Review: Tap that funky screen white boy!
Hits such as Guitar Hero show that the rhythm game continues to be one of the most popular video game genres. However, while this genre's success on home consoles is clear, there is comparatively little to get excited about in terms of rhythm on the portable market. This is largely due to the lack of a really terrific interface. After all, it seems that most rhythm games operate with some sort of peripheral whether it be a dance pad, guitar, or maracas. Despite this, iNiS, the developers behind the cult hit Gitaroo Man, have defied convention and utilized the DS' unique touch screen capabilities to create one of the most addicting rhythm games in a long time. What is the name of this rhythmic techno-crack you ask? Elite Beat Agents.
To call the central premise behind Elite Beat Agents a tad weird would be a gross understatement. Each level (and thus each song) tells a different story of someone faced with a dilemma that literally screams for help. Commander Kahn, head of the Elite Beat Agency, hears their call and sends in the agents. These agents are three dapper dressed men who look like rejects from Reservoir Dogs. The trio acts a muses by helping those in trouble through the use of music and dance. No, they aren't available for parties.
Like most rhythm games, Elite Beat Agents' gameplay is deceptively simple. The player uses the DS stylus almost exclusively. The object of each mission is to follow along with the beat of the song by tapping on hit markers on the lower DS screen. These markers are numbered and must be hit in the proper order in a given amount of time. If you miss, your energy bar, dubbed the Elite-o-Meter, will decrease. If it drops to zero you fail the mission.
In addition to the normal hit markers, players must also contend with phrase and spin markers. In the former the player holds the stylus down on a regular marker that turns into a ball. The player must keep the stylus on the ball to make it roll down a pathway and complete the beat. A spin marker looks similar to a roulette wheel. The player has to spin the marker with the stylus as fast as he or she can to charge up enough energy before time runs out.
Elite Beat Agents' gameplay is extremely entertaining and after a few sessions becomes more addicting than a Lost DVD set laced with nicotine. The stylus controls like a breeze by making tapping the beats feel very natural. Nintendo released Elite Beat Agents under its Touch! Generations label. These are a selection of games that Nintendo hopes will attract a broad general audience. In other words, not just hardcore gamers. Nintendo has accomplished this goal thoroughly with Elite Beat Agents. This is a game that pretty much everyone can pick up and enjoy. In a matter of minutes players will be able to get the hang of the game's mechanics.
This is not to say that the game is easy. While the missions start out fairly simple they become progressively more difficult as the number of taps needed increases while the amount of time to do so rapidly ticks away. Fortunately it never feels like the designers simply threw you to the wolves. While the game is difficult it is also fair. The challenge is raised at a decent pace with each consecutive level. What is amazing is that, although I had to replay some missions in the later half of the game several times, the game remained fun rather than monotonous or frustrating like one would expect. Even though I kept losing, I was able to see my mistakes and correct them with the next run-through.
Aside from the gameplay, one of the most enjoyable aspects of Elite Beat Agents is its sense of humor. As previously mentioned, each of the missions possesses a unique story. These stories are told in a colorful comic book style in the top DS screen. Generally speaking, each story is charmingly over-the-top and full of parody. For instance, in one mission the player must help a director, Chris Silverscreen make a hit film. In another, two spoiled, wealthy sisters (reminiscent of Paris and Nicky Hilton), are stranded on a desert island and must use their feminine charms to escape. In yet another the agents must help a lost pug return to his master. Of all the stories, perhaps the only one a little out of tone is about a little girl missing her deceased father on Christmas. It features the Chicago song, ?You're My Inspiration,? but overall it is so melodramatic it comes off as cheesy.
The majority of the graphics reflect the aforementioned comic book style. The most notable exception is the agents themselves during gameplay. The trio is 3-D rendered and dance along with the music on the bottom DS screen. Their movements are fluid, and the graphics themselves are about on par with a Nintendo 64 title.
The make or break part of a rhythm game is the music. Thankfully there is a nice eclectic mix of tracks here. Each one usually relates to the story presented with it. The tunes range from YMCA, to Material Girl, to Jumpin' Jack Flash (thankfully minus Whoopi Goldberg). Almost all of them are upbeat and immerse you into the game. The songs are not CD-quality, but nevertheless sound very good on the DS. The sound effects are limited to simple clicks and cries of excitement/despair. None are particularly impressive but they never distract from the experience.
There is quite a bit of replay value within the game. The most notable is through the accumulation of points. As the player proceeds through the game, he or she gains points based on his or her performance. Often one must go back and replay levels to perfection to achieve the most points possible. The player earns ranks according to their overall score and unlocks hidden stages when he or she gains a certain rank, Additionally, higher difficulties become available once you have completed the game.
Unfortunately the game does not feature any WiFi multiplayer support. However, there are two local wireless options. The first is co-op play that requires that each player have a cartridge. In co-op up to four players share an Elite-o-Meter and must complete songs as a team.
The second mode is a versus battle. Here players go head to head, individually or in teams. Not every player requires a cartridge, but those without have limited options. The battles are framed through various contests, the most notable being ?Universal Idol,? complete with a host and judges. Never fear rhythm hermits for there is also an option for solo players to play against their ?ghosts? or your saved replays from the same songs in the main game. Also, players can export their replays to one another wirelessly.
While the multiplayer modes were fun, I found that the main game was much more compelling and ultimately what kept me booting up my DS.