rounds. And StreamiGo! is Sambe de Amigo: Party Central’s campaign mode, where you complete special requirements on an assortment of stages, like hitting 10 perfects in a row or completing a song without any “boos.” Completing stages nets you followers in this imaginary social media-streaming universe, which in turn gains you new “followers” to compete against head-to-head in increasingly harder stages.
There are some genuinely difficult challenges in this mode, even if many of them are fairly straightforward. They don’t feel impossible, but would certainly require a good bit of practice, like nailing 80 perfects in a row on a rather difficult song. Most of the difficulty in this game doesn’t come from the rhythms themselves, though, so much as poor visual balance.
More often than not, missed notes were because the color of the spheres blended in with the background, making them imperceivable. The backgrounds are fun with wacky characters dancing around, including your own monkey character whose outfits can be changed with purchases from a shop that you rack up coins to spend at throughout various modes. But there’s just no reason there couldn’t be more clear visual distinctions between the spheres and the backgrounds. The other visual issue is that with no indicator of where the beats are or which spheres are before one another sequentially, there are many times when you will shake out of step just because it’s hard to grasp the full depth of the play area. These two factors make higher-difficulty songs more aggravating than exciting sometimes.
Samba de Amigo: Party Central isn’t going to be an all-time classic rhythm game, nor is it necessarily a must-play for long-time fans of the genre. However, for kids and newcomers, or people who just generally enjoy a highly-stylized motion-control experience, there is plenty to enjoy here. The constant stream of rewards and various ways to play keep the game fresh even as you start to hear the same well-known tunes or entirely indistinguishable pop songs over and over. And ultimately, it’s satisfying to shake your controllers around to the beat, even if sometimes the exact beats are hard to establish.
Samba de Amigo: Party Central is available now on Nintendo Switch, Meta Quest 2, and Meta Quest Pro.
Samba de Amigo: Party Central
Samba de Amigo: Party Central is more of a small get-together than a full-on party.