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Back in 1999, before the world had even heard of Rock Band or Guitar Hero, Sega released an arcade rhythm title by the name of Samba de Amigo, which focused on players shaking a pair of maracas in time with different Latin-flavored dance tunes. The game would later see release on the Sega Dreamcast as well, receiving almost universally positive reviews from gaming critics. Fast forward to 2008, when the seemingly dead franchise returned in a new version remade for the Nintendo Wii. Unfortunately, that transition didn't come without some noticeable difficulties, particularly in the control scheme.
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Like its arcade and Dreamcast predecessors, this version of Samba de Amigo involves keeping time with the music, and this time around you will also have to occasionally strike a pose or perform a dance maneuver. I like the core gameplay and I like the dancing, but the posing bit is more of an annoyance than anything else. This is a fairly basic game in terms of concept, and while there are several different variations of it, including a battle against the computer and a multiplayer mode, they all play pretty much the same. The primary single-player focus here is found in career mode, in which you must complete different challenges given to you by other characters. There are four different difficulties (Easy, Normal, Hard and Superhard), though only the two easiest are available right off the bat. By playing through and completing each group of songs, you can unlock new tunes, characters and other hidden content. You can definitely see the game's arcade roots -- It's simple fun, and it's one of those games that make you feel silly while you play, and I mean that in a good way.
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Sadly, this is where it all starts to go wrong. Basically, you use either a Wii remote with an attached Nunchuck or two Wiimotes to serve as your maracas. I played using the latter control scheme, so I'll refer to that from here on out. If you use a Nunchuck, just adjust accordingly. Anyway, here's how it works. There are three circles on each side and you need to shake your Wii remotes at the right time. You need to hold the Wiimotes pointing forward and shake to hit the middle circles, lift them up to hit the top ones and point them downward for the bottom ones. You also need to point them different places for the poses and perform different motions to dance. Don't worry, there's a good in-game training mode that can walk you though all the basics. While all this sounds good in concept, it fails miserably in execution. The controls are extremely twitchy at all times. The game had a difficult time telling which way I was holding the remotes, and there were several times where it inexplicably even seemed to lose contact with one of them altogether (usually the right one). Having a challenging game is one thing, but I don't exactly enjoy having to fight with the controls while playing. Yet that's exactly what you have to do in Samba de Amigo, and it all but ruins the game, especially on the higher difficulties.
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Graphics and Sound
The visuals look bland and quite dated, but fortunately the music and sound selection helps make up for it. There are dozens of different songs available here, from traditional Latin tunes to dance remixes of popular songs. You've got "La Bamba," "Tequila," "Macarena," "Conga," "Volare," "Groove is in the Heart," and even "Take on Me" and the theme from Rocky. The songs are immensely enjoyable and will definitely stick in your head, even the ones you haven't heard of prior to playing. If that's not enough, there are currently two additional track packs available for download for 500 points ($5.00) each. Also, as you play, you can even change the sound effects that your maracas make. Ultimately, the poor graphics and excellent sound balance out to an average score.
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To recommend Samba de Amigo or not to recommend Samba de Amigo? It's a tough call, really. On the one hand, I did have some fun playing it, and I think there's a really enjoyable video game deep down in there somewhere. The music quality is fantastic, too. However, the controls are just so rough that you're bound to experience some major league frustration with the game, especially on the higher difficulty levels. It's on the borderline, but I think ultimately the game is worth a rental, though I definitely wouldn't recommend purchasing it. There is a decent amount of fun in this game, despite the irritating controls, and I would absolutely love if Sega were to go back and make a sequel where they could make the motion detection actually work. That game, I would buy in a heartbeat.