Friday, September 7, 2007

Game Review: Elite Beat Agents

Who says rhythm/dance games require large amounts of stamina, and have to be played on huge contraptions in the arcade? Not Elite Beat Agents. This nifty little game on the DS took a lot of us by surprise. Who could have imagined a little handheld game machine could be a good platform for a rhythm game?

Elite Beat Agents (EBA from here on) is a production by iNiS Software which was released last December for the Nintendo DS. The game primarily utilizes the touch screen and the stylus. In fact, all you use is the touch screen. You select game modes, scroll through the "world map", and play the game itself with just the touch screen. What about the traditional buttons? No need. And the top screen? Here's one of the more fun bits: The game has a story. Yes, a rhythm game with a story. Granted, it's pretty silly, but a story nonetheless: a group of special agents, called the Elite Beat Agents (of course) are sent to different parts of the world to help people in various different ways through the power of dance and song. Cool huh? You have to play it to see it. Now, each stage has a sub-story, presented in colorful comic-book style visuals. While playing a stage, the top screen displays a life bar, and a scene and characters of respective stories, which will all tell you how well (or how bad) you're doing so far. Then, during intermissions in given parts of a song, the top screen will show scenes portraying different outcomes, depending on how well you did on the act preceding it. Outcomes can either be good (marked with a circle) or bad (marked by an X). For instance, in one stage a baseball player is trying to stop a fire-breathing golem of lava (!). In one part of the song, he tries to hit the balls of lava with his bat to send them back to the golem. A good performance will let him successfully hit it; a bad one will make him miss. You don't have to get all good outcomes in every act of the song to pass the stage; you can get all X's if you want, as long as your life bar (called the 'Elite Meter') does not completely deplete.

Scoring and restoration of the Elite Meter go hand in hand. For every beat you hit (represented by colored circles with numbers, which tells you which beat you should hit first), the meter is restored a bit, and depending on how accurate you are the restoration can be large or small. This is important to remember because throughout the entire song the meter does nothing but deplete. Miss a beat, and you are penalized with a decrease in the meter. Scoring works the same way, the more accurate you are the higher your score. However, if you successfully complete a string of beats without missing one, you get a combo, resulting in a higher score and a higher restoration in the Elite Meter. At the end of each stage, you are given a grade, from D to S (lowest to highest). You can watch a replay if you wish too.

The music is fairly okay. Granted, you wouldn't be caught listening to Ashlee Simpson or Good Charlotte under normal circumstances, but this game somehow manages to make songs from these artists bearable. Soon enough you will be singing the songs yourself, and afterwards the songs will be in your iPod. Trust me.

EBA is actually a sequel of sorts to another game. iNiS released a game called Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! (Ouendan from here on) in Japan only. Japan only because it's like watching Lucky Star: you wouldn't understand anything unless you have a working knowledge of Japanese culture. The songs are Japanese, the characters are Japanese, the scenarios and everything are decidedly Japanese. A student going to cram school need the help of the Ouendan (cheerleader team in English). Wait a minute, what's a cram school? But because this sort of thing didn't stop Westerners (possibly those who watch anime heavily as well) from importing the game, it met with critical success overseas. iNiS then decided to give Americans their own Ouendan, with American songs, American characters, and American scenarios (although the last scenario could probably work in any culture). Hence, EBA was born.

All in all, EBA is one of the reasons to get a Nintendo DS. It is highly replayable (due to the grading system), it can be funny and touching (there's one really sad scenario set to "You're the Inspiration" by Chicago ;_;) and is just plain fun. If you like rhythm games, but can't really do the DDR, or you like it portable, this game is for you.

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