It felt good to own the original Samba De Amigo for SEGA's doomed Dreamcast console. Only a relative handful of people in the UK had the honour, but their friends were no doubt eternally grateful for giving them the chance to play a landmark party game. Dancing about your living room and waving two plastic maracas in the air to the sound of samba music isn't for everyone, but in the right place with the right group of people it proved to be tremendous fun. So it's no surprise to see it given a new lease of life on Nintendo's family friendly Wii.
If you're slightly confused as to how a maraca shaking game works it's really very simple. The game screen displays six circles: two at the top, two in the middle and two at the bottom. Balls move into these circles and you need to shake the maracas (Wii Remotes) in time as they cross the circles. You'll also have to perform various poses and hand motions as the game instructs you to, making you look like even more of a fool than you had been just moments earlier.
Our biggest concern when we got our hands on the Wii version of Samba is how well the controls have translated to the Wii Remote and Nunchuck. First off, we don't recommend playing the game using a Wii Remote and Nunchuck. It's through no fault of developer Gearbox, but the Nunchuck just isn't sensitive enough to play the game well on anything but the easiest difficulty setting. Using two Wii Remotes is a much better option. Still, this is far from perfect, but again, not really Gearbox's fault.
The original Dreamcast game shipped with the maraca peripherals and they were built to play Samba De Amiga and that game only. The included mat worked with the maracas to detect the height of each maraca (low, middle and high) and the result was a game that for the most part worked very well indeed. The Wii Remote can't detect its height so Gearbox had to come up with a new control scheme that worked around the controller's motion sensing. The result is a game that plays and feels quite different to the original game.
Samba on Wii includes a calibration tool, but essentially you point the remotes upwards to hit the top circles, hold them pointing forwards to hit the middle circles, and point down to hit the bottom circles. This works, but you have to think a little more than you did in the original Dreamcast version as the orientation of the Wii Remotes matters more than their height. This makes it quite easy to miss a beat, hurting your score and overall ranking for the stage. It's also too easy to register a shake when you're just getting a remote into position.
Even with these control issues Samba De Amigo on Wii is still a fun game, especially on the lower difficulty settings. Sadly you'll need to work through the career mode in order to unlock the 40 or so samba tracks, but when playing for fun it's best to ignore the hard mode and the many near-impossible maraca shakes it asks you to perform. The issues on harder difficulties do make the game quite limited though, with going for high scores more frustrating than fun. An assortment of mini-games and two-player modes add some variety (although some are quite bizarre) but it's the core maraca shaking game mode that you'll come back to.
Perhaps the biggest factor in determining your enjoyment of Samba De Amigo is how much you like samba music. If you're taken in by the beat you'll probably be able to forgive a few of the control issues, and the bright, almost chaotic visuals are always fun when you manage to catch a glimpse of what's going on behind the rhythm circles. SEGA also plans to release more tracks (at a cost) so there should be life in Samba well beyond the initial few weeks of fun.
It was always going to be harder than it appeared for Gearbox to recreate the Dreamcast Samba De Amigo experience on the Wii. The Wii game is good fun and will go down a storm during parties, but control issues hurt its hardcore appeal. When you miss a beat during a perfect run on hard, and you know that you nailed it, the fun drains very quickly. If you're after a simple, lively party game, give Samba De Amigo a shot, but if you're after a precise, addictive high score rhythm game like Guitar Hero, look elsewhere.