If any game deserves a second chance, it's Samba De Amigo. When it came out on Dreamcast in 2000, it simply had no audience - gamers were either leaping from the sinking Sega ship and flocking to PS2 or holding out for the GameCube. Those who stayed were put well off by the hefty £100 price tag (yes, that was just for the game pack, not the console too). It was a game with mass appeal but no masses to appeal to. Oh, the terrible irony.
It's a pity it didn't take off, because the gameplay is absolutely universal. Just like Guitar Hero or a dancing game, all you need to do is line up moving icons in time to the music. Anyone can play it. Even the ultra-cheesy tunes that we'd normally run a mile from are suddenly wholly acceptable here - shaking brightly coloured maracas to Livin' La Vida Loca is one of our most joyous guilty pleasures.1 Now it's on Wii at a fraction of the price and everyone can play, it's finally time to get the party started!
No great shakes
But here's where we hit the new problem. Stop dancing. Bring up the house lights and cut the music - we have a terribly sad, party-spoiling announcement to make: the game's controls simply don't work well enough on Wii. There's a high, middle and low zone for each hand to shake in and, after many careful calibration attempts, we're still having difficulty hitting the middle zone with the nunchuk.
We've tried holding it differently or flicking it to the left (which helped a bit), but ultimately it's just not fun to play when you're shaking gleefully away and it's saying 'Bad. Bad. Bad. Bad.'2 We know we're not bad because when it works right we're getting 98% scores. Using a remote in each hand is the best option, but it never feels right. Perhaps what frustrates us most is that early preview copies of the game worked really well, but something significant's been changed somewhere along the production line and now it doesn't.
Despite the iffy controls, there are still moments of gameplay that are pure, maraca-based magic. The opportunity to make windmill actions is most welcome, and shaking your whole body down low to the Ketchup Song (known here by its original Spanish title, Asereje) is absurdly uplifting. That's how the game should be all the time, and finding Sonic in the second tier of Career mode, complete with a Green Hill backdrop, should be as cool as the first sight of his stage in Super Smash Bros. If only we weren't gritting our teeth at the screen as we sacrifice ever more points to the calibration monster.
Rattle and roll
If you're rubbish at games and don't care about accuracy, then there's fun here in bucketloads. Buy it and have a Samba party - you'll wonder what we're complaining about. There are several game modes for battling it out and they're fun even if you don't fulfil the objectives. It's most enjoyable just watching people look silly playing it. There's even an ultra-daft Love-o-meter that calculates how well you suit a fellow player romantically.3 We got a mighty 124% rating (a mathematical impossibility, surely?) and it said our relationship would last a lifetime. Well, of course - NGamer forever! We're not quite so sure why it then said our Love Key Word was 'Horror'. Hmm...
On second thoughts, that's quite accurate. We will love Samba De Amigo forever (who couldn't adore a maraca-shaking monkey?) but the horror of realising it isn't working as it should is almost too much to bear. Imagine if Nintendo had told Sega about Wii MotionPlus - we could have the ultimate party game on our hands. Oh well. We'll just wait with bated breath for Samba De Amigo 2. If any game deserves a third chance, it's... oh.
That old Samba magic is still there, but the challenge is in beating the controls, not the game. This should have been way better, given the console's strengths.