Elite Beat Agents (DS) – Review

Elite Beat Agents Game CoverThe surprise success of Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! as an import title for the Nintendo DS spurred into motion into getting a regional release of the game for the States as well as other regions around the world; unfortunately, the title, produced by iNiS (who have also produced Gitaroo Man), is rather solidly tied to Japan due to the music and story presented; even a translation would have been difficult to accomplish. Instead, they have decided to reversion Ouendan into “Elite Beat Agents”, which provides new songs and new stories and visuals, while still keeping the same great gameplay and overall approach to the game.

Story: B+

Similar to Ouendan, the story is based on a group of elite government agents, called the Elite Beat Agents, which are sent out to assist people when they call for help by dancing to music and improving their motivation. The stories are more Americanized, such as a babysitter trying to score with her boyfriend while tending to kids, or a movie director trying to make the next great blockbuster, but there’s still a hint of the Japanese background in the visuals (retaining the same stylings as they had back in Ouendan). Do well, and your story’s protagonist will succeed, while poor performance will lead to failure. While the stories have their unique aspects, they’re just a tad less quirky and witty than those from Ouendan, even though I now understand everything going on (nothing as funny as the old potter’s story), but they’re certainly not bad little tales.

Gameplay: A

The basic game of Elite Beat Agents is unchanged from Ouendan. As the music plays, spots will appear that require you to tap them with the stylus in order and in time with the music, You’re scored on how synchronized you are with the music, which improved both your score (even more so with long combos) and keeps your beat meter high and running. Miss a beat, and you’ll break your streak as well as take a hit on your beat meter, and if it drops low enough, you’ll fail and have to restart the song. Besides the beats, there’s tracks that you have to drag with your stylus in time to a marker and the music, as well as the spinning disk that requires a good number of spins to get the beat right. Each song has between 2 and 4 sections; after a section, you’re given an intermission scene which will depend on how well you’re done so far; if your beat meter is high enough, it’s a good outcome. Once you’ve completed the song successfully and a final scene, you’re given your stats and ranking for the song; you can now also save your performance (one save for any single song over all difficulty levels) to be used as ‘ghost’ data for yourself or that you can transfers to others. I did note that at least two of the stories have multiple endings depending on how well you were at the end of the song, which I do not believe was in Ouendan. A definite new feature is that when you fail, you have the option to replay the last section to see where you failed so that you know where to work at the next time.

Elite Beat Agents - Game Screen ShotWhile you play, you’ll have the Elite Beat Agents dancing in time to the rhythm on the bottom screen, while the characters in the story working at a pace set by how well you’re doing in the game. As with Ouendan, neither of these are distractions, but there’s times I wish I could see what was actually happening there. Fortunately, the new replay feature does allow you to review the action at a later time.

Value/Replayability: A-

The game has 15 songs and 3 bonus songs across 4 difficulty levels. As with Ouendan, you have to work through 1 to 3 songs to unlock the next set, with one ultimate level actually having two songs to work through to complete. The bonus songs become unlocked once you have achieved enough total cumulative points from all successfully completed songs at any level. The first two difficulty levels are available from the start; the third and the fourth require you to complete all the non-bonus songs of the previous difficulty to unlock them; generally with higher difficulty, the song requires more hits and odd patterns than compared to easier difficulty levels, and also has a beat meter that drains faster compared. Compared to Ouendan, I would say that the difficulty is shifted about 1/2 level up in Elite Beat Agents; that is, the late songs in the 2nd difficulty level for EBA were as tough as the first handful of songs at the 3rd difficulty level of Ouendan, and the late 3rd level songs to be as incredibly hard as with the 4th level in Ouendan. This helps to make the game feel longer than Ouendan as you’ll likely be replaying some songs a bit earlier. While still relatively short to go through all the songs once (less than 2 hours at the second difficulty level, for example), the game keeps your best scores and records and allows you to continue to work to improve them as to unlock all the bonus songs.

EBA features wireless play as well. Two players can co-op on songs (as long as both have the game), trading off tracks much like Guitar Hero co-op with a common beat meter. Alternatively, you can do a verses mode with 2 or 4 people (playing 2-on-2) with special stages set for 2 team action. In this mode, only one player needs to have the game, and others can download the information needed to play.

Audio: A-

The songs vary from some older rock ballads (“YMCA”, “September”, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”) to pop songs of the last few decades (“Material Girl”, “Sk8ter Boi”), and while most are suited for the game, “Canned Heat” by Jamaroquai (aka that song from Napoleon Dynamite) and “Lets Dance” from David Bowie really stand out as capturing the unique j-pop stylings that Ouendan had and fit the playstyle well. Technically, these songs all are covers, but the limited speaker quality of the DS makes these songs sound as good as if they’re off FM radio. While some of the newer songs aren’t as familiar to me, I think the selection works here, though if they were to make a sequel, I’d definitely stick to Jamaroquai/Bowie type stylings as they really were good selections and some of the harder songs to complete. The only other nit in songs is that some of them seemed shorter than the j-pop tunes in Oeundan; just a few measures of note tapping then I was back at an intermission. However, these were generally only for the easier songs, and so it may just be the lack of difficulty clouding my perception.

Graphics: A

Graphically, the game looks just as good as Ouendan – the same artists are used for the characters and animation, and the story is told in the same comic book style. There’s also a few Ouendan characters that show up here if you watch carefully.

Overall: A-

If you’ve had the chance to play Ouendan, you’ll know exactly what to expect out of Elite Beat Agents – the gameplay is unchanged, and while the songs may not be exactly to your liking, it’s a great title. If you haven’t had the chance to experience Ouendan but like music games, you’ll definitely want to grab this now that it’s stateside – it’s a great portable music game that presents a good challenge.

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