One of my favourite restaurants has this dish, ostensibly nothing more than a filo pastry with a bit of cheese and some posh ham thrown together with some nicely done veggies, that is so unbelievably delicious that I would happily wax lyrical about it for the entirity of this review. However, rather than subject you to a sub-par excursion into the delights of fine cuisine, I simply want to demonstrate in a practical way the understanding of the appeal of Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan!. Very simple ingredients done well are a combination of love and joy, and so is this game.
Touch me up
Gameplay consists of tapping or rolling the stylus on numbered touchpads that appear on the screen sequentially in rhythm with whichever song you happen to have chosen. It's all incredibly intuitive, with different colours to distinguish between, for example, two sets of touchpads from numbers 1 to 4. Best to start on the harder of the two difficulty settings initially offered - a malevolent beast of a third degree is unlockable on completion - as the easy level is just that little bit too easy that it becomes, paradoxically, more of a challenge. (I've beaten housemates 8-0 on six-starred Pro Evo 5, for example, but struggle to get through complete novices more than 2-0.) Nailing the touchpad at the proper moment is indicated visually, by a shrinking wireframe circle, so that you tap the screen when it touches the edge of the touchpad, but in practice it pays to simply turn the DS sound up to full volume and to try to ascertain the rhythm. Like a gymnastic event, it's all about being in the zone.
A perfectly-timed beat grabs you 300 points, with 100 for a slight mis-time and a measly 50 for a complete miscue. What this statistic fails to demonstrate is the meanness of margin for error. The difference between a 300 and a 50 is probably 1/4 of a second. Max. On top of that, you have an ever-decreasing life bar, which is only topped up by getting 300s or 100s. Missing beats is catastrophic, not only do you lose precious health but, more severely, you lose your rhythm. On the other hand, combos of 20 or more start earning you multipliers, and scores of 1000000+ are not unheard of, much as they might seem it when you first play.
Smile, smile, smile! Cry, cry, cry!
The styling is of a kind that we're going to see proliferate on DS, that of manga. If this, and J-pop, constitute for you a torture worse than death you might be best off hoping for a Euro-American version. You might think, of course, that the culturally-specific art direction actually increases its appeal. You never really have a clue what the cartoon stories of any of the fifteen insanely hummable tracks are, but this just adds to the delight of its lunacy. Apparently the songs themselves are cover versions of quite recent Japanese hits but you'd never tell without being an afficianado. Besides, anyone who has experienced dodgy karaoke lately will be familiar with the pitfalls of synth-heavy travesties of hit singles, so all in all its better that you haven't been exposed to them before.
Obviously the game's difficulty and its styling could be somewhat alienating for some players; if nothing else, there are those who will lose patience with it. I've found most of my friends found their co-ordination improves with practice, and importantly, they never got bored doing this. Ouendan!'s three- or four-minute intensity is bite-sized enough to always want to step back up to the plate. It is a tough cookie and you'll probably have to have several attempts at most of the levels. Then another load when you play the unlocked hard (and believe me, you must). You'll probably break your DS by throwing it against the wall so much (and then have an excuse to buy the DS lite - hurrah!) You will swear blind you are not wasting any more of your life sweating over a series of 1s and 0s. But ohmydeityofchoice its addictive. Ouendan!'s simple mechanic will drag you back. It always will. Like Super Monkey Ball on the 'Cube, in the back of your mind you know damn well that it isn't the game that's conspiring your fall unto failure but you, the player, failing to make the grade. If it's uncompromising, it's the good kind, in that every success is sheer satisfaction. Not many games have the exhiliration of a challenge these days. Ouendan! has restored my faith.
I've started with a food metaphor and now I'm hungry so I'll be brief. Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! (lit. trans. 'Ready! Battle! Male Cheerleaders!' according to a Japanese friend) is like eating Marmite. It is uniquely delicious but not for everyone. It is straightforward but compelling, with a charm all of its own. Even your gran could play it (albeit, rubbishly). Yes, its hard, but at least half the population like it that way. In short, it is without a doubt the best import game you can get right now for your DS. Most of you will like it. A lot of you might well love it.
9 / 10