Party Down with Samba de Amigo

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Party Down with Samba de Amigo

Growing up in a relatively quiet house with too many videogames and not enough friends made me want to be one of those adults in party game commercials. You know the type; I wanted to be the person who hosted parties for his closest friends to come over and play Rock Band. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of energy ever since trying to make this happen for myself. In high school, I fashioned a recurring bit called “Nintenday” among my friends so that I could have an excuse to play Super Smash Bros for the Wii U—as I owned neither the game nor console—and coincidentally bring everyone together. As friends scattered to the winds for college, it became a ritual when everyone returned for the holidays. On our senior trip, we accidentally threw a party in our hotel room, throwing open our door as friends and classmates walked up and down the hall and occasionally stopped in to stumble over the choreography in the latest Just Dance game. One of my favorite college memories is simply visiting friends upstate and hosting a small party that grew over the course of the night while me and one of my closest friends threw back beers and provided the tunes via Guitar Hero. In short, I’m always looking for the next great thing to entertain my friends with. Though my recent time playing it was too brief, I think I may have found it in Samba de Amigo: Virtual Party, the VR version of Samba de Amigo: Party Central.

I never really got Sega’s Samba de Amigo before. Chalk it up to age or some heretofore unspoken beef with simian-related games (apologies to Ape Escape and Super Monkey Ball), but I just couldn’t take it seriously, which in hindsight was obviously my critical error. Samba de Amigo, much like some of the best music, is unserious. It’s larger than life, beyond reason,  and wildly infectious. It’s also a game about shaking maracas in accordance with Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name.” It’s some of the most fun I’ve had playing anything in a preview setting and I want it at my next dozen gatherings. 

For the savvy rhythm game player, nothing about Samba de Amigo should shock or surprise you. It is functionally the least surprising rhythm game, which is to say, it’s like 90% of them. You hit a button, or in some cases shake a controller, to correspond to an onscreen note as a song plays. The catalog runs the expanse of Sonic the Hedgehog bangers like “Escape from the City” to Pitbull. Yes, Samba de Amigo: Party Central and its numerous console and mobile counterparts are Mr. Worldwide approved.

Samba de Amigo

What makes it fun, and what makes any rhythm or party game fun, is how expressive it compels you to be. During a guitar solo in Guitar Hero, a player might drop to their knees and shred like they’ve likely seen their own favorite musicians and heroes do in concert. Some Just Dance players might look like professional backup dancers as they perfectly synchronize with onscreen instructions rather than just wag the remote in a certain direction. And in Samba de Amigo: Virtual Party, I found that when the instructions told me to spin my arm like a windmill, strike a stereotypical disco pose, or daresay jump, I was happy to. Even though I knew I looked like a fool to the wait staff, bartenders, Sega representatives, and my friends and colleagues present at the event.

It made it all the easier to drop any pretense of professionalism or ego when I played the VR title specifically. (It’s confusing. Samba de Amigo: Party Central is the name of the Switch version, while Samba De Amigo: Virtual Party is a VR title for the Meta Quest 2 and Quest Pro.) Once the Meta Quest goggles came over my eyes, I was no longer in a preview event with a few dozen people around me. I was in a new world, and importantly one where Amigo (the monkey at the heart of this series) was my friend at a nonstop party. And I think this is kind of the unspoken upside of the VR version in particular. It can be hard to drop those anxieties of looking foolish when you can actively see the look in peoples’ eyes as you perform. It’s why you’ll drop your voice during a song you’ve been crushing at karaoke if people suddenly just stare at you instead of singing and dancing along. It’s easy to project onto those expressions, even if you couldn’t hope to understand what’s going on in their heads. But when I don’t have to look at them, or project myself into a reality where I can’t even if I wanted to, it’s so much easier to play the clown. And I think that makes for a better time for everyone involved. 

I don’t know if Samba De Amigo: Virtual Party will be a hit. The trajectory of rhythm games suggests it likely won’t be. The fact that the definitive version of this game seems locked away in the pricey realm of virtual reality almost assuredly means that another will take its mantle, and while that’s fine, I really think there’s an experience to be had in this particular way. But to the adopters of VR who also want to be the cool videogame party person from those commercials like myself, I can’t recommend it enough. 

Moises Taveras is the assistant games editor for Paste Magazine. He was that one kid who was really excited about Google+ and is still sad about how that turned out.

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