When Samba de Amigo first appeared on the Dreamcast eight years ago, it marked a new standard for exciting rhythm-based gameplay and expensive, game-specific peripherals ($79.99 for a pair of maracas!). How fitting, then, that in this golden age of musical peripherals, Samba de Amigo has found a new home on a system with built-in maraca functionality. Unfortunately, time and the burgeoning rhythm-game genre have dulled Samba's once-novel gameplay, and the Wii controls have precision issues that can border on maddening. Still, if you stick to moderate difficulty levels or play with a footloose friend, these maracas still have plenty of shake in them.
You are the star of the maraca-shaking monkey show.
Samba de Amigo is all about shaking your "maracas" along to the beat. There are six target areas (high, middle, and low for both your left and right hands) arranged in a hexagon. The notes you need to match appear in the center of the shape and radiate out to the target areas. When a note is in the target area, you shake the controller to play it. In addition to this familiar challenge, you'll have to do rolls by shaking the controllers furiously, match poses and hold them for a few seconds, or dance by shaking your controllers in a certain motion. The latter task is where you get your first taste of how imprecise the controls can be; literally any shaking will register as a successful dance move.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, if you've got the right attitude. It's quite fun to get into the rhythm of a given song, and having a built-in space to improvise your own dance moves is a great way to help encourage immersion. Samba de Amigo shines when you really get into it and dance along with the beat in addition to just hitting your notes. This is easy to do when playing a friend (cooperatively or competitively), or when playing the solo career on easy or normal. Once you get into the hard and superhard difficulties, things begin to turn sour.
As the notes come faster and faster, you need to be more precise to accurately hit different notes in quick succession. The Wii registers high, middle, and low levels when you point the controllers up, straight ahead, and down, respectively. When varied notes come at you quickly, you have to move your arms and snap your wrists quickly, but you'll find that many of your shakes are registering on the wrong level or just not registering at all. To have any hope of passing these songs, you have to move away from your carefree, rhythmic approach toward a more exacting, robotic style. Even as you strive to make your motions more precise, you realize that the imprecision inherent in the Wii controls is constantly working against you. On top of that, just a handful of wrong notes throughout a song can be enough to keep you from getting a passing grade. The only motivation to play the tougher levels of Career mode (aside from masochism) is to unlock new songs to play in other modes, but you'll be hard pressed to forge onward when you are hitting more than 90 percent of the notes and still not passing the song.