Sega's Shun Nakamura talks about taking Samba de Amigo into VR

Fresh off Thursday's announcement from the Meta Gaming Showcase, Shacknews speaks with producer Shun Nakamura about bringing Samba de Amigo into the VR space.


One of the more unexpected announcements to come during Thursday's Meta Quest Gaming Showcase involved the folks at Sega. With Samba de Amigo set to jam onto Nintendo Switch later this summer with a new title, Meta revealed that the Quest 2 will be home to the series' first VR title. Samba de Amigo VR is a new step forward for the franchise that first started back on the Sega Dreamcast just before the turn of the century. Naturally, a jump to such a drastically different platform has led to a few questions.

Fortunately, Shacknews had the opportunity to reach out to legendary producer Shun Nakamura, who has been jamming to Samba de Amigo since the old Dreamcast days. He talks about the transition to VR, challenges in development, the beats that players can expect to dance to, and what the future holds for Samba de Amigo as it gradually rumbas towards its 25th anniversary.

Samba de Amigo VR rhythm gameplay

Source: Sega

Shacknews: What made you want to make Samba de Amigo into a VR game? What makes it a good fit for virtual reality?

Shun Nakamura, Producer: Samba de Amigo was the first work I directed, and one that I wanted to make again if I had the chance. I was also very interested in VR hardware and wanted to challenge myself as a creator. There is a big trend in the gaming industry to revive past IPs, and I thought this might be a good opportunity, so I proposed the revival of Samba and was able to take up the challenge.

There are many dark events and incidents going on around the world, so I hope that playing this game will make players forget about the bad things and enjoy something upbeat and exciting. In Samba, there is a feature where the surrounding environment becomes more lively depending on how well you play, and this is a very good match with VR. You really feel like you are making these festivals happen. You will also be able to see all the different Amigos when the fever gauge is maxed out!

Shacknews: What elements of the classic series can be found in this new game?

Nakamura: Basically, the underlying game system remains the same: you hold the maracas, a rhythm ball will fly to you, and you shake the maracas to the rhythm of the ball, while sometimes making a pose. However, we have added various elements from the perspective of "How can we better demonstrate the concept of 'silly fun'" and make it more enjoyable. We have a gimmick we call "happenings," in which a roulette appears that requires various rhythmic reactions.

We developed these gimmicks in order to inject a youthful spirit like that of TikTok into the game. The game is not simply a matter of doing the obvious, but requires various ad-lib performances to the music, which I think is very interesting, and will naturally bring a smile to the faces of those who are watching, too.

Shacknews: What new possibilities opened up to the team in VR that otherwise were not available in a traditional console game?

Nakamura: This time in VR, we have brought the games of the past back into the current VR world in the form of rhythm balls flying from the front. In the past, the game was played from a slightly bird's eye view, with the player looking at what was on the screen in front of them in a static way.

But now with VR, the player can become immersed while playing the game as the notes fly directly towards them. This makes the whole world more exciting and gives the game a much greater sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. There is also a gimmick called "face puzzles" in the happenings, where you must move your head as you play. I had a lot of fun coming up with the idea of what the device can do, which I feel is something that is only possible in VR.

Playing with friends in Samba de Amigo VR

Source: Sega

Shacknews: Were there any major challenges you encountered over the course of the game's development?

Nakamura: This was our first experience with VR, so we faced many difficulties. In particular, how do you get the timing right for the rhythm balls flying towards you? How far forward should the ball be displayed when you're posing? How far away should the screen be displayed even when pausing? We also made various adjustments to other systems, such as the position of the six beat frames (the UI can also be adjusted in the Options menu to suit the person playing the game).

Also, since we started the project with young developers who didn't know the fundamental concepts of Samba de Amigo, it took time for them to understand that we were pursuing "silly fun," which is different from the usual rules of music games. However, from our discussions, these younger developers came up with new ideas, and as a result, I think we were able to provide everyone with a more enjoyable approach compared to past titles.

Shacknews: In what ways will players be able to enjoy this game online? Can friends dance along to different songs? Will players be able to share their performances?

Nakamura: This time we have a mode called "World Party", where eight live players from around the world and 12 NPC Amigos gather to party together and compete to see who is the best. In this mode, the songs that play are randomly selected. Various events can occur and items can be used, which makes it very exciting. Casual players can have a lot of fun, while experienced gamers will have a great time as well putting their skills to the test. I can see the battles really heating up! I hope you will enjoy the party with people from all over the world.

Regarding sharing your own performance, that is not a feature in the game.

Shacknews: There are 40 songs with more on the way. What is the process in selecting a Samba de Amigo song? What determines whether a song fits with this series?

Nakamura: In the past, Samba did not originally start with the intention of selling to a global audience, so we used Western music (non-Japanese music) that Japanese people knew, such as music used in commercials in Japan. We also chose songs that were easy to get into the groove of. However, with Samba becoming a big hit, some people wanted to play with Japanese songs, and others wanted to dance to genres other than only Latin music. In considering what songs to include in the new game, we carefully handpicked the tracklist with these thoughts in mind, along with the hope that people around the world can enjoy their favorite genres.

In our mind, the criteria for the song selection is that the songs should be fun and enjoyable. This "enjoyable" part may sound simple, but the key point is that there must be dynamic changes within the rhythm of the music. Without that, it's impossible to create intensity in the placement of the notes, for example, and players will get bored with it.

We also selected songs from an international perspective, so we combined the opinions of various people, including development members, overseas staff, and overseas advisors, in selecting the first 40 songs. In addition to that, nowadays there is this diversity of taste in music and what each of us likes. We are trying to respond to this ongoing trend by creating future DLC content that'll be pulled from a variety of genres so that people can enjoy various types of grooves.

Shacknews: Lastly, this new game takes Samba de Amigo to an exciting new place. We're approaching the 25th anniversary of the original arcade game. Are there any other ways you may be looking to celebrate?

Nakamura: This time, for the first time in a very long time, we were able to revive Samba in the modern age, and although it is a very old game by today's standards, by adding a modern taste to it, we feel that many young people are enjoying it (and of course, fans of the original game as well). We are planning various other developments in addition to the information that is currently available, so I hope that you will look forward to them as well. This year, let's wave our maracas and get excited, alone or together!

Samba de Amigo VR is coming this fall to Meta Quest 2 and Meta Quest Pro. That's not the only game in the series set to release this year. For non-VR players, look for Samba de Amigo: Party Central to come to Nintendo Switch later this summer.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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