Japanese gamers shake it, shake it!

Tokyo - The challenge of shaking your maracas to the beat of the samba is taking young players by storm at video arcade game parlours around Japan.

It's the latest in a new breed of musical challenges - along with guitars and drums - that are edging out the more complex, martial art video combat games.

Samba de Amigo, by Sega Enterprises, only demands that you insert ¥200 (about R13), pick up two maracas and shake them in time to the Latin music.

"Strike a pose," and "Shake it, shake it," the machine commands shy, first-time players.

"At first, I really hesitated to play this game but now it is one of my favorites," said one young man, Yoshikazu Kasukabe, at a games arcade in central Tokyo.

"It is my way of getting rid of stress. I cannot keep up with the other latest arcade games, but with this I can play naturally."

Hanae Sato, a 19-year-old beauty school student, said she had dumped the latest craze of so-called para-para dancing - a stylised slow-moving disco dance - for the Latin beat.

"It's really the right rhythm for summer," she said.

"This music makes my summer nights feel more summery. I have never stuck with such a game before, but I can groove to this more than para-para," she said.

Sega introduced Samba de Amigo in December last year and has sold 3 000 of the machines since, at ¥1,28-million (about R80 000) each.

"Since our game machine industry regards sales over 600 units as a hit, this product is a great hit," said Sega spokesman Yasushi Nagumo.

"When we started selling this product, Latin music was popular here in Japan and the way to play is just simple. You just swing maracas. That's why this product gained such popularity."

Most players were aged from their teens to their 30s, said Nagumo.

"Since Latin music makes people feel brighter and people don't usually dance to music in daily life, they enjoy the game. At the same time, they are relieving their mental stress by playing," he said.

Sega had no sales forecast for Samba de Amigo, but it planned to develop other machines along similar lines, he added.

The samba already has strong musical competition.

Toru Kuwahara, a 21-year-old university student, is an addict of Guitar Freaks Third Mix, developed by Konami, in which players have to play a model guitar to music displayed on a video screen.

He has already mastered the 50s and 70s world hits on offer and is now gearing up to learn Johnny B Good.

"I play guitar as a hobby, so I don't hesitate to play in front of people," he said. "I feel great when a lot of people are watching me."

Konami said the game was gaining popularity, but refused to give sales figures.

"Until recently, most of the game machines were the combat-situation type, which are difficult to play," said a Konami spokeswoman, who declined to be named.

"But music is deeply ingrained in our lives and if we play in arcades, not only the player, but also his or her companions can enjoy it," she added. "Players can feel as if they are playing real instruments."

Another Konami hit is Drummania Second Mix, in which a player just keeps the beat on a drum.

"I'm tired with playing games of killing each other," said young Drummania fanatic Shuichi Heiza."This game is very peaceful and can get rid of your stress."

Musical-arcade games really took off in Japan with Dance, Dance Revolution, introduced in 1998, which consists of an electronic platform that lights up in different places to show players where to put their feet.

At the same time, a video screen displays a virtual dancer going through the intended steps. - Sapa-AFP


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