Samba de Amigo

Gearbox attempts to break out of its FPS box with the resurrection of a Dreamcast cult classic.

Posted on September 29, 2008 at 4:00 am by Matt Simmons

It has been about eight years since Sonic Team first entered the music genre. At the time, Dance Dance Revolution was fairly recent in Japan, as well as Beatmania, Guitar Freaks, Drum Mania, and Keyboard Mania. Needless to say, from the arcade to the home console, the music genre was booming. It would be a few more years before America would catch the fever it enjoys today. During the holiday season, SEGA would witness its last Christmas as a console leader. Despite the impending future as a third party, SEGA released a carpet bomb of amazing titles upon the Dreamcast faithful, and the contribution from Sonic Team would be a maraca shaking simulator known as Samba De Amigo. Sold separately from the game was a pair of maracas, a floor mat and a sensor bar on the ground that would detect the height of the maracas. The game could also be played with the standard Dreamcast controller. Though, much like Dance Dance Revolution, it doesn't have the same effect as shaking a pair of plastic maracas. Much like any title on the Dreamcast, Samba De Amigo was only recognized by a few game media outlets and the small fanbase of Dreamcast owners. A follow up title was released in Japan the following year, but SEGA of America had long abandoned the console at that point.

Thankfully the game would not be forgotten and remained in the minds of Gearbox developers as the Wii was announced and became a global hit. The Wii remote practically seems made for a game of this type and after some convincing, SEGA handed the keys to the kingdom of Samba De Amigo over to the Texas based developer. One problem though, was that on the Dreamcast, the maraca peripherals had a sensor bar placed on a mat facing up, but on the Wii, the sensor bar sits above or below the TV facing towards the player. To be honest, Gearbox really did try to replicate the feeling of the maraca shaking.

The first step they got right was allowing dual remote play. When the Wii remote was first announced, one of the proposed demonstrations was a young man playing air drums with two remotes. This idea never materialized however, even at Nintendo's own embarrassing E3 press conference this year, Wii music was played with a remote, nunchuck and balance board. The game does allow you to play with one remote and a nunchuck attachment, for those with only one remote. With the sales of Wii play, this seems hard to believe there is any Wii owners without at least two remotes. One of the most liberating aspects of having Samba De Amigo on the Wii is removal of cords. Even with the maracas, cords were still present, and with two Wii remotes, you are completely liberated of all cord attachments. I choose not to play with the wrist strap or remote jacket personally.

Graphically, Samba De Amigo does up the ante of the Dreamcast original, which shouldn't be hard to believe, but you never know with some of the lazy developers on Wii today. There is even more detail and colorful antics going on the background. Additionally, you can use your Mii as an icon for your "shake" meter and you will see Mii's from your system strewn throughout the game's levels shaking maracas and dancing along to the songs. Samba De Amigo also includes cameo characters and levels from Sonic the Hedgehog and Space Channel 5. There's even a song from Space Channel 5 included, but for better or worse, there is no "Space Michael" in the Space Channel 5 stage.

Obviously music is a main component in this type of game and the song list easily trumps the original with around 40 or more songs to choose from. There has been some criticism for the fact that the game brings over a lot of songs from the original title. I find this as much more of a positive. For one, the original was not played by a large number of people, and secondly, the songs that have stayed just fit incredibly well for the game. All of the tracks keep a mambo, latin, or ska type beat, and they even remix classic songs such as "Take On Me" and "Tequila" into faster and more upbeat variations. While there's plenty of recognizable tunes, none of them are master tracks. Personally it does not bother me, and all of them still sound good. Another issue is the fact that many of the songs must be achieved in career mode. This normally wouldn't be a problem, except for the fact that half of the career mode is in Hard and Super Hard mode.

The big question on everyone who played the originals mind is would the Wii remotes measure up. The answer is hard to come by. Unlike the maracas, you do not physically move the remote up and down, you have to point them up, forward, or down and then shake them. The game uses a combination of the remotes gyroscope and the IR sensor bar to determine where the remote is pointed. While it works fine most of the time, you have to make sure you have a clear line between you and the sensor bar, and ample space. It does seem to have trouble picking up the down notes as well, and you might notice that on easy difficulty there are no down notes in the songs and very few on normal difficulty. The second problem is the leap from normal to hard difficulty. Specifically in the fact that the challenge spikes tremendously. Certain songs on hard are not only difficult to keep the remote pointed where you want, but just the sheer number of notes coming out can disorient the eyes. Once you master Hard, Super Hard wont post much a challenge either.

Still the fact remains that just about anyone can pick up the game on easy or normal and achieve an "A" or "B" ranking, but once you cross over to hard the game becomes a nightmare to new players. One way this might have been avoided is in the grading system. As noted earlier, You have to spend half of career mode on hard and super hard to unlock all the songs. In order to pass a song in career mode you need to end the level with at least a "C" grade. There were many times when at the end of the level I would have a "D" ranking, yet the game reveals I hit 86% of the notes in the song. Had the game graded on the overall performance and not shake meter at the end of the song a lot of frustration could have been easily avoided.

Aside from career mode, the game offers a wealth of content. There is classic mode, which is like an arcade style of gameplay where you pick three songs and accumulate a score, quick play, survival mode, love love mode where you help one another, battle mode where you attempt to outscore an opponent. multiplayer, online leaderboards, and the first game to include DLC for the Wii. Within each variation of the main game is a hustle mode, where beyond simply matching notes and holding poses, the game requires the player to shake and circle the remotes in onscreen guided pattern. This mode really takes the game from a standing to a moving game as on the harder settings you will be forced to move yourself a lot more. Also included is a collection of mini-games with varying degrees of quality. The game also includes some behind the scenes videos as well as unlockable sounds for the remote speakers and on screen sound effects. All in all, this game has a good amount of content and being of the music genre has a lot of replay value. In the end the real question is does it work. The answer is yes, but if you want to play on hard or super hard be prepared for a steep learning curve, where there is practically none for easy and normal.

It has been about eight years since Sonic Team first entered the music genre. At the time, Dance Dance Revolution was fairly recent in Japan, as well as Beatmania, Guitar Freaks, Drum Mania, and Keyboard Mania. Needless to say, from the arcade to the home console, the music genre was booming. It would be a few more years before America would catch the fever it enjoys today. During the holiday season, SEGA would witness its last Christmas as a console leader. Despite the impending future as a third party, SEGA released a carpet bomb of amazing titles upon the Dreamcast faithful, and the contribution from Sonic Team would be a maraca shaking simulator known as Samba De Amigo. Sold separately from the game was a pair of maracas, a floor mat and a sensor bar on the ground that would detect the height of the maracas. The game could also be played with the standard Dreamcast controller. Though, much like Dance Dance Revolution, it doesn't have the same effect as shaking a pair of plastic maracas. Much like any title on the Dreamcast, Samba De Amigo was only recognized by a few game media outlets and the small fanbase of Dreamcast owners. A follow up title was released in Japan the following year, but SEGA of America had long abandoned the console at that point.

Thankfully the game would not be forgotten and remained in the minds of Gearbox developers as the Wii was announced and became a global hit. The Wii remote practically seems made for a game of this type and after some convincing, SEGA handed the keys to the kingdom of Samba De Amigo over to the Texas based developer. One problem though, was that on the Dreamcast, the maraca peripherals had a sensor bar placed on a mat facing up, but on the Wii, the sensor bar sits above or below the TV facing towards the player. To be honest, Gearbox really did try to replicate the feeling of the maraca shaking.

The first step they got right was allowing dual remote play. When the Wii remote was first announced, one of the proposed demonstrations was a young man playing air drums with two remotes. This idea never materialized however, even at Nintendo's own embarrassing E3 press conference this year, Wii music was played with a remote, nunchuck and balance board. The game does allow you to play with one remote and a nunchuck attachment, for those with only one remote. With the sales of Wii play, this seems hard to believe there is any Wii owners without at least two remotes. One of the most liberating aspects of having Samba De Amigo on the Wii is removal of cords. Even with the maracas, cords were still present, and with two Wii remotes, you are completely liberated of all cord attachments. I choose not to play with the wrist strap or remote jacket personally.

Graphically, Samba De Amigo does up the ante of the Dreamcast original, which shouldn't be hard to believe, but you never know with some of the lazy developers on Wii today. There is even more detail and colorful antics going on the background. Additionally, you can use your Mii as an icon for your "shake" meter and you will see Mii's from your system strewn throughout the game's levels shaking maracas and dancing along to the songs. Samba De Amigo also includes cameo characters and levels from Sonic the Hedgehog and Space Channel 5. There's even a song from Space Channel 5 included, but for better or worse, there is no "Space Michael" in the Space Channel 5 stage.

Obviously music is a main component in this type of game and the song list easily trumps the original with around 40 or more songs to choose from. There has been some criticism for the fact that the game brings over a lot of songs from the original title. I find this as much more of a positive. For one, the original was not played by a large number of people, and secondly, the songs that have stayed just fit incredibly well for the game. All of the tracks keep a mambo, latin, or ska type beat, and they even remix classic songs such as "Take On Me" and "Tequila" into faster and more upbeat variations. While there's plenty of recognizable tunes, none of them are master tracks. Personally it does not bother me, and all of them still sound good. Another issue is the fact that many of the songs must be achieved in career mode. This normally wouldn't be a problem, except for the fact that half of the career mode is in Hard and Super Hard mode.

The big question on everyone who played the originals mind is would the Wii remotes measure up. The answer is hard to come by. Unlike the maracas, you do not physically move the remote up and down, you have to point them up, forward, or down and then shake them. The game uses a combination of the remotes gyroscope and the IR sensor bar to determine where the remote is pointed. While it works fine most of the time, you have to make sure you have a clear line between you and the sensor bar, and ample space. It does seem to have trouble picking up the down notes as well, and you might notice that on easy difficulty there are no down notes in the songs and very few on normal difficulty. The second problem is the leap from normal to hard difficulty. Specifically in the fact that the challenge spikes tremendously. Certain songs on hard are not only difficult to keep the remote pointed where you want, but just the sheer number of notes coming out can disorient the eyes. Once you master Hard, Super Hard wont post much a challenge either.

Still the fact remains that just about anyone can pick up the game on easy or normal and achieve an "A" or "B" ranking, but once you cross over to hard the game becomes a nightmare to new players. One way this might have been avoided is in the grading system. As noted earlier, You have to spend half of career mode on hard and super hard to unlock all the songs. In order to pass a song in career mode you need to end the level with at least a "C" grade. There were many times when at the end of the level I would have a "D" ranking, yet the game reveals I hit 86% of the notes in the song. Had the game graded on the overall performance and not shake meter at the end of the song a lot of frustration could have been easily avoided.

Aside from career mode, the game offers a wealth of content. There is classic mode, which is like an arcade style of gameplay where you pick three songs and accumulate a score, quick play, survival mode, love love mode where you help one another, battle mode where you attempt to outscore an opponent. multiplayer, online leaderboards, and the first game to include DLC for the Wii. Within each variation of the main game is a hustle mode, where beyond simply matching notes and holding poses, the game requires the player to shake and circle the remotes in onscreen guided pattern. This mode really takes the game from a standing to a moving game as on the harder settings you will be forced to move yourself a lot more. Also included is a collection of mini-games with varying degrees of quality. The game also includes some behind the scenes videos as well as unlockable sounds for the remote speakers and on screen sound effects. All in all, this game has a good amount of content and being of the music genre has a lot of replay value. In the end the real question is does it work. The answer is yes, but if you want to play on hard or super hard be prepared for a steep learning curve, where there is practically none for easy and normal.

Final Verdict - 8/10

Samba De Amigo is a welcome return to a Dreamcast classic, with tons of modes and content, as well as new songs for download. This game is well worth the price of admission. Only the bipolar difficulty and tricky IR sensitivity keep this from being the perfect Samba De Amigo experience.