Impressions: Samba de Amigo

by Cory Birdsong on

It fills me with disappointment that I cannot really call this article a review. To review “Samba de Amigo” would require me to have played it extensively, and sadly, “Samba de Amigo” for the Wii is too broken for me to tolerate it for very long at all. I want to be upfront about the amount of time I spent playing the Wii version of “Samba” – probably only about 30 minutes. I will also be candid on the amount of time I spent on the Dreamcast original and its Japanese sequel – it could probably be counted in days.

For the uninitiated, “Samba de Amigo” was and is a rhythm game about shaking maracas at various positions to the beat of saucy Latin tunage. The Dreamcast version used an accurate but flimsy set of maraca controllers. (I went through three sets!) Unfortunately, what the Wii version gains in durability, it loses tenfold in accuracy. It’s simply difficult to make the Wii version recognize where you are shaking your Wiimotes.

The reason for this is that though the input is superficially the same – moving objects in your hand to various heights – it is actually very different. Whereas the Dreamcast original was asking you to position the maracas at various heights along two columns, the Wii version is asking for you to position the Wiimote in different directions.

Example time! In order to hit the notes in the top right circle, the Dreamcast version would have you raise one of your maracas to the top right and shake. On the Wii, you have to angle one of your Wiimotes at a 45º angle pointing upward. This only kinda works because your hand sort of naturally does these angles when you raise or lower them to the appropriate levels. However, the other half the this game’s entire design – shaking to the beat a la maraca – breaks that entire idea apart.

The system only works on the level of “okay” when you are trying to learn it, and might work fine for new players on lower difficulty levels, but if you try to get into it and really let loose while enjoying the ridiculousness of shaking around what are now fake fake maracas, you are not going to hit notes consistently, and if you try to play on harder difficulties, you are really not going to hit notes consistently.

It is not hyperbolic for me to say that, personally, this is probably the most disappointing thing ever related to the Wii. Official Sega-brand Dreamcast maracas go for a pretty penny on eBay, usually about $100, and on top of that, often ship from Japan, so a good version of Samba de Amigo on a modern console with a durable controller was something of a holy grail for me. And it even supports downloadable content! On the Wii! Holy shit! Too bad it’s intrinsically broken.

This failed experiment does provide an interesting perspective on “Samba” the game, though. It does feel very simple in this post-Harmonix world, but this is not a bad thing at all. Through the layer of shit that is the controls, I was still able to catch a glimpse at the gameplay that had entranced me years ago, and hot damn, does it still seem like fun! …which makes this all the more tragic.

It is hypothetically possible the upcoming Wii MotionPlus add-on might solve the problems that led to “Samba’s” gimped, broken control scheme, and just maybe, a poorly-reviewed rhythm game about shaking maracas to Latin music might sell enough in this Rock Band-dominated world to warrant a follow-up that would require rewriting large amounts of the game code to use an add-on device, but I’m not holding my breath.

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