Cast your mind back to the late 2000s when party games were all the rage. Buzz had us smashing buzzers in a quiz show, Singstar had people doing karaoke in their houses and Rock Band had everyone wailing on plastic guitar controllers in front of their TVs. Playing Samba de Amigo: Party Central took me right back to this era of party-charged social gaming.
At its best with a crowd, Samba can be a riot to play with a group of friends competing and having a great time along with great music and silly motion gameplay. It’s a game built for the party atmosphere – with zany characters, silly mini-games and demanding moves that will inevitably make anyone playing look a little goofy (in a fun way).
Taking a step back for a moment, Samba de Amigo is a game about being a monkey shaking maracas in time with music. Little bubbles will float from the centre of the screen out to one of six circles around your character, and you need to shake the Switch Joy Cons as though they were a pair of maracas in the direction of that circle around your character. Depending on the song and difficulty you choose this can be fairly easy to keep up with, or deviously difficult. Between these note shakes you’ll also be sometimes asked to hit particular dance poses or more complex moves. Your combination of shake accuracy, poses and dance moves combine to end up at your overall score at the end of the song.
Things are spiced up some more with the Roulettes, a spinning wheel that can appear during songs to completely change your objective for a short while. Instead of shaking to hit notes you might suddenly be flailing your arms to give a series of high-fives to characters flying at you or smashing a baseball with just the right timing to hit the scoreboard. No two sessions of Party Central are quite the same.
You can play along with any of the 40 included songs in the standard rhythm game mode however there are some other modes that really shine with friends. Love Checker is a fun novelty that decides how compatible two players are by examining how in sync their movements are. Showdown is particularly silly, it plays like a regular rhythm stage until the winner is decided. The loser then has to choose a task from a roulette like ‘clap for the winner until your hands hurt’ or ‘bark like a dog’. The winner decides when they are satisfied with the loser’s performance. It’s all very silly and helps the game shine in a casual environment.
The soundtrack is core to the enjoyment of any rhythm game. Whether you like this soundtrack will be down to personal taste, but there’s a good amount of variety. There’s a bit of Latin music like the ever popular La Bamba, a good amount of contemporary pop from the likes of Carly Rae Jepsen and Icona Pop, dance classics like Macarena and some Sega tunes like Escape From The City. The variety means hopefully there will be something here for most anybody to enjoy music-wise.
There is again a wealth of single player modes here for lone players to keep things interesting. There’s the StreamiGo! mode where you complete a series of challenges (think ‘get a note combo of 100’ or ‘hit 40 quick shakes’) and are rewarded followers when you do well – with the ultimate goal being to become a social media star. There’s also the online World Party mode, where they’ve somehow turned a monkey shaking maracas game into a battle royale. Forty enter, each round the worst performers are eliminated to a black hole (of immense pain if the anguished screams of the fallen are anything to go by) and one emerges victorious. However, despite all the variety, some fundamental issues become apparent when you’re playing with a less casual mindset.
When I was trying to hit high scores rather than have a silly fun time, I noticed the motion controls’ clumsiness became an impediment to playing well. The game is quite generous with timing but even so I found hitting the left and right facing notes unreliable. It’s sort of par for the course with motion controls I suppose, but its a shame to be knocked out of a World Party when it feels like the controls let you down.
Even with all the different single player game modes, I found myself getting a bit tired of it all quicker than I hoped. All the extra modes like World Party and StreamiGo are essentially contextual variations on the same core rhythm gameplay – and while that rhythm gameplay shines in friendly settings it got repetitive fast when playing alone.
Party Central can be played with regular controller buttons instead of motion controls, which is a nice option. In this mode it plays quite similarly to the Persona rhythm games – but I found the note layouts in Samba more suited to motion controls. I got in my own way more often trying to use buttons and sticks to match the motions the game wanted. Regardless, it’s good to have the option.
I guess the name of the game says it all. Samba de Amigo: Party Central shines brightest in a casual party environment. The wealth of novelty silliness anchored around a fun core rhythm game creates silly situations for revellers to have fun with. It is a shame that playing alone made me more aware of the motion accuracy shortcomings that are easier to forgive in a casual get-together setting, but I suppose that’s why it’s not called “Loner Central.”
Samba De Amigo: Party Central Review – Shake, Shake, Shake!
Samba de Amigo is a hoot with friends, sure to generate laughs and memorable moments. Just don’t expect an engrossing single-player rhythm game experience.