Samba de Amigo: Party Central was a difficult game to review. Perhaps the most difficult I’ve reviewed in 2023. Not specifically for its in-game difficulty – although there are plenty of tracks in this rhythm game that present sheer, frustrating challenge – but because of its intensive, samba-inspired gameplay.
In Party Central, its rhythmic gameplay is hooked on real-life movement. You take your place, your
Other songs are high-speed nightmares, throwing out bops and shakes faster than your body can handle. You have to drag your arms, pull them back, shake them around, twist to form a new pose, then another, then another. For a week, I’ve had an aching pain in the crook of my elbow. Cramps in my abdomen. Stiff shoulders. Sore back. I had to take breaks between Samba de Amigo sessions.
Yet there’s a sense of victory hiding beneath this pain.
Samba de Amigo: Party Central demands player investment – and rewards it appropriately. The more you play, the more you’ll perfect your arm throwing. You’ll unlock new cosmetics, more in-game followers, special titles, neat costumes. You’ll become better, faster, more flexible. More resilient.
In terms of pushing your fitness goals forward, Party Central is a solid companion – and while its novelty has a relatively short shelf life, it manages to keep the beat bopping with some clever choices along the way.
Rhythm games must strike an important balance. By nature, they rely on repetitive gameplay – but they must provide an incentive to push forward, keeping the action fresh and motivating for players. They must provide goals, and a reason to reach for those goals.
Party Central‘s main Rhythm Game mode – which allows you to earn points by shaking along to a range of modern and classic hits – is a solid and enjoyable inclusion in this package. But once you’ve burned through tracks like ‘Move Your Feet’ by Junior Senior, ‘Tik Tok’ by Kesha, the Macarena, La Bamba, and ‘You Give Love a Bad Name’ by Bon Jovi, you’ll find yourself wanting for more.
The challenge is in nabbing more points, which can then be spent to acquire unique costumes – but there comes a point where single-player competitive gameplay modes aren’t enough to push you along.
That’s where Party Central steps in with an array of other, meatier options.
You can face off against other players in competitive dance battles via World Party mode. You can also sit down with a friend in ‘Party for Two’ – a mode that includes a variety of mini-games, including a funky ‘love checker’ that gives you a compatibility score. You can also jump in with a variety of mini-games (like competitive batting), which also appear at regular intervals as special ‘roulette’ interludes while you’re playing songs.
But perhaps the best inclusion in Party Central – and the mode that encourages repeated, aggressive samba-ing, is ‘StreamiGo!’. This arcade-style mode allows you to tackle rhythm missions delivered by a host of intergalactic characters. Each mission remixes the tracks of Rhythm Game, providing fresh challenges for completion. It’s here where Party Central brings the heat – and where you’ll likely run into trouble with your elbows and shoulders.
At this point, it should be noted that Samba de Amigo: Party Central actually has a companion title – Samba de Amigo: Party-To-Go on
In StreamiGo!, it’s not just about high scores. Each track has its own unique criteria for completion. Some require you to achieve a particular ranking. Others – the nightmare tracks – require you to achieve minimal boos (2-4 max), or to gather 80 consecutive Perfect hits with your maracas.
A good run has you feeling on cloud nine. Muscles burning, grin slapped on. A bad run will have you tearing your hair out. Unfortunately for Samba de Amigo, it seems that occasionally the difference between a good and bad run is down to chance more than player talent, thanks to the occasionally temperamental motion controls.
Shake, rattle, bop
Once you’ve achieved a satisfying muscle burn (or at any point), you can change the controls of Samba de Amigo. It can be played in motion-based Shake mode (recommended for most tracks), or in handheld Button mode, allowing you to press buttons or simply move the Joy-Con sticks in time to the beat.
Shake mode is far more enjoyable, and allows you to get your whole body moving. But sometimes, these beats don’t register – so when you’re going for a perfect 80-streak, your run can be broken by a simple input delay, or a beat being recorded too early. I had a hell of a time conquering Mission 3-2 (‘Break Free ft. Zedd’ by Ariana Grande) because it required that Perfect 80-Streak and my Joy-Cons failed to register a number of random motions throughout the track, immediately destroying my good work.
There is a margin for player error here, and there were other times when the game was slightly more generous – but in this particular track, I felt my Joy-Cons were failing me. The feeling of succeeding, pushing forward and perfecting those beats is incredibly satisfying, but it was hard not to feel like luck played an unfair part in some of StreamiGo!’s biggest challenges.
Eventually, I tackled Break Free with Button input – which is by nature more accurate – but even that comes with its own challenges, as it’s fairly sensitive, and will often require you to smash buttons and friction-burn your fingers to get the right notes to register. Too often, you’ll only get a ‘Great’, despite complying with Samba de Amigo‘s tough demands.
Accuracy proved to be a bugbear throughout the harder missions in StreamiGo! – with many of those tougher tracks still lying by the wayside, simply because the inputs are particularly sensitive. With some missions locked behind completion requirements, and many tracks requiring pinpoint beats, StreamiGo! can be equally frustrating as it is joyous.
Still, it’s the dangling carrot of victory that will push you onward, as you attempt and reattempt each bite-sized challenge with a renewed determination. Tracks are short and catchy, and starting over is simple enough. Sometimes, it’s a matter of collecting yourself, keeping an ear on those thumping beats, and telling yourself you can do it.
Break Free had me grinding my teeth. Finally, eventually, completing the track felt like I’d won a battle. And perhaps that feeling erased some of the frustration earned along the way – but it’s still worth noting that high level of challenge, and the many foibles of accurate controls.
In the groove
Once I mentally accepted these caveats – that Samba de Amigo: Party Central can seemingly ruin a good run on a whim – I eventually found myself in a welcome, rhythmic flow state. The challenges of Rhythm Game and StreamiGo! are many, but chasing the endorphin rush of success is compelling, and with a mix of tough and breezy challenges, there is always some incentive to advance.
Getting into the groove and feeling the rhythm with your whole body is brain-tickling. It’s an absolute joy. With my arms burning, Break Free complete, I felt like I’d accomplished something. While the other game modes in Samba de Amigo: Party Central are slightly less compelling, in that many are routine and eventually devolve to repetition, on the strength of StreamiGo!, this spin-off is a strong entry in the rhythm game genre.
Three stars: ★★★
Samba de Amigo: Party Central
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 29 August 2023
A copy of Samba de Amigo: Party Central for