Despite some issues, Elite Beat Agents is simply one of the most refreshing rhythm titles to come along in years.
Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan is a Japanese rhythm game for the Nintendo DS in which you assume the role of an all-male cheer squad that helps random people by cheering them through music. Due to its high import rate, Nintendo wanted to bring the game to America, but since most of the characters and scenarios were based on Japan events, there was absolutely no way that the game was going to make it to other territories. Eventually, Nintendo decided to work on a North American version instead. The result of such endeavor is Elite Beat Agents, a bizarre and innovative portable game that’s extraordinarily fun to play.
As in its Japan-only spiritual counterpart, Elite Beat Agents’ main objective is to help people in trouble by tapping and sliding. You play as three members of a fictional government agency that motivate people by performing complex dance moves. The agents move through an overworld map that shows all the events available and each of these events represent a playable song. At the same time, songs are divided into sections and after each section you watch a cutscene that plays according to your performance. Once you have selected a difficulty and a song, the top screen shows a short story through comic book panels and the bottom screen shows the actual gameplay.
The mechanics involve performing different actions with the stylus. To play a song you need to take into account different types of markers. Hit markers have a number on them that indicate the order in which you need to tap them. Additionally, a circle that grows smaller over time surrounds the hit markers, allowing you to identify the exact timing. Phrase markers are two hit markers connected by a ball and when one of these comes up you need to slide the stylus to follow the ball’s path. Sometimes the ball goes back and forth. Lastly, there’s the elite spin marker, a giant spinning wheel that you need to rotate to fill a bar and get extra points. Apart from hitting markers, you also need to pay attention to the elite-o-meter, a gauge that measures how well you’re doing. If you miss a beat, the meter will drop and if it goes empty, you fail the mission.
The different stories complement the action quite well. You help a wannabe director (a parody of George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg) create his magnum opus: Meowzilla. You help a babysitter control three noisy children while she tries to ask her boyfriend to go steady. But as you make progress, the stories become more fantastic. For instance, at one point during the game you help the owner of a car manufacturer called Sushi Motors (no, really) recover the stolen plans of a prototype before the most important trade show takes place. It’s worth pointing out that while most of the stories are based on stereotypes, none of them is offensive or anything like that. On the contrary, most of them are good-natured and more importantly, they are laugh-out-loud funny.
Apart from the single-player campaign there are a few multiplayer modes that can be enjoyed locally. The two main modes are cooperative and competitive. In the former, one player hits the colored markers while the other hits the gray ones. In the latter, you can play against a friend or saved data. Playing in versus mode is quite similar to the single-player mode: the elite-o-meter fills up with each successful tap and the player with the fullest meter when the song ends wins. Interestingly, there’s an additional star meter that you can use to launch an attack to your opponent.
The game’s eclectic soundtrack is really enjoyable, since it covers a variety of genres. Songs include everything from Queen’s I was born to love you to the Village People’s YMCA. It’s worth mentioning that even though all the tracks featured in the game are covers, the soundtrack is really well put together. I may not be a huge fan of most of the artists that are featured in Elite Beat Agents, but I must admit that I enjoyed playing most songs.
Unfortunately, Elite Beat Agents isn’t without some issues. The most serious one is probably the poor quality of the audio. Compressing so many songs on such a small cartridge was probably not the best idea. As a result, it’s really hard to play the game without a good pair of earphones. Another problem with Elite Beat Agents is that it’s hard to tap the hit markers when the action heats up because your hand (and sometimes the stylus) blocks part of the bottom screen. Finally, the game ends in a “to be continued” screen and given Elite Beat Agents’ poor commercial reception, I doubt that it’ll ever receive a direct sequel.
In spite of these issues, Elite Beat Agents is simply one of the best rhythm games ever made. It’s engaging, funny and the best part is that it maintains the same bizarre qualities of its predecessor. In the end, Elite Beat Agents is simply one of the most refreshing rhythm titles to come along in years.