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Fun Zone | Game Reviews

'Samba' Offers Hip-Shaking Fun--at a Price

November 16, 2000|AARON CURTISS | aaron.curtiss@latimes.com

If for no other reason, I love "Samba de Amigo" for Sega Dreamcast because it allows me to gratuitously use the word "booty" in print. See, "Samba de Amigo" is all about your booty--shaking it, wiggling it, scooting it from side to side, making sure that everybody in the room sees it.

Never in 22 years of playing video games have I laughed so hard at a game--let alone broken such a sweat. If you're planning a hip holiday party this year, add "Samba" along with eggnog and Perry Como to the list of essentials. Even the least proficient of your merrymakers should be able to follow and enjoy "Samba's" simple concept, which is a cross between "Twister" and "Parappa the Rapper."

Here's the drill: Players use special maraca controllers to dance with animated characters on the screen to tunes such as "La Bamba," "Livin' La Vida Loca" and "Macarena." The goal is to shake the maracas in time to the music and keep up with the simple moves displayed on the screen.

It's easy to learn. Players see six circles arranged in a larger circle on the screen. Each circle represents a height--high, middle and low--for the two maracas. Blue and red dots emanate from the center of the group of circles. Depending on which way the dots move, players shake their maracas in that direction.

For instance, if the dots head down to the circle in the lower right, players shake their right maraca down low. Dots heading to the upper left means players should shake their left maraca above their head. Easy, yes?

It gets tough fast, though, as players try to follow rapidly changing directions and stay with the beat. It's fun for individual players, but the real laughs come from everybody watching. It's possible--although expensive--to hook up a second set of maracas and have two players compete head to head.

Or, in this case, booty to booty.

The only real problem with "Samba de Amigo" is its price. Oh, sure, it costs the same $40 as every other Dreamcast game out there. But buying only the game leaves players with something that's frankly not all that fun. That's because without the maraca controllers, players just use the thumb pad on the regular Dreamcast controller.

Boring.

The maraca controllers plug into a regular controller port on the front of the console. Off the end of each maraca dangles a small sensor, which transmits its location in space to a reader that sits on the floor. That's how the game knows whether players are shaking up high or down low.

It's a real gas.

But it's also really expensive. The maraca controllers run an additional $75. So by the time players equip the game to play the way it was intended, they've almost matched the entire price of the console itself. Players who crave booty-to-booty action will end up dropping $200 for the game.

No matter how you look at it, that's a lot of money.

"Hey You, Pikachu"

As does almost everything related to Pokemon, "Hey You, Pikachu" for Nintendo 64 left me more baffled than entertained. The game's gimmick is that kids can talk to Pikachu with a special device called a Voice Recognition Unit that comes packed with the game.

Hint: It's a microphone.

Using the unit, players are supposed to be able to order the yellow blob around as it frolics. The concept is similar to "Seaman" on Sega Dreamcast, but that game is leaps ahead of "Hey You, Pikachu" in its ability to recognize what players say to on-screen characters and at least simulate a conversation.

All Pikachu does is coo and mumble and gurgle. Granted, "Seaman" was written for teens and adults and "Hey You, Pikachu" is written for kids. But I can't imagine too many intelligent kids finding much to enjoy in the game.

Essentially a game of exploring terrain and hunting for hidden items, "Pikachu" leads players through some of the Pokemon's favorite hangouts and requires them to help collect stuff. In an early mission, players help Pikachu find vegetables for a stew.

When addressed, Pikachu seems to respond to the words it knows. Tell it to throw something or eat something and it does. Tell Pikachu it's a bad Pokemon and it hangs its head in shame. For me, the novelty of chatting to a babbling digital creature wore thin quickly.

"Midnight Club Street Racing"

Sometimes, the best way to sort things out is to slip behind the wheel late at night and drive, just drive. In some ways, that's the best thing about "Midnight Club Street Racing" for Sony PlayStation 2. It's possible to just cruise the streets of Lower Manhattan or Central London and mull things over.

Of course, there's a nice little racing game burnt onto the disc as well. But the real thrill in "Midnight Club" lies in tooling around fairly accurate street maps of two cities in which driving is not usually considered fun.

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