Samba de Amigo : Party Central dances its way to the Nintendo Switch on 30th August, and prior to the game’s launch we got to talk with producer Shun Nakamura in an interview.
Shun Nakamura has been working with SEGA for 25 years, and he was also the director of the original Samba de Amigo title on the Dreamcast back in 2000. Nakamura also had previously records in working withe Sonic series, Sonic and Mario series, along with several other original titles.
[Interview is edited for clarity]
The last Samba de Amigo game was released back in 2007 on the Wii, was there a specific reason to bring back the Samba de Amigo franchise?
Nakamura: So at that time, we were kind of thinking “oh, the switch got announced. The switch also has two Joy-Cons, and we were thinking that “wouldn’t the Joy-Cons be perfect for the Samba de Amigo title?”
However, when the switch was available, we were thinking that even though Samba is a great idea, we want to tackle a brand new title, or a brand new challenge within the studio. So, for that initial couple years of the switch’s lifespan, we didn’t have an active idea on Samba.
After that we realised that within the gaming industry, there was a lot of action taken among many of the publishers to bring back older IPs, and bring back that feeling of nostalgia with fan favourite IPs from the past, and then noticing that we could then utilise samba, we were incentivised to bring the Samba IP back.
Could you tell us more about the unique features of Party Central?
Nakamura: The current title was based on the original concept of “Bakatanoshii”, which means the silly fun that you can have within the game and around that concept, the new title was conceptualised.
When the Samba IP was originally conceptualised back in the arcade stage, there were a lot of rhythm games that were emphasising on the cool aspect of it, how you can be like the coolest person if you’re very good at these games. Someone wanted to challenge that and make [the] rhythm genre a lot more fun and more approachable.
In a similar fashion, when we want to modernise Samba de Amigo into Party Central, we realised that the year continues to be the existence of very cool rhythm games that only primarily focused on how difficult the challenge can get and how intense that you can play within a genre field. However, Samba wanted to once again utilise that “Bakatanoshii” mentality and make it a lot more approachable and focus purely on the fun aspect of rhythm games.
In order to push on that aspect of “Bakatanoshii”, we noticed that TikTok was having a resurgence within modern day users on social medium, as well as rhythm [games]. We want to kind of combine those two elements and create a fun atmosphere and utilise the potential of that within Samba de Amigo Party Central.
To be more specific as to the combination of Samba IP and TikTok elements is that the idea of having a lot of popular songs running in the background, and that you can really take that to a casual, fun atmosphere. Not only are you able to enjoy the song, you’re able to do in a very relaxed, casual and fun, emphatic manner.
One of those elements that we really want to push within the game was the concept of happenings and the elements of roulette spinning within the game. When you’re having a little bit of a moment within the game, you can do the roulette and you can do an instantaneous kind of fun pose to go along with it.
In a lot of pure rhythm based games, such as when you have to tap on the screen in a very rhythmic and fixed manner for every song, we wanted to add a lot of randomness within Samba de Amigo Party Central. This was a way so that when players are playing the game, they can do a funny pose midway and have a laugh around that and enjoy the randomness of the game a lot more.
Obviously being a rhythm game that it is, Samba de Amigo does have to stick with these songs. However, the mini games that come within it kind of like the roulette gives an opportunity to have a different experience at every turn, and use that as kind of like a TikTok Challenge vibe element within the gameplay as well, and get a lot of fun out of that.
It looks like there’s a Battle Royale/Elimination mode that’s quite popular in many games these days, are there other ways that Samba de Amigo: Party Central is responding to modern trends?
Nakamura: With Battle Royale, we took the equivalent of the World Challenge from the game.
As mentioned before, the battle royale equivalent, it would be the World Party mode and that would kind of give that aspect of a player having to play over and over again to achieve a higher score over time.
In contrast with the other modes within the game, it gives the opportunity for the player to step into the world party mode and have that kind of thrill of getting a perfect score within a song that you can find in other rhythmic games.
If a person is really good at the particular game, they can go into a multimode within the world part mode and then face off with other challenges, and then I’m certain that people would really enjoy the kind of competitive element of the game.
In addition to the world party mode, other aspects were also modernised. They gave it more of a modern trend such as having a festival themed aspect to the game as opposed to the previous kind of salsa/carnival themed gameplay. Then there are other features such as the live streaming bit that would also give it a bit of a more modern touch.
What was the inspiration behind the random prompt mechanic?
Nakamura: The reason for getting a random prompt mechanic within the game is basically because a lot of rhythm games focus on playing things right, playing things accurately, such as simulating playing a guitar or piano. But for the theme here for us, it felt like it was a fun idea to see how users and players would respond to randomness, so it would catch you off guard and maybe you’ll have fun along the way from that.
To add on to the random effects that were added into Party Central, we wanted to kind of make users feel like they were attending a live performance show as opposed to listening to a song on a pre-recorded CD.
In a live performance, maybe that the performer will do a random act towards the audience, whereas that has been reflected in Samba de Amigo Party Central, as the random effects and the mini games that were added into gameplay.
How in-depth can we go with the customisation feature in Samba de Amigo: Party Central? Will there be challenges that we can complete to unlock certain cosmetic items?
Nakamura: As previously mentioned, there is a World Party mode, and then within that, you can create your own custom Amigo.
The character Amigo itself will not be changed even in the customisation mode. However, you can dress it up the way you like using skins, accessories and items, and you can also customise the maracas.
Within the actual main gameplay outside of World Party mode, you can change the sounds of the maracas to reflect other sounds that you can get within the game, and then also add in features of other SEGA title character skins as well.
In order to get the items to customise your character along the way, you would have to play the main game itself and accrue experience that can be used to unlock different items and features.
With the other ways of obtaining items, you can also go into party mode and then the better your ranking is, the better your performance is. You’ll get special awards called beans. The beans come from the different beans and lentils that are used within the maracas traditionally. With the special beans that you get, you can get a little bit more rarer items that you would not be able to obtain otherwise.
Considering the game has the Love Checker mode and the game can be played on the Nintendo Switch which is a portable device, has the dev team considered the idea of using this game for relationship building and date activities?
Nakamura: With a lot of the games, we kind of wanted to have it a little bit more than just kind of like a party activity. So with that, we added in the Love Checker mode.
The Love Checker mode, it actually had a predecessor or a similar version in the past title where I was actually able to take the game of the previous title to the post party of my wedding and then we took that as kind of like an additional activity that we could do to kind of have a bit more activity at a party. The same idea would also apply here where it’s not just a single time thing. You can start a conversation based off of the game that would carry on beyond the gameplay itself.
In kind of like that social situation, Love Checker mode is designed to show how compatible you are with the person that you’re playing with. You can potentially use it as a means of getting closer to the people around you, or the person that you want to spend more time with. Even among friends, you can kind of use that as a kind of fun activity that you can do together.
To kind of just add as a side note, we even use the Love Checker mode between one of our head directors and company higher tier members to see how compatible they were in a meeting to showcase Samba de Amigo Love Checker mode, and then from there we were able to kind of see how well compatible our managers and directors were and had a really fun moment with that.
I saw some elements in Samba de Amigo: Party Central inspired by TikTok. Why TikTok, and how big is the influence of social media for Samba de Amigo?
Nakamura: With the way that TikTok works, it kind of reflected how we wanted to give the users the opportunity to focus more on the audio and the songs available within the game as supposed to getting it 100% right as you do with a normal rhythm based game. As you can probably see on TikTok, people spend a lot of time on there to kind of personalise and get their own reaction to different popular sounds that are available on the platform. That is kind of the main inspiration as to why we use that as a base.
Then additionally as an element, there’s a lot of silliness and that idea of “Bakatanoshii” that you can see on TikTok as well. Then you can really twist it and make it in your own way where if you want to have a lot of fun and you want to give a very fun spin on a sound, you can. But on the other hand, if you’re more of a perfectionist and you want to achieve that highest score, you can also do that within Samba de Amigo Party Central.
Another thing that really drove us to get inspiration from social media is that we felt that you can’t really get the 100% Samba de Amigo experience from just watching the trailers or seeing the game from an outsider’s perspective. We kind of hope that people would take it on to social media and use kind of the different elements within the game to kind of spread it around to your friends, kind of in a way that viral videos would normally do on social media. Then from there we believe that you can really get the full experience of Samba de Amigo Party Central.
When creating the original and previous instalments, we weren’t really sure if it would do very well outside of Japan at that time. When we chose the songs, it was songs that you would have a lot of fun with, but you weren’t 100% used to hearing it all the time.
At this time, as you may already know, Samba de Amigo has been around for over 20 years and we’ve come to a point where people anywhere around the world can enjoy it. We asked ourselves the question, what songs would be best to capture the worldwide audience and moved a bit further away from the Latin songs that we use when we were focusing more on the Japanese market and then aimed to get a lot more diverse selection of songs within the game.
Within the development and the song choices, we refer to our overseas staff, the different SEGA offices, as well as our foreign staff members here to see what songs would be best.
When it comes to the overseas staff, kind of advice that we received was to kind of look at the overall balance of the song and kind of think about how the users would respond to that particular song.
But from the development side, we looked at whether the song had that element of “Bakatanoshii” or that silly element that was appropriate for the Samba de Amigo IP.
When we reviewed all the songs that was kind of provided for us to consider by the overseas members or overseas staff, we noticed that the songs were very catchy and they were also with a high FPS and it was like a very active song. But we weren’t really sure if it would be powerful enough of a title to go into the Samba de Amigo repetitive kind of like “gameness” of IP.
One of the reasons for kind of needing to assess whether a song is good for the IP is because when we’re in development, we have to pause the songs at certain points in order to create gimmicks and add in the game features of it. So when it comes to high tempo songs that doesn’t really have a break, it’s difficult to achieve that.
Which song do you consider to be the most challenging in terms of gameplay difficulty in the game?
Nakamura: At the moment, we’re kind of thinking that the most difficult would be Pa’lla (by Max Pizzolante). The reason of the song [being the most challenging] is obviously there is that difficulty of having a lot of notes as the difficulty increases. But the moment we also had the new edition of a crazy mode.
With the crazy mode, it makes you be very active and then use a lot of movements in order to achieve a higher score. It’s kind of like testing out your fitness and your activeness and there are features like the pose mode that makes you want to challenge your responsiveness to on screen kind of pop ups as well.
How challenging is it to effectively communicate and convey the gameplay experience of this game to the gamer audience in promotional efforts, considering that players may need to try the game themselves to fully grasp its mechanics and enjoy it?
Nakamura: It really is a difficult game to kind of portray just looking at the gameplay screen or the actual footage of the gameplay itself. We used elements such as getting people to actually play the game and get that recorded in, put out as a means to convey how to play the game and what the main appeal points are.
It really has been one of those things what we’ve thought a lot about and we stressed about as to how to approach promotion. But as mentioned, it would be really best for us if we do a slow built up to the promotion up into launch. Then from launch, when people actually start playing the game and then they’re sharing it with their friends or their surroundings, that’s when the kind of like main appeal and the character and the uniqueness of the game is really conveyed to a wider audience.
What is your favourite mechanic or gameplay feature in Party Central, and why do they find it particularly enjoyable or interesting?
Nakamura: There are a lot of things that I really enjoy that I’ve already pointed out to, but there is one other element that I really enjoy, and that is the appeal mechanic within the game.
Similar to the Love Checker mode, this is another mode where you can really play in real person at a party or in event. From a game element, it’s kind of like a face off challenge mode where you decide who is better than the other using the gameplay.
Normally, a game would kind of like end when there is the final results that pop up onto the screen, but in this mode it actually gives you an additional task that you have to complete if you had lost within that challenge, kind of like a truth or dare situation but with the dancing elements.
When you’re in a kind of competitive one on one kind of challenge, a lot of people do enjoy that competitive edge or the feeling of winning within a competition. But we wanted to use this mode of the game as a means of building up more conversation, more communication in real life. Not only are you able to do a competitive element of the game, but there’s also a social element to the game as well.
Even though we had that initial kind of resistance from the programmer, and we did manage to get it into the game, and once it was within the game, we called in all of our senior managers, we called in other senior programmers and actually gave them a chance to play this particular mode for them, they found it a lot of fun.
They had a lot of conversations out of it. We had a lot of kind of funny moments within that kind of test trial and we notice that what users can potentially also have a lot of fun having this feature within Samba de Amigo Party Central.
The mini games were a highlight from the fist Samba de Amigo, what sort of mini games can we expect from Party Central?
Nakamura: Within the first Samba de Amigo game, we were thinking that “Oh, having mini games is kind of like an essential part of a lot of kind of these physically moving games”. However, as time built on, such as the Wii version and now with the switch version, we really found out that users have a lot more like towards the mini games themselves, and we think that it’s a vital element of the Samba IP.
For example, now in the switch version as mentioned before, there’s the element of “Happenings”. The “Happenings” are like mini games that have instantaneously and random that would pretty much be a standalone mini rhythm game on its own.
In addition to the “Happenings”, there are other mini games such as “Exercise” and “Left and Right” where you have to do the commands in crossover modes. If a normal beat is coming to your right hand, it would go into your left and vice versa. In the previous titles, these mini games were kind of just added in like an additional fun moment, but they’ve really evolved over time to be more comprehensive and a little bit more complex than ever before.
Considering that SEGA has a track record of working with countless rhythm game titles such as Project DIVA and Maimai, were there any inspirations that the team took when making Samba de Amigo: Party Central?
Nakamura: We’ve actually had people involved from both of these other titles come into the development of Samba de Amigo. We really think that we’re able to capitalise their expertise and their knowledge within this title also.
For example, one of the expertise that we’re able to obtain was how the notes work. Previously they were just appear kind of sort of manually, but now we worked with the MaiMai team and was able to use their kind of tools and how they usually would implement notes within their rhythm games into Samba as well.
Can you go more in depth about the StreamiGo feature?
Nakamura: The StreamiGo is actually kind of like an SNS or a social media network that is very popular within the world of Amigo.
Within the world of StreamiGo and the Amigo, there are a lot of kind of amigos who would battle off against other influencers, there are others who really want to compete with higher ranking dancers in order to get more followers on their StreamiGo and then become more and more famous through that.
Within the StreamiGo, kind of the way that the influencers would battle off against each other is to really give a large performance, and then viewers around this particular challenge or performance would send in comments while surrounding them and then kind of give like this one to one opportunity time as well.
There are generally two types of rhythm game players, one who prefers to stay in one place while they perform combos, while the other prefers moving about. How does the team find balance in the making of Samba de Amigo: Party Central to cater both player bases?
Nakamura: For us, we really feel like there really are two types of players of Samba de Amigo. There are people who really want to get accurate note hits, and then there are other people who really want to get active and move their bodies around a lot.
Then to really accommodate these two types of players that we find are common, one of them is to the super hard mode, and the more difficult modes within the game that is more appealing to those who want to get accurate note hits and get all of the higher scores. Then on the other side, there are more features where you can be more active and get a lot more exercise and movement out of the game itself.
Obviously, there are a lot more social elements as well, or there might even be people who just want to stand in one position, get the game out of their way sort of thing. But the way we imagine it is there will be a lot of movements regardless, and then you’ll have a lot more fun doing that.
Then once again, for those people who are really focused on accuracy and getting that perfect score within the game, as with a lot of rhythm games, you can cut out the “Happening” feature or the random pop up features from the gameplay, so you can focus on accuracy and getting the highest score possible.
From the perspective of the development team, what are the strengths of Samba de Amigo: Party Central over other rhythm games?
Nakamura: We really think that is kind of like a game that is more reminiscent of a live performance, or when you’re at a karaoke centre with your friends and you’re having a lot of fun there. I think that really is one of the main strengths of Samba de Amigo Party Central.
Another key strength of Samba de Amigo for us is that obviously a lot of people have been stuck in their homes during the Corona pandemic. But we think even if it’s a tiny bit, Samba de Amigo can be a really helpful exercise tool as well if you want it to be. For example, if you really went out hard on the Crazy mode, you’ll get a lot of exercise, you’ll be panting by the end of it. If that’s kind of how you want to take it, it’s also a strength that we can offer about Samba de Amigo.
What was the biggest challenge in developing Samba de Amigo: Party Central?
Nakamura: When one of the difficulties of the development process was that when it was in that rough kind of patch, there were a lot of people who want to have their input into how the game would turn out as well.
In addition to kind of a lot of people wanting to have input, there was a lot of push to make it like a true rhythm game where you’re focusing on king of like the notes, the appearance of coolness within the game. But as I’ve spent a lot of time with the IP itself, we really wanted to push out the pure joy of enjoying sounds and pure joy of enjoying music whilst moving around with the maracas. It was kind of a tough push to keep those elements in and have them at centre stage.
This is SEGA’s first title on the Meta Quest, were there any challenges bringing Samba de Amigo: Party Central to VR?
Nakamura: When it came to development, it was really a tough challenge putting in. One of the challenges was how to get a wider audience for Samba de Amigo Party Central. Then within that we came to the resolve that we need to get it out on a multi platform that was accommodating of the Samba IP.
As you probably already know, the Metaquest version is where you’re in a virtual reality environment, whereas on the switch you’re looking at a screen and that’s how you would play the game. With that being said, that means that the way you enjoy the game and how you experience the game is completely different. The development team really had to roll up their sleeves and work really hard to achieve kind of like the same experience, but in two different means and then work in parallel to get the games where they are.
One of the key differences, for example, is how on meta, the notes themselves would fly towards you as opposed to on a screen where it can come from multiple directions. That was one of the key features where we kind of had to really think about and to see if that implementation would work well.
For example, on the switch, not only will you also get the post prompts or any other prompts that would appear on screen. That was a pretty tough challenge to implement on the VR nature of the Metaquest as well. But if you look at it now, it’s probably not going to look much different. But when it came to development, it was a struggle.
As a follow up question to that, were there any things that needed to be done differently as compared with the Nintendo Switch version of the game?
Nakamura: With the gameplay itself, we were focusing primarily more on the surroundings that you would potentially be playing in on the switch. As compared to the previous versions of the game, and then that was kind of like, we wanted to emphasise where people would get that space, really like high tempo. Everybody’s highly energetic within the game on screen as well as on the meta quest in the virtual environment as well.
For one of the kind of main features within the VR version as well as on screen but especially on the VR version, the better you play, the more notes you get accurately or the better poses that you pull off and get the better score. Your environment within that 3D virtual reality gets more and more livelier, and it really does feel like you’ve got like a giant audience cheering for you.
As you probably already know, when it comes to the Meta Quest version, there’s still a lot of stuff that we haven’t announced yet. At the momentum is still kind of like in a TBC announcement stage, but we’ll definitely get more and more news out to you when we can.
Previously, it was announced that Samba de Amigo: Party Central will have a Sega Music DLC Pack and a Sonic Music DLC Pack. Are there any hints as to what other SEGA games will have their songs included in Samba de Amigo: Party Central?
Nakamura: When it comes to DLC content, we looked at western popular titles. When it comes to the type of songs they will become available as DLCs. We really looked at the fact that a lot of users have different preferences over what kind of songs they want to dance to, what kind of songs that they want to be enjoying the Samba experience with. We looked at how to diversify the different genres that we can to include a diverse or wider audience.
One of the list of DLC, the SEGA music DLC, that was kind of put in because we know that a lot of people probably have previous experience listening to our songs from different titles. Then when you listen to songs that you’re more familiar with, you’re more excited, you’re more willing to have fun with the kind of prompts and different notes that appear on screen. That was the reason to include that in.
Then from here on, we are looking at not only what kind of music in general are popular across the world, we want to hone in to different regions and what kind of songs are trending in those particular regions. For example, in Japan, we want to see what kind of songs are popular here. Across Asiam we want to see exactly what people enjoy listening to within these recent years and get them into the game where possible. These are not like confirmed or announced, but we’re definitely looking into how to get more excitement out of the game through the song choices that we make in DLC as well.
In addition to the popular songs around the world, we’re also thinking of what other SEGA title songs or SEGA feature songs would be appropriate or people would like to have within Samba de Amigo Party Central. For example, if you really have a favourite song from a past SEGA title, let’s say Space Channel 5 or the Sonic songs that have not yet been publicised, please feel free to give us that feedback because we’re looking at receiving more and more user feedback over time, and then really responding to those where we can.
Nakamura: As mentioned throughout this interview, the Samba de Amigo experience is both a rhythm game, especially with Samba de Amigo Party Central is also a party game.
With Samba de Amigo, we hope to make communication and socialising a lot more fun and a lot more interactive, both in real life and within the game world as well. We hope that you will be using Samba de Amigo Party Central as a means of enjoying time with your family, your loved ones and your friends.
Additionally, when we’ve also mentioned this, but for example, if you see just the gameplay, it really isn’t something they can understand right away. If you do get the chance to purchase the game and play it, and you’ve truly had a fun time with your family and friends we encourage that you will post about it, make short videos about it on TikTok, any other social media. As for the face that you’ve had a good time with Samba de Amigo Party Central.
We would like to thank Shun Nakamura for taking the time to answer our questions. We would also like to thank SEGA for setting up this exclusive interview for us.
Samba de Amigo: Party Central is set to release on 30th August 2023 for the Nintendo Switch. For more information, do check out the game’s official website here.