Elite Beat Agents Reader Review
From the simple mantra "You can do it" hearteningly spoken to a child through to the raucous yells of "Get in there!" heard throughout the terraces of football stadiums around the country. We all have the desire to cheer on those we have an emotional attachment to. The inverse is also true as most have moments when beset with self-doubt that would be eased with some supportive words of encouragement.
This is where Elite Beat Agents for the DS steps in. A fundamentally simple rhythm action game where your accuracy in timing of stylus gestures dictates the failure or success of a group of well, cheerleaders, in their efforts to help needy souls through difficult times.
Utilising the same engine as the Japanese game Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan this is an entirely new interpretation of a cult classic and importers favourite. The opportunity was not lost on Nintendo but with the dependance upon Japanese music, humour and cultural references Ouendan would never be a candidate for release elsewhere in the world with localisation alone. So the original developers were charged with creating a more Western-friendly followup.
My initial high hopes for Elite Beat Agents were quickly dampened by the opening levels. I'm not your average teenage American so can't empathise with the struggles of young babysitters flirting with jocks nor do I care about how a pair of vacuous female celebs fair on a desert island. The accompanying music worried me with my ears being bombarded by the likes of Avril Lavigne and Ashlee Simpson. So the potential barriers to my enjoyment due to cultural differences were still there and if anything in a more offputting form than Ouendan.
However once I started tapping away on the numbered markers on screen in time to the cover band's riffs - none of the tracks are performed by the original artists - I quickly forgot my prejudices. Markers are linked to form chains which must be followed and all have animated concentric circles prompting the timing of your taps. As I honed my skills at sliding the stylus back and forth to 'follow the ball' I began to get into the swing of the game and enjoy my achievements. By the time I reached the crescendos of each song and rapidly span the wheels that fill the screen my previous misgivings were all but gone.
The better your timing with taps and slides and faster your spins the more points you score. This is all accompanied by subtle visual and audible feedback helping you intuitively tell if you are doing well or not. With every unbroken chain a multiplier increases so the key to really high scores is not missing a single note.
The humour involved in many of the stories is as unavoidably catchy as the upbeat tunes. The urge to have 'just one more go' when failing to keep the 'Elite-O-Meter' high enough to progress is difficult to fight. The comic plot twists dependant upon success or failure throughout each level lessen the frustration felt by 'losing' and help to keep you engrossed. I even re-attempted some levels purely to see all the possibilities available.
As well as the aforementioned selection of pop there should be something to keep most people happy with unlockable tracks penned by everyone from Queen and Deep Purple to Madonna and Destiny's Child each accompanied by their own narrative. The basic three types of action are superbly interwoven with the music giving both a challenge to overcome and a real flow to your stylus movements making the whole experience all the more rewarding when perfected. The result being that whether you like the song or not becomes largely irrelevant.
In Single Player mode there are the usual array of difficulty levels and hidden tracks to unlock as well as different agents to command. Multiplayer allows 4 players to compete in co-op or head-to-head modes on either a limited subset of songs in single-cart play or all the host's unlocked songs in multi-cart play. The basic game mechanic is the same as Single Player though. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!
While this may not have the more obscure concepts (or j-pop tunes) it wholeheartedly embraces the spirit of it's Japanese counterpart. If you're a fan of rhythm action games this is a must-buy with the new content enough to make it worthwhile for even those who previously imported Ouendan. For others this is the perfect opportunity to discover what the genre is all about. EBA could only work on the DS and shows how the platform has helped developers to bring some fresh ideas to handheld gaming. It doesn't take itself too seriously and if you don't either you're in for a treat.
9 / 10