Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan Reader Review
Scientifically speaking, there are various forms of energy. ‘Potential’ is one. ‘Kinetic’ is another. When the Nintendo DS was released, gamers pawed at its touch screen function awkwardly, knowing that at some point, the potential of this clever little gadget was going to be realized, and that surely, somewhere, there were developers attempting to capture this potential energy and turn into something more…well, kinetic.
INIS have turned all that potential energy into Ouendan! While adorned with all the charming style typical of an eccentric Japanese game, given half a chance Ouendan reveals it’s startling depth and accessibility as a videogame. It’s rhythm action stripped of extraneous guff and impenetrable hardcore appeal that characterizes recent additions to the DDR lineage.
The Ouendan! (literally, ‘Cheer Squad!’) are a strange blend of fascistic design (all black overcoats and red armbands) and benevolent intentions, called into action by various (and varyingly sane) inhabitants of the games’ fictional world when they reach breaking point – be it a boy trying to concentrate on his homework while his family kick up a racket next door, Cleopatra attempting to lose weight, or a pair of hapless policemen fending off an army of stomping robots - who literally cheer them on through their problems. As each ‘level’ gets underway, you get a snippet of story setting up your journey through the next 3 minutes or so. As you play the story progresses through three or four stages in a fantastic comic-panel styled anime on the top screen, while the Ouendan themselves dance away on the bottom screen, guided by your hand.
The mechanics of the game are simple enough, with credit due to the fantastic touch screen control and clarity of your objectives. Your task is to simply tap the dot as an ever-decreasing circle closes in on numbered dots in time to various J-Pop tunes (covers, but so obscure for Westerners they may as well be the original artist). Occasionally circles fill your screen, requiring to be spun as fast as possible, or long ‘tubes’ appear requiring your stylus to guide a rolling ball as accurately as possible – successful performing of which are essential for reaching high-scores. Mess up your timing, or miss too many beats, and your status bar will sharply drop and the Ouendan will hang their heads in despondent failure.
There is a very substantial yet very simple joy to everything Ouendan achieves. Much like the Katamari series, it’s almost as if INIS looked at the po-faced nature of modern videogames and set out to create something completely at odds with what’s expected. That’s not to say Ouendan is without some surprisingly tender emotional moments – the story of ‘Over The Distance’, while cribbed from the awful film ‘Ghost’, is still a surprising heartfelt turn after the relative brashness of the games opening half. It’ll last you, too, with the challenge of the S-Ranks enough for anyone considering themselves an expert.
It’s unfortunately not without flaws either. The stubby default stylus doesn’t lend itself too well to the busier levels, which rely on quick taps in close proximity to one another - often forcing you to obscure your view with your hand - and when the difficulty shifts the ease in which you can fail through no fault of your own is occasionally frustrating. The circle-spinning, while often a welcome relief from a particularly intense stage and a good chance to recover some of your status bar can sometimes feel at odds with the music and context of a level. Their inclusion in the aforementioned ‘Over The Distance’ seems slightly perfunctory, as the song itself is simple enough (even on the most difficult setting) to follow that the change of pace is pronounced and even unwelcome in the midst of perfect run.
That said, Ouendan is quite simply a Great Game. It invites the player to revel in its eccentricities, makes the player central to their own success. You never feel that you’ve fluked a level no matter how desperately you seem to be hanging on and failed runs are, a vast majority of the time, entirely your fault. While not perfect, its flaws are certainly forgivable, and in truth, pretty forgettable as you begin to master it. Easily recommended as an essential import, Ouendan is a great reminder of the energy Nintendo’s DS is bringing to videogaming.
9 / 10