Dancin' with myself.
The Elite Beat Agents manual begins, “There are times in life when everything seems to be against you. When the world has gotten you down. Times when you want to give up and go home. Yet, in these desperate moments, you are not alone.”
If the Elite Beat Agents are so there for me, maybe they oughta leap out of the DS and cheer me up before I snap their frustrating little game card in two. Hold on a second, which would be more ridiculous in public - a guy raging at his video game, or the same guy enthusiastically tapping along to “Y.M.C.A.” on a DS?
[image1]Elite Beat Agents is one more fun, quirky title you’ll only see for the DS: a prodigious mash-up of pop music and whack-a-mole, an impressive soundtrack compiled to attract players to a collection of charming manga tales, coming totally out of left field. Your touch screen transforms into a dance floor, and your DS feels like a wonderful crack-iPod from the future.
That’s how much I like Elite Beat Agents. I was consistently blindsided by the excellent storytelling and funky hits like Jamoroquai’s “Canned Heat” [of Napoleon Dynamite fame]. U.S. gamers caught on to this one when it was Ose! Tatakae! Ouendon in Japan; we’ve already had a lot of luck bringing Pheonix Wright: Ace Attorney to the States, so how could we lose with a game about male cheerleaders? Inis (who also developed Gitaroo Man) and Nintendo graciously reworked the game for an American translation. Yatta!
The songs in Elite Beat Agents come in loud and clear, covering a 30-year span of pop. It’s really something to hear such variety of genres and vocalists, and it’s good to see more bands lending songs to games. Whether you like Earth, Wind and Fire or Sum 41, there’s something for everyone and all the tracks sound very true to the originals.
The actual game is fun but terribly frustrating. To survive each song, you’ll need to hit numbered targets in order as they pop up around the screen. Sometimes you drag them around, sometimes you spin a giant wheel, and some clever songs even hide targets under your fingers. Each one you hit delays the relentless depletion of your life meter. Hang in there, baby, because that bar can escape you within the blink of an eye.
There’s some depth to this simple scheme: every consecutive target you tap increases your score multiplier by one, so like Guitar Hero, you’re motivated to keep up with the songs for as long as possible. It’s a shame that any aspirations of reaching a high score are constantly crushed by the threat of immediate doom.
[image2]Let’s put it this way: the first try on a new song usually lasts about five seconds…then ten seconds for try number two…then twelve seconds for number three. It only takes two seconds to fail a stage, and you’re screwed if you don’t know every lyric and nuance of the song by heart. A ‘review’ button mercifully allows you to observe your last ten seconds of failure, so you can learn hard lines without playing the whole song every freaking time, but it’s a total killjoy inching through the twenty levels word by word.
Difficulty is nothing new for music games like Dance Dance Revolution, but Elite Beat Agents borders on masochism. The game extends into four levels of difficulty; I’ll probably keep playing until I unlock the Jackson 5’s “ABC,” but the experience has been too frustrating for me to go back for a perfect score on every stage. You might also want to invest in a screen protector, because EBA will have you poking and raking at your touch screen like mad.
Like a kick in the teeth, Elite Beat Agents challenges both patience and masculinity. To beat the harder modes, you’re going to have to learn Cher and Madonna word-for-word. I cope with the game by eating a three-inch-thick steak while I play, comfortable with the knowledge that female GR readers respect the tenderness and David Bowie knowledge I hide behind my rugged lifestyle of arm-wrestling and bear-taming.
Seriously though, I got through Elite Beat Agents thanks to some friggin’ sweet cartoons. It’s funny how even when you could care less for the gameplay, you can hook onto a song you like or the funny story hooks to stay interested. The stages feature a variety of everyday characters from single parents to Hilton-esque heiresses, dealing with everyday problems in exaggerated anime fashion. A few of the stages aren’t all oddball - Freddie Mercury’s “You’re The Inspiration” is paired with a tearjerker Christmas tale for the game’s amazing high point.
[image3]The graphics alone convey a lot of comedy and a lot of character, punctuated with brief voice acting. The agents dance and wave their arms right under your stylus, falling to the floor when you miss; the game pauses in each stage for a few key cinemas, which branch depending on your success. Either way is rewarding, the characters pull off their crazy stunts or they fail humorously, and the cut scenes cut a few corners through the songs.
If you still haven’t gotten your fix, you can work on your single-player score to open up new stages, characters and all four difficulty modes. If you’re done rocking out by your lonesome, however, a single Elite Beat Agents cart supports up to four players for posse-style showdowns, or two for co-op play a la the first Guitar Hero. EBA even sends game demos to other DS systems. The versus mode stages pit players against each other in unique stages such as kitchen stadiums and basketball courts, which helps breathe some new life into songs you’ve already beat.
It would appear that the DS has received its Guitar Hero, complete with career mode, unlockables and a high difficulty. I’m regretfully torn over this one. I want to love the wacky stories, the comfortable gameplay and the classic rock collection, but as a guy and a gamer, I wasn’t really looking to spend my game time struggling with Ashlee Simpson tunes. Elite Beat Agents is a wonderful DS game, entertaining but wound up a little too tightly.