SummaryAmong the elite
The GoodI became a lifelong fan of rhythm games as soon as I passed my first song on Dance Dance Revolution. However, one area that rhythm games weren't fully capable was on portable systems. There was simply no way to take all of that beat-matching goodness with me on the road.
That is, until 2006. Nintendo decided to take a risk and publish what is still one of the weirdest, yet most outrageously fun games to ever emerge from their halls. Elite Beat Agents.
Elite Beat Agents is actually a sequel of sorts to a Japanese-only title relased the year prior called "Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan!". Rather than simply translate the original title into English and release it in the West, the developers decided to create a brand new game using the same gameplay but with a more Western-friendly style. The result was Elite Beat Agents.
The premise is that you play as a squad of dancing secret agents/ superheroes. Whenever someone has a problem in their life, the Elite Beat Agents are sent to help motivate them to solve it with the power of MUSIC! The formula for all of the songs is generally the same. First, you'll watch the introductory cutscene introducing the character and his/her problem. Then, you'll hear the leader shout "Agents, GO!" as the song starts up. As you play the character on the top screen will be shown either winning or losing depending on how well you're doing. At the end of a certain section of a song, the gameplay will shut off while you view a new cutscene showing whether your dancing helped or not. These can be either good or bad depending on if your life bar is above or below the yellow line. Regardless of what happens, you'll keep playing until either your lifebar runs out, or you complete the song. There are three possible endings for a song- Failure, OK, and Excellent. You'll actually want to lose so you can see all of the outcomes and endings, some of which are quite hilarious.
The stories themselves are highly diverse. They can be as mundane as helping a girl babysit or win an audition, to as downright crazy as assisting a man battle zombies using peanuts. The game even attempts to rip out the heartstrings with a wonderfully sappy story about helping a little girl cope with the loss of her father at Christmastime. The final level is extremely epic, as you'll se every single character that you helped along the rest of the way, and actually consists of two songs instead of just one. When it comes to storytelling, EBA really does do it all.
All of this is merely window dressing for the actual gameplay itself, which is, to put it mildly, amazing. How it works is that you'll see circles appear on screen, which are surrounded by larger circles. The idea is to tap on the circles when the outer circle closes in on the smaller one, in rhythm to the beat. In addition, there are also slide prompts, where the goal is to follow a ball using your stylus until the prompt disapppears. You'll earn more points depending on how accurately you follow the rhythm. All of these prompts come in color groups, and after you've hit all of the circles in a group, you'll earn an extra point bonus based on how well you scored during that particular group. In addition, there are also occasional spinners, where the goal is to spin them around as much as you can to fill up a meter before the circle reaches the center. You'll want to hit as many of these as you can, as your life meter is constantly ticking downward. The only way to reverse it is to play well.
What I like about the gameplay is how natural and intuitively laid out the prompts for each of the songs are. You feel like you're conducting the agents with their choreography, especially on higher difficulty settings, and it all feels great. Many of the prompts land on specific peak beats in the music, so if you know the song well, you'll be able to follow along that much better on a first-time playthrough of a chart.
After you finish the story mode, you'll want to keep playing. There are several additional stages to unlock as well as a two-player battle mode, which is an absolute riot provided you can actually find someone who has a copy of this game. Even if they don't you can still play a limited selection of tunes thanks to the DS Download play capabilities.
The BadSome of the humor is a bit.. shall we say, weird, even for my left-of-center tastes in gaming. In fact, some of this game is surprisingly risque given its E10+ rating, both in the song lyrics as well as the content of the cutscenes. Even the unlockable super female agents wear skimpy outfits. While it's all in silly fun, a part of me feels that this game was rated incorrectly by the ESRB.
I HATED the spinners. Most of the time, the spinners come at the end of a song for sort of a big, flashy ending. However, the final song throws at least four of them at you in rapid-fire succession. Your hand will REALLY hurt during these sections, and missing the spinners will cost you a ton of your life meter.
In general the game is very unforgiving, especially on higher difficulties. I have to question Nintendo's decision to market this as a casual game under their Touch! Generations line given how tough this game can get.
The actual playlist of the game might be a sticking point for some. It is heavily pop based, and the sillier and frothier the song, the more likely you'll find it in the game. YMCA, Material Girl, Sk8r Boi (hated typing that), and La La are just a few of the selections, and those are all very, very pop songs. The hardest rock you'll get here is from Hoobastank, and it's not even one of their three most popular songs. Despite the inclusion of a few dark moments, this is definitely NOT a serious game musically. Even worse is that all of them are karaoke style "professional reproductions", with some of them not particularly close to the artists that they're mimicking. That certainly doesn't stop the game from working as well as it does, but it does occasionally put a damper on the fun when you realize that the cover is way off from the original. I actually liked this playlist growing up, but looking back on it, it perhaps doesn't have quite as much appeal to me now as it once did.
The Bottom LineTruly among the DS' many elite titles, EBA brought rhythm gaming in style to the DS, and in the process created a new kind of rhythm game that could be played on touchscreens. I got HOURS of gameplay out of this title growing up. In fact, this game was pretty much all that I played on my DS for an entire year