Despite what you might think, Samba De Amigo: Party Central is not a remaster, or a remake, or a shameless port. This is a direct sequel to the original Samba De Amigo, which arrived on arcades back in 1999 before getting brought over to the Wii in 2008. Yes, the infrastructure is largely the same, and generally speaking, it is difficult for developers to dramatically iterate on silly, calorie-shredding rhythm games. But Sega has still returned to the well with a fresh coat of paint, ready to introduce the world’s foremost manic, sombrero-donned chimpanzee to a new generation. If you ask me, 15 years was far too long.
You could make the argument that the Nintendo Switch is the perfect venue for Samba’s antics. For the uninitiated, Samba De Amigo has the player brandishing two maracas that must be jutted out and shaken in radial directions, not unlike someone brandishing signal flags on an Aircraft Carrier. The Switch, with its dueling Joy-Cons, is a natural fit. I jumped into Party Central’s primary game mode and immediately cued up Carly Rae Jepsen’s “I Really Like You” and boogied down. A mesmerizing parade of targets emanated to the corners of the screen at all sorts of angles as I kept pace with my fists. Occasionally Samba asked me to strike a pose, akin to a Just Dance freeze frame. I managed to do so while planted firmly on the couch. It’s my party, I can do what I want.
The playlist available in Party Central has been brought up to 2023 standards. Jepsen is joined by several other Western festival-pop standards; I spied “I Love It” by Icona Pop, as well as “Centerfold” by J. Geils Band. Samba contains multitudes, and he’s also serving up a ton of Sega classics from the back catalog. Are you excited to shake maracas alongside the funk-lite bassline from Sonic Adventure 2’s “Escape From The City?” Millennials, our time is now.
Party Central is loaded with a surprisingly robust selection of alternative game modes that divert away from the standard bacchanalia. There’s a slew of two-player options — both competitive and cooperative — where you will either be establishing maraca superiority or fostering maraca euphoria. (My favorite, by far, is a variant called “Love Checker,” in which a meter decides if you and your partner are destined to be together, as told by your rhythm syncopation.) StreamiGo is the most high-concept offering. It reforges Samba as something of a professional streamer, on a Twitch facsimile, where a chatbox billows with manufactured comments as you sweat through the songs. The A.I. audience is universally positive and kind, which doesn’t make StreamiGo a particularly accurate representation of Twitch culture, but it’s certainly the one I’d rather spend time in.
But I think the one thing that might keep me coming back to Party Central is a mode called World Party, where Samba De Amigo is dipping his toes into a Battle Royale-style bloodsport. Eight players from around the world queue up into a lobby, where they will attempt to nail three distinct songs. The bottom-feeders after each round are cut — much like a Fall Guys interstitial — separating the cream from the crop. I didn’t get my hands on Party Central itself, but if this new incarnation of Samba De Amigo is going to have legs beyond a fun, light distraction, World Party seems like a step in the right direction.
Regardless, I came away from my experience with Party Central excited to have this game in my house. In a gaming culture that prioritizes megaton triple-A showstoppers and microscopic indie projects, it is genuinely heartening to see Sega dust off one of its old standbys for a fresh new adventure. Samba is finally getting his day in the sun. Who needs a plastic guitar?
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Author: Ryan McCaffrey