In the Wii's heyday, some executive or other higher-up at Nintendo dove into the multitude of factors that converged to make the Wii such a resounding success. Among the factors was the idea that motion—even at a minuscule level, like flicking one's wrist—was tied to the brain's production of dopamine. Pairing that concept with the dazzling chimes and flashing lights of a video game intensified that sensation and added a deepened sense of interactivity.

Flicking your wrist to swing a tennis racket in Wii Sports felt so good—and continues to 'hit different' today in Nintendo Switch Sports. Sure, the novelty's worn off a bit, but there's no denying that it just feels right. While VR has carved out a niche for itself as the new home for motion-controlled games, the Switch Joy-Con controllers still make a good host for the occasional motion-fueled jaunt. Unfortunately, Samba de Amigo: Party Central, the first true sequel to the original 1999 Dreamcast maraca-shaking game, doesn't use them particularly well. This is where the vast majority of Party Central's biggest issues stem from.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Part of why previous entries in the series and other games with similar mechanics worked so well on previous consoles like the Dreamcast or Wii was because of how simple the motion controls at the time were. In Party Central, there are six points with two at each position: up, middle, and down. There are other, very simple motions from time to time, but they are often very similar to the things you'd be doing during other parts of the song, just shown to you in a different format.

The Switch's Joy-Con are much more sensitive compared to the Wii Remote. Countless times during an intense rendition of 'City Escape' from Sonic Adventure 2 or 'Tik Tok' by Ke$ha, we found that the game read motion inputs incorrectly, either by reading the input in the wrong location or detecting a body movement and registering it as a shake of Amigo's digital maracas, making it difficult to properly execute the intended motion. The issues were infrequent enough, but they were just annoying and invasive enough in Party Central's challenge modes and special missions (more on that later) that they occasionally caused a fail state.

To make matters worse, the game doesn't properly communicate how to hold the Joy-Con or feature any sort of calibration settings to ensure accuracy. The closest it gets is a (very easily missed) diagram that's not entirely clear about how you should be holding your controllers. It just says to confirm that you're holding your controllers so that you can press the 'L' and 'R' buttons with your thumbs. It doesn't work and doesn't feel particularly ergonomic, especially compared to the Wii Remote's wand-like shape. After all, it's hard to hold a Wii remote incorrectly.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Keeping in theme with its dated feel, you'll be greeted with a screen that warns you about the differences in inputs on your TV. Instead of getting the player to briefly calibrate their controls to the TV as many contemporary rhythm games do, Party Central simply suggests that you check your TV's settings to ensure that its "Game Mode" or other equivalent mode is enabled. That's a baffling choice, even if Party Central's rhythm-based gameplay is fairly forgiving, arcadey fun that's designed for a game night.

System-level changes aside, there isn't much new to Party Central aside from its 40-song tracklist with songs ranging from Latin and contemporary dance music to dad rock hits. And of course, a few songs from Sonic the Hedgehog make an appearance. The playlist is solid, if a bit short, but Sega has promised that more songs are on the way in the form of paid DLC. There are more featured in the game's Digital Deluxe Edition too, which is where you'll find a restrictive number of Sega Sound Team's absurdly strong discography. Even the DLC that's on the way seems pretty scant compared to the options at the publisher's disposal.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Songs take on new depth and meaning at different difficulties, and like any solid rhythm game, you're rewarded for knowing the tunes and hitting the notes right feels great! Despite the minor issues we encountered with motion controls not playing ball, it's a joyful take on the rhythm genre that adds an interesting layer beyond the standard loop you might expect.

In addition to its standard mode, Party Central adds a few new twists to the gameplay. One of the new modes is the StreamiGo mode, which functions kind of like a story mode. You're faced with a number of challenges and songs to complete in order to gain followers and grow your brand. In theory, it's a decent idea, but the follower numbers feel completely arbitrary — failing will still net you followers and won't result in any negative side effects aside from you needing to retry a song or challenge.

Not being able to pick the songs associated with each challenge is a much bigger issue; instead, you're presented with a card with a requirement that you need to complete in order to pass the level. The beginning of this pseudo-campaign will present you with Ke$ha's first major hit (for example) a handful of times. It's not a bad song, but it certainly gets old after the first five attempts at a difficult mission.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

There are still some highlights here; every once in a while, you'll be presented with a boss fight of sorts. Any given song in the game is divided up into five sections. If you dance better than the boss does in a single section, you win that section and get a point. Each win is calculated by points, but the game counts 'viewers' instead since each dance is supposed to take place on a live stream. It's an interesting idea, but again, the follower numbers feel wholly arbitrary.

The other notable new mode is the World Party mode, which is essentially a Samba de Amigo take on a Battle Royale. It's a clever application of the game's multiplayer into an online setting, especially one relying on the Switch's so-so online capabilities. There's no lag, and no stuttering or buffering; just lots of shaking those maracas. Instead of being a sudden death gauntlet as one might expect, World Party follows a round-based format, booting the lower-ranking players after its first two rounds á la Fall Guys. Its final round, on the other hand, is a sudden death throwdown between the lobby's best dancers.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Hitting certain notes will let you earn an item that you can use to mess with your opponents. They range from attacks that speed up your opponents' songs to an attack that makes their notes and beat zones smaller. One item causes some of their beat zones to disappear. You'd think that'd be a challenge to guess when the note hits the invisible zone. Instead, it makes you completely unable to hit any note that goes to that area. It's frustrating and will cause you to lose. It's another confusing choice that feels like it wasn't given a second thought.

That one frustrating item aside, it's really fun. Players that lose in the first two rounds get sucked into a black hole, screaming as they slip into the abyss. No, we're not kidding—it's hilarious. Small stuff like this points to the sense of cheer that's lurking just beneath Party Central's seemingly ceaseless onslaught of experience and progress bars. There are jaguars dressed up like the Blues Brothers, dogs in full suits, and dancing robot bears in the game's comically busy backgrounds. Unfortunately, that wacky, mad-cap sense feels buried beneath the game's many, many menus and barrage of progress bars.

Conclusion

Samba de Amigo: Party Central brings back the cult classic monkey and all the fun that comes with him, but it does too much in the wrong places. By bombarding the player with no fewer than three different progress bars to level up in, any sense of growth, progress or leveling feels arbitrary and unnecessary. They feel like an attempt to hide the fact that Samba de Amigo is an arcade game about a dancing monkey that you can dress up in silly little outfits; it doesn't need to be an RPG, so why make it one? After all, Samba de Amigo is inherently fun—be it with maracas, a Wii remote, Joy-Con, or just buttons.