Monday, May 01, 2006


Rhythm and Ennui

So once upon a time, I bought a Sega Dreamcast. And as I was fishing around for some good games to get for it, I happened upon a little thing called Samba de Amigo. The first thing that caught my eye was the maracas controller.

Maracas. Controller.

I was smitten. The 80 dollar price tag for the controller alone was a little hard to swallow, but the novelty of it was overwhelming. This was the sort of stuff that Americans never, ever got to play with. And that little geeky collector voice in the back of my head told me that this thing would be the next Power Glove. Who cares if the games are any good or if the thing even works? The entire point of it is how cool it looks.

So I blew some serious money on the maracas controller -- the last one, it seemed, in my city. Buying the game to go along with it was an afterthought. I took the thing home and set it up and my mind was blown.

Music and Augmented Reality

I'll never forget my first game of Samba de Amigo. It was an amazing experience. As long as I was holding the maracas, the game knew what I was doing. My real life, physical actions were being translated and incorporated directly into the game world. Who cared if that game world was basically six little circles set up in a hexagon shape and that those actions amounted to smacking little blue balls as they floated through space? For the first game, the novelty was enough to get me through.

As I got better at the movements and the timing, I began to realize that I wasn't just batting away little blue balls -- I was making music. The controller was my instrument, the game was my score, and I was performing. The entire video game experience had been turned on its ear. Most games put the fun on the screen if you perform the dull task of manipulating the controller. This game was putting the fun squarely on the things I was doing rather than what I was seeing.

I fell madly, madly in love. It began a deep, abiding affinity for musical games that would last for years to come. Dance Dance Revolution was too tough for my tastes, but I fell in comfortably with Space Channel 5 and Donkey Konga. I would eventually buy a Playstation 2 for Karaoke Revolution and its sequels. I finally found a DDR more to my speed with DDR: Mario Mix.


The music game to get last Christmas was Guitar Hero. It got glowing reviews from everywhere, including a non-music-minded friend of mine who got to play a demo of it at Best Buy. I spent some time looking for it, but it was out of stock for months.

The other day I found it at a local Target -- the mighty Guitar Hero playset. I picked up the box and looked it over. Fret buttons, a spot to strum, and a whammy bar on the controller. A selection of rock music to play. And a familiar, reassuring screenshot of colored symbols being struck as they reach an indicated place on the screen.

I put the box back down and walked away.

I do dearly love my music games. But after so many years of drumming, dancing, singing, and shaking, I have to wonder just how many novelty controllers one person needs. I've been like a drug addict, searching for years to find something that'll help me relive that first, perfect high. Nothing has ever been quite as phenomenal as that first time. I'll never forget Amigo and Ulala, and it's becoming clear that I'm never going to be able to replace them.

I think I'm off music games for now. Although I'd love to see a new Samba game for the Revolution. The controllers seem like a perfect fit, and my maracas broke years ago.


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