behonkiss's Elite Beat Agents (Nintendo DS) review

Portable rhythm gaming perfection.

In the past few years, rhythm games have gone through a spectacular boom and a spectacular fall.  The Guitar Hero franchise has gone from having the best-selling third party game in history to selling less than 100K, and Rock Band isn't faring much better.  It's a shame that the fad-like nature of these two series have caused developers to mostly back away from music games altogether, and that is a real shame, because we need more games like Elite Beat Agents in this world.

The premise is simple and silly: Across the country of the good old U.S. of A., various people run into a troublesome situation, call for help, and are detected by boss man Commander Kahn, who sends out a trio of dancing agents to motivate the person into solving their troubles.  The numerous cutscenes in the game are done through comic book-like still panels with word balloons instead of spoken dialogue, and this style is more charming than one might expect.  The agents, on the other hand, are rendered as full 3D polygonal dancers on the bottom DS screen, while the top one displays the current predicament.
Circle-shaped notes make up the majority of the gameplay...
Gameplay is simple.  The majority of notes you hit with your stylus involve giving a quick tap when an outline overlaps a circle somewhere on the screen.  This is easier than it sounds due to the circles being timed with the beat of the song's lyrics or musi c quite well.  from time to time, "sliders", which are notes that require you to hold the stylus down on the screen and follow an automatically-moving ball, also occur.  The rarest type of note, the spinner, involves the player rotating a flat spinning circle up and filling a meter.  Those are typically saved only for the end of the song.
 ...along with snaking sliders for variety.

There are almost 20 songs/levels total in the game, and while that may sound like nothing compared to the 80+ songs in Rock Band 3, the gameplay is just as fun, if not more.  There's something about tapping along with those circles that feels incredibly natural, and some genius ideas, like having a multiplier that goes up by 1 for each note and multiplies your score by the sum of total notes hit in a row, encourage you go to back and play to perfection to reach the elusive S-Rank.  Add the fact that you have 4 different difficulty levels for each song (2 of which must be unlocked), all with different note patterns and scores to record, and you have a lot of bang for your buck.

 When "You're the Inspiration" appears, get the tissues ready.
It helps that the game also knows how to do story and presentation effectively.  Most levels have setups of various levels of ridiculousness (My personal favorite has to be a former baseball player returning to glory by defeating an out-of-nowhere rampaging golem), and each song has 2 or 3 "breaks" where the player stops hitting notes, and a brief cutscene is shown, with an outcome depending on how well the player is doing.  The game also packs emotional surprises as well - one level uses a famous Chicago tune to deliver perhaps one of the biggest tearjerkers in all of gaming.  And I won't spoil the ending levels, except to say that they will leave you incredibly pumped and wanting to cheer as they go on and conclude in a fantastic manner.

If there's anything to complain about, it's that people with big or chunky hands might have trouble seeing the screen while tapping the circles, and others may simply never have the gameplay fully "click" for them.  But when it comes down to it, the game is absolutely brilliant.  Rhythm game fans who don't have a DS might want to pick one up just for this alone, along with the sister Ouendan series that can be imported and played without knowing Japanese very easily.  This is a game that sets out to get your toes tapping, make you laugh and cry, and just deliver a fantastic experience.  Does it succeed?


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