‘Samba de Amigo: Party Central’ proves your favourite songs need maracas

Sega's upcoming rhythm game is the optimal way to experience Rina Sawayama

“What if we added maracas?” is a question that’s been asked by musicians at every rehearsal, recording session and pre-show since the dawn of time. Presumably. While killjoys and cowards have opted for restraint, Samba de Amigo: Party Central is the retroactive hero we’ve always needed: a rhythm game that hands Nintendo Switch owners a set of magical maracas to play over a 40-strong tracklist.

Some of those tracks — think Rina Sawayama‘s ‘XS’, or Kesha‘s party anthem ‘TiK ToK’ — take to their new instruments bizarrely well. Others, like ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ or Sonic Adventure 2‘s ‘Escape From The City’, are best enjoyed for their pure chaos, as we found out during our hands-on with Party Central.

Of course, how well the instruments mesh largely depends on the skill of the player. As each song plays, brightly-coloured beats fly toward one of six rings that circle the screen. When they hit their target, the goal is to shake your Joy-Cons in that direction — which sounds simple on paper, until you’re dealing with tens of beats flying out in the span of seconds, all going in different directions as you string together combos and chase a spot on the high score.

Samba De Amigo: Party Central. Credit: Sega.
Samba De Amigo: Party Central. Credit: Sega.


On top of whipping your Joy-Cons in every direction, developer Sega throws a couple of curveballs. You’re often challenged to put the maracas on hold and pose with your Joy-Cons, a feat that can range from holding a freeze-framed pose, jumping to the beat, or getting more involved with synchronised dance moves. There’s usually a randomised challenge tucked away too, including a personal favourite that transforms your Joy-Cons into a virtual baseball bat and tasks you with swinging for beats as they’re mercilessly thrown at you like fastballs.

On lower difficulty levels, it’s challenging but manageable: you can often coast on lazy flicks of the Joy-Con, but it gets much more animated if you’re brave enough to nudge up the difficulty. At one point, it felt like Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj were conspiring to deliver an asthma attack during a maximum-difficulty rendition of ‘Bang Bang’ — though it would have been worth it, as these manic feats are where Party Central truly shines.

Far from the likes of Guitar Hero, you’re not going to be punished or jeered off stage for missing a note, so you’re encouraged to let loose without consequence. If anything, it sometimes felt like Party Central was too generous — mistaking desperate Joy-Con flailing for the stylings of a maraca virtuoso — but it wasn’t enough to get in the way of having fun and looking like an idiot.

Luckily, you don’t have to look like an idiot alone. A number of co-op modes mean you can bring more players into the macarena-verse, competing for high scores on specific songs or teaming up for a number of co-op modes, which range from going head-to-head to avoid a humiliating, randomised penalty (how do you laugh like a dog?) to Love Checker: a mode where you have to hit every beat, pose and dance in-sync to determine compatibility.

These game modes, combined with solid tracklist, means Party Central looks set to offer plenty to keep players on the hook. There are precious few rhythm games on the Switch making use of the Joy-Cons, so it feels like an opportune moment for Sega to give Samba its moment — and if it lets you dance around to ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ with the furor of drunk uncles at a wedding? Even better, we say.

Samba de Amigo: Party Central launches on August 29 for the Nintendo Switch. You can check out the currently-announced songs here


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