Shakin’ it with Shakka to Tambourine

Even though it’s considered the more obscure spinoff of Sega’s Samba de Amigo, Shakka still managed to see three arcade releases in two years (the original Shakka to Tambourine in 2000, then Shakka to Tambourine Motto Norinori Shinkyoku Tsuika!! and Shakka to Tambourine Chou PowerUp Chuu! in 2001), and finally the Minimoni-flavoured Minimoni Shakka to Tambourine da Pyon! for Playstation in 2002.

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The arcade games ran on Sega’s NAOMI hardware (not entirely sure if that’s GD-ROM or cart at the moment) and feature a mix of J-pop and licensed anime tracks. In contrast Minimoni features nineteen tunes – ten from Minimoni themselves and nine Morning Musume songs.

Just like its maraca-monkey’d older brother Shakka requires players to waft a brightly coloured plastic instrument around in time to the beat of the music, slapping the large yellow button on the side for red markers, shaking the tambourine for blue ones, and moving while shaking in various arcs at other points (Shakka’s take on Samba’s poses).

If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of Sega’s take on the rhythm-action genre it basically works like this – the sensor bar by your feet can tell how high and on which side you’re holding your tambourine, which is then translated to a position on the screen. During the song blue and red dots move from the centre to one of six positions on the outer edge, and it’s up to you to position the tambourine as required and then either shake the tambourine, whack the button on the side, or swing your arms around (while shaking the tambourine) in the pattern shown.

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There are four difficulty levels to choose from - easy, normal, hard -  and a special beginner’s setting that simplifies the beat patterns and reduces the number of possible positions to just three (two high, one low).

As with most music games there’s an emphasis on getting a good score by keeping in time with the rhythm and maintaining a mistake-free combo, although as any grade above a D is considered a pass really it’s more important to have fun and let the high scores come naturally.

So it’s not as soul-crushingly difficult as Konami’s Bemani series and it also feels easier than Samba too but not in a bad way – sometimes Samba feels like the tech’s just not up to the task asked by the dance pattern. There are two reasons for this – first off, Samba has three positions on either side in a high/mid/low arrangement, making for a much smaller positional zone for the sensors to recognise and generally being more awkward for players too. Shakka just uses a three high, three low pattern, so for everything other than the wave-your-arms-about arcs the sensor only has to distinguish which side you’re on and whether you’re high or low. The second reason is a very simple fix to the sensor dangling off the controller cord – in Samba it’s a bit further down and swings quite freely when in use making for more inaccurate readings whereas Shakka’s is higher up and doesn’t move about half as much.

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If you need to give your wrists a rest the game does let you play using a standard Playstation controller; the d-pad used for height and direction and O and X are used as replacements for hitting and shaking the tambourine. There are two sides to this – on the one hand it does work and means that if you’re unable to source a giant plastic tambourine from the other side of the planet you’ve still got a working game. On the other it’s really nothing like playing it properly and should be considered for use in emergency tambourining situations only.

To keep you busy there are five modes of play – the standard arcade-like mode that has you play two (or if you’re good, three) tunes and then hopefully rank on the high score table, co-op and versus 2P modes, a party mode for up to four people that allows you to take turns with a group of friends, and a few fun minigames – mosquito-swatting, noughts and crosses (much more fun than the idea sounds), and balloon popping. Unlockable Minimoni photos round off the package and give players not obsessive over scores something to work towards.

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I’ve felt for a while that the Shakka series is considered Samba’s poor cousin due to not possessing a niche-cool Dreamcast port and the perception that using a single peripheral makes for a simpler game, but it’s just as hectic and as much fun as Sonic Team’s Latin-soaked classic – and with the changes to the sensor and positioning I’d say it’s a much fairer game too. If you’re after more Samba, you need this. If you’ve always been interested in Samba and don’t have a Dreamcast hanging around, you need this. Shakka to Tambourine isn’t the “lesser” title in any way, it simply had the misfortune of being released very late in the lifespan of a format that was already drowning in music games.

I thought it might be interesting to share a few photos of Shakka to Tambourine and Samba de Amigo side-by-side, just to try and dive home how similar they are -

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You can find the painfully bright Shakka to Tambourine official website over here (archived) - link