Ok, maybe not a love letter, but that's not the point. Oh, this post sort of contains spoilers. But it's a rhythm-based game! What's there really to spoil?
Growing up, there was only one game I would associate with the rhythm-based genre. I bet it comes as no surprise that that game was Konami's Dance Dance Revolution. Almost in every arcade/gaming area I went into as a kid, there would always be a DDR machine. That trend seems to continue even today, as even the biggest "arcade" (more so a gaming center) in my area homes a section dedicated to four, five different stations. Sure I would play the occasional Beat Mania or Guitar Freaks machine, but DDR was a force to be reckoned with that was sure to bring a crowd to spectators and ghosters awaiting their turn.
Over the years, that association to the genre would certainly change. These days, when I think of the rhythm-based genre, two things are sure to come to mind. The first is of course, fan favourite developing team Harmonix. I've had such great experiences with their games. From Frequency, Amplitude, The first "three" Guitar Heroes, and now Rock Band, I have many fond memories attached to those titles, enough that I'll be sure to dedicate another love letter to them. Harmonix has definitely made an impact on my views of rhythm-based games, making the genre one of my favourites and the crowning of me as "the music games guy" among my friends.
But I digress. This isn't a love letter to Harmonix. As the title states, the second association to the genre I now have is Nintendo's Elite Beat Agents. Released in November of 2006, EBA is a rhythm game on the Nintendo DS. Players use the stylus to tap, drag, and circle indicators on the screen in tune to modern and classic pop and rock hits such as Deep Purple's Highway Star, The Rolling Stones' Jumpin' Jack Flash and Earth, Wind and Fire's September.
Even though more of a recent title, the game made such an impact on myself on so many different levels that it soon became one of my favourite games ever. The style, the atmosphere, the general excitement I felt towards the game just made it seem so great.
For starters, the game has you taking the roles of agents of a government agency, who's sole purpose is to help people out in wacky (and sometimes heartfelt) situations. The only way to aid these patrons is through dance. To me, the concept is just awesome. You're not just some musician trying to make it big, or a dancer in a club. You're an agent trying to make a difference through dance. It's so bizarre, yet so positive that it makes me all giddy inside.
The agents themselves are just very fun looking. Each supporting a fine looking suit and a wide variety of hair and accessories, it's hard not to instantly like these commanders of dance. Just for added fan service, you can even unlock the Elite Beat Divas. While they can be seen as mere eye candy, they emit the same amount of charisma the other agents do, making the whole game even more appealing.
And those situations you find yourself in? They're pretty fun as well. These missions correspond with a song which relates to the situation. In the game, the songs are divided into sections. If you do well in the section, the story continues positively. On the opposite hand, if you're not on par, then misfortune is sure to follow the people you're trying to assist. The variety of objectives take you not only around the globe, but around a spectrum of values as well.
You start off the game trying to assist a highschool football player. In this scenario, he's visiting the girl he likes while she babysits, but babysitting leads to a chaotic turn of events. From there you find yourself assisting a movie director trying to make the next blockbuster film, a lost puppy trying to find this way home, and even a white blood cell (in the form of a hot nurse, lols) trying to fight off sickness.
The game also has one of the most heart whelming scenarios ever. The mission for the song You're the Inspiration has you assisting a little girl who's father passes away, and is trying to keep his thoughts alive. I just found it so emotional, that I couldn't being myself to fail any of the sections, or else situations would worsen for this girl and her mother who are trying to stay strong. Yeah, a rhythm-based game made me feel attached to characters. Who would have thought.
These situations get so over the top, but yet are entertaining. You are exposed to a wide array of characters who's hopes and dreams lay on your ability to dance. How awesome is that.
The only problem I find, and this maybe due to the fact that I have a bitter sociology kid within me, are the values that some of the missions project. While you do have some very heartfelt ones, those are accompanied by ones that really speak to what a materialistic thriving society we've become (well, technically a waste society, but that's a whole different blog topic/blog all together). A few scenarios have you assisting people in get-rich quick schemes, or getting everything you need, not through work, but by your looks alone. While the levels may be fun to play, I could have done without the materialistic girls with the jiggling breasts (not to mention how most, if not all, the female characters in the game are strangely attractive for cartoon characters).
Other than that, the presentation is really top notch. The little cinematics play out like a comic book with the cartoon characters being animated here and there. The only real instances of 3d are the agents themselves dancing on the touch screen. A little nice touch is how they usually dance to the lyrics of the song, whether they be doing an ollie motion in Sk8er Boi or the Y.M.C.A. during... well, Y.M.C.A., it's a really nice touch they added. While you won't really notice them since you'll be frantically poking away at your screen, they really add to the fun chaoticness of the bottom half. The funny thing is, if you watch a replay of your run and actually concentrate on your dancers... they're pretty bad. In a good way, of course. But that's beside the point. Visually alone, the game is easy on the eyes, and it just makes the whole thing feel warm and welcoming.
The style of the game itself is what had me drawn to the title. The gameplay itself however, is what made me stay. You simply need to tap the screen to the rhythm of the song, with the occasional dragging along and drawing circles like mad. That's it. It's some simple to get into, but as you start to play more, get the hang of it, and start playing around the harder songs, you soon realize how frantic it gets... but it never gets to the point where it seems impossible.
And this is an aspect I love about the game. The game does get challenging as you play the harder songs, but it never gets so hard that you frustratingly want to quit. All the songs just seem manageable. If you can't get it at first, you do get this sense that you can nail it with a few more tries practicing. Pretty soon you get the hang of it and eventually beat it. But then you're left with a feeling that you can do better. And even if you do it again and hit every note, there's still room for improvement.
And improve you will. The game isn't that hard, and it isn't made to be that hard, just enjoyable. The screen does get crazy at times, but you can still hit every note, and it creates such an addicting and entertaining experience. The songs don't scare you off like say Jordan, Through the Fire and Flames or Raining Blood. They're difficult in a sense that you don't need to spend a week practicing a section over and over to do, but that you can get it after an hour at most of restarting. And I honestly did not mind that fact, since the soundtrack is pretty decent as well.
Sure, the setlist is filled with some of the most mainstream songs recently, coupled with the classic rock jam, or the romantic slow song. While this may tick off music elitists, I must say, the soundtrack fits very well. All the songs are catchy, and fit their corresponding scenarios well. They're all recognizable tunes that span a time frame of 40 years or so. Not only that, but overall they're just easy to listen to, and sound way more inviting than some of the tracks you'd find in Guitar Hero or Rock Band.
I guess what makes the soundtrack so appealing to me is the fact that I can associate a specific memory with each one. Whether it be remembering my last year of highschool during September, a summer vacation during La La or my friends and I playing Rock Band during Highway Star , each song is just easy to relate to in some way. And that's what I really find great about them. Since the setlist has such a variety of well known radio friendly songs, I'm sure many people can associate certain memories to some, if not most of the tracks found within the game.
Arguably, you need three things to make a real gem of a rhythm based game. Presentation, gameplay, and of course music. EBA has all these three, and tie them together so well that you have such an inviting game. And that's another thing I love about it. The game is just so inviting to people. Sure, a dance mat or a plastic guitar with a million notes scrolling at you can seem intimidating to some. But just seeing someone tapping the screen multiple times seems way less potentially humiliating. The visuals are great, the music is just as well, and the fact that it never gets too difficult just make EBA an overall great experience on the DS.
So, what now? It's almost been two years, and still no sign of a sequel. Sure, there are two Ouendan games (Their Japanese counterpart, whose franchise EBA is a spin-off of), but I can honestly say that's not enough. In a time where countless sequels, spin-offs and DLC are made available for most of the popular rhythm-based games out there, it saddens me that EBA isn't getting that same kind of treatment. It's a quality experience that many more people should give a shot.
Now, the point of this "little" love letter of mine? Simple. I want more colourful scenarios, I want the same "just right" difficulty, I want more songs that I can associate memories too. Simply put, I want more Elite Beat Agents. So, if you're listening Reggie, I highly suggest you get on that.
And that's my problem. Now excuse me as I run outside and scream "help!" at the top of my lungs, in hope for three agents (or divas) to arrive and dance my problem away.