Samba de Amigo


   Sometimes, between getting lost in the intricate plots of an RPG and losing your mind to the convoluted puzzles in an adventure game, it's easy to forget the pure and simple joy that videogames can offer. Games like Samba de Amigo are here for one reason only: to remind us of this joy. Every aspect of the game, from the graphics to the gameplay has been designed solely to show the player a good time.

 It's like there's a party on the stage and everyone's invited
Rio struts her stuff

   While instrument-based music games have been around for a while, they've always been a tad halfhearted up until now. The creators would license songs seemingly at random, slap together a merely serviceable graphical interface, and rake in the bucks from specialty controller sales. As well-made as these instruments themselves are, they're essentially very large, glorified control pads--a few buttons on an unorthodox surface. Samba, on the other hand, is very different indeed.

   Assuming you bought maracas with the game--the importance of which cannot be emphasized enough--there are no buttons. The entire interface is based around a bar on the floor which contains two infrared sensors, and the maracas which plug into this bar. From selecting from the menus to the gameplay itself, every action in the game is an interpretation of your body movements. But though the mechanics are impressive, the gameplay is simple. Six circles constitute the playing field, three on each side: one high, one medium, and one low. The sensors will detect the level at which you're holding the right and left maracas and highlight the appropriate circle on the screen. From there, your job is to fend off a relentless assault of small blue spheres that travel from the center of the field to these six circles. Shaking your maraca in the correct position as the ball reaches the circle earns you points; failing to hit the balls at the right time will drop your ranking in a hurry.

Vogueing with Amigo
Strike a pose!

   Keeping time with the beat isn't the only thing that'll advance your score. At certain intervals, one of two other tasks will present itself: sometimes a stick figure will appear on screen, posing in a certain position which you'll have to match and hold for a second or two; and sometimes a long stream of red orbs will take the place of the individual blue ones--this means to keep shaking your maracas for all they're worth. Your success in these various situations is measured in four ways. The most basic is your score, which simply increases with each orb struck. The game also keeps track of what percentage of the total notes you hit, and rates you according to an A-E scale. These two rankings have less to do with each other than you'd think; the true way to achieve a high letter grade is to constantly fill the bar at the top of the screen. You start at C and rise one letter each time the bar fills up. The last statistic you'll be treated to at song's end is your Max Amigo score, which is a count of how many successive hits in a row you managed to achieve.

   While some may be able to do decently at the game standing still, the game is definitely much easier according to how much you let yourself go with the music. Dancing around and generally acting like a fool helps when it comes to following the beat ... which means to do well in Samba de Amigo in front of other people, you not only have to have a good sense of rhythm but little to no sense of self-consciousness. And make no mistake, it's in front of other people that Samba really stands out. It's no accident, after all, that Sonic Team included a full-fledged Party mode.

 I'm sorry I dropped you at Lee's house, baby
My Dreamcast and I are on the outs

   Not to say that Samba isn't perfectly good all by yourself. Where most music games choose to have the dullest visuals imaginable, Sonic Team went ape in the graphics department, using apparently every color in the Dreamcast's palette at all times. Dozens of dancers flail about each brightly lit stage, led by Samba the monkey and his able assistants Linda and Rio. The graphics are so good that they almost add an extra dimension to the challenge: it's not easy taking your eyes off of them to concentrate on the ever-advancing spheres.

   But as good as the graphics are, the crowning touch is the music. Not content with a mere hodgepodge of whatever they could get the license to, Sonic Team chose only the catchiest, coolest Latin-flavored songs they could find. More than up to the task of getting you moving, these songs will stay with you for days, even weeks after you put the maracas down. Ranging from south-of-the-border classics like Tequila and La Bamba to modern masterpieces such as El Ritmo Tropical and Samba de Janeiro to salsa-themed remixes of Take On Me and the themes from several previous Sonic Team games, there's not a bad song in the bunch. The American version has the added advantage (or disadvantage, depending on your own feelings) of the Ricky Martin songs from the arcade version, performed by a very respectable soundalike.

   Though the game and maraca set can be expensive, Samba de Amigo is by all means worth tracking down if you're interested in experiencing instrumental games at their finest. As the first entry into the field to make it to American shores, it's something no U.S. gamer who loves music and a good time should pass up.

Review by Nich Maragos, GIA.
Samba de Amigo
Developer Sonic Team
Publisher Sega
Genre Rhythm
Medium GD-ROM (1)
Platform Dreamcast
Release Date  04.27.00
Samba de Amigo, maracas controller get prices
75 U.S. screenshots
Character designs
North American box art