Version tested: DS
Or, to give it its full complement of titular insanity, Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2. I could translate that as "Burn Up! Hot-Blooded Rhythm Souls: Hey! Fight! Cheer Squad 2", but it wouldn't make much more sense. In a glorious, kanji-covered, supremely Japanese way, this is the kind of game where translation would add little. Ouendan will never make sense in any language.
In this second instalment in the series - third, if you count the western Elite Beat Agents - the black-coat-clad all-male cheering squad are back in action, popping up from the most unlikely places to cheer on hapless citizens as they battle their various problems. They are joined by a rival cheering squad, who wear blue military school style uniforms (and foppish hairdos), and make a dramatic entrance on the deck of a yacht a couple of missions into the game.
In essence, Ouendan 2 follows exactly the same pattern as its predecessor. Each stage sees a character faced with a problem, which is illustrated using a semi-animated manga sequence; a catchy Jpop or Jrock song fires up, and the Ouendan then appears to do its funky cheering dance. As before, you have to tap points on the screen or drag balls along tracks in time with the music, with the number and arrangement of the points becoming increasingly complex as you advance through the levels.
At regular points throughout the song, your attention will be directed back up to the top screen to see how the character for whom you're cheering is getting along - and will get a brief scene showing either great success or epic failure, depending on how accurate your stylus-tapping has been so far. Finally, you'll get an overall score for the level, and will be judged either to have passed or failed. Simple as anything - but utterly, utterly compelling, as anyone who has played Ouendan or EBA can tell you.
Springtime of Youth!
So, aside from the single, core argument in favour of Ouendan 2 - namely "it's more Ouendan", a positive factor as unshakeably true as it is boringly obvious - what else does this sequel have to offer?
First off, Ouendan 2 imports all of the improvements which we saw in Elite Beat Agents back into the Japanese branch of the series. So, for example, the Easy mode is now actually easy, which means that you'll be able to unlock songs even if you're not very good at the game.
The storytelling system gives you the option to skip forward past intros, which means that when you retry a song you'll never have to sit through any of the prologue sections. There's also an extended tutorial level, which is worth playing even if you're an old hand at Ouendan, since it's really very funny - and is capped off with a wonderful sequence where you cheer a cat on in her race to escape from a barking dog, all to the strains of a disgustingly catchy martial theme.
Like Elite Beat Agents, Ouendan 2 offers a 3D world map in place of the 2D town of the previous game. Like the original, though, this is still a town rather than a rotating globe; it's a minor touch, but the 3D really gives it a certain life, especially thanks to the trains and cars which wind their way through the town as you pan around looking for more citizens in trouble.
Ouendan 2 also builds on its predecessor - and, indeed, on Elite Beat Agents - in the quality of its storytelling. Not in the sense that its writers will be winning the Booker Prize any time soon, but rather in terms of how playful and experimental the game is with the manga comic format it uses for its stories.
Simple animation frames, pop-up sub-frames, moving dialogue bubbles and the likes are lavished on the simple tales being told in each sequence. It's absolutely gorgeous to look at, and very funny even if you have no idea what's actually going on, thanks to the dense reams of Japanese on each screen - none of which, we might add, detract from your enjoyment in any way.
The stories themselves, too, remain lovably bonkers. A doctor in an overwork frenzy must "heal" a microwave and a variety of other appliances alongside his existing patients. A businessman blasts off from the spaceport to set up a department store catering to aliens. A boy who turns into a werewolf at the drop of a hat has to make it through a date with the girl of his dreams without changing. A small child with a bed-wetting problem must make it through the night without pissing himself. And so on.
Running alongside each individual story, there's also a sense of story progression as the two Ouendan teams battle against one another to be the city's top cheer squad - although, in typical fashion, they pool their talents at the very end, in a final mission whose premise is so singularly stupid and magnificent that it makes the last game's asteroid-deflection mission look perfectly sane.
Fiercely Burning Heart of Love!
In other words, in gameplay terms, Ouendan 2 does exactly what you'd expect; it takes everything we saw in Ouendan and Elite Beat Agents, concludes that most of it was unbroken and requires no fixing, and merely tweaks and nudges the formula for our continued tapping delight. Lovely.
Sadly, however, we can't conclude this review without a single caveat in the mix - because there's a niggling but deeply worrying suspicion in our minds that Ouendan 2's sole failure may lie in a very crucial part of the game. Namely, the music.
The first Ouendan was a peculiar gem, because the vast majority of people outside Japan who played the game had never heard of the bands or tracks it featured - most of which were fairly widely known in Japan. However, what could have been a crippling flaw with the game's import chances turned out to be a master-stroke, because the music was chosen with an ear to upbeat, fun, unusual tracks. Plenty of Ouendan players ended up discovering artists like Asian Kung-Fu Generation, Tomoyasu Hotei, Kishidan, Yaida Hitomi and L'Arc~en~Ciel through the game - quite the reverse of what the developers had probably originally planned.
Ouendan 2's music, to our ears, simply doesn't have the same qualities which made the soundtrack of the first game so endearing. Sadly, if anything, the range of music included in the game has been watered down - so that rather than focusing on happy, melodic pop tracks, it's now largely focused on slower, more conventional ballads.
We know that Japan loves its boring ballads - to the extent that even artists who have built a career on fun pop or hip-hop songs, like the massive-selling Koda Kumi (she of Final Fantasy X-2 intro song fame), are expected to churn out a number of dull ballads each year. Hell, there are plenty of artists, like the inexplicably top-selling Mr Children, whose entire discographies yield up not a single track that isn't an excruciatingly middle of the road ballad. (Don't look so smug, Brits - remember that you are responsible for inflicting Travis on the world.)
However, there was no need to inflict this particular national obsession on Ouendan, surely? Yet in this second game, that seems to be precisely what has happened. Certainly, there are stand-out moments - The Checkers' "Julia ni Shoshin" is brilliant fun, as is FLOW's "Okuru Kotoba", and Mihimaru GT's J-hiphop "Kibun Jojo" is another highlight that pops up early in the game. However, they are buffered by a disappointingly large number of ballad tracks that have none of the flair or pizzaz of the music in the original game.
This isn't to say that the track-listing for Ouendan 2 is awful, or even bad; it still has quite a number of catchy tunes that you'll kick yourself for humming a week later. It's just that it doesn't stand up well in comparison to the tracks we got to play in the original game, and we're sure that many of the returning artists (Yaida Hitomi, Hotei and Kishidan, to name three relevant examples) could have provided tracks that were much, much better suited to this style of game. Oh well; Ouendan 3, perhaps?
Spinning Bird Ki... Wait, Wrong Game.
Back on the more positive side of things, there's a lot to love about Ouendan 2 on the multiplayer front, which players of the original will probably be delighted to hear - assuming, of course, that they have any friends. Whereas previously you needed multiple copies of the game to play even the most basic game, Ouendan 2 supports four players off one cartridge, and even lets you pick a side (black or blue) and team up to fight epic cheerleading battles.
There's also, of course, plenty to accomplish on the unlocking side of things. You'll find yourself working your way through the various difficulty levels, unlocking new cheerleading teams as you go, before finally reaching the ultimate level - where you'll get a chance to play as female cheerleading squads from each rival school.
Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2 is every bit as quirky, funny and gloriously mental as its expansive name would suggest. We stand by our caveat over the music selection; we don't think you'll enjoy these tracks as much as the offerings of the original Ouendan. However, we're not sure that should put you off enjoying an otherwise superb sequel to one of the DS' most enjoyable gems. Ouendan 2 passes the crucial test; it made me grin like a happy lunatic the whole way through a couple of long and otherwise painful public transport journeys. Mission accomplished - or rather...
8 / 10