What do you get when you Babelfish 押忍！闘え！応援団?
Featuring a triad of male cheerleaders dressed in black who enter people’s personal lives in order to provide motivation, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan was easily one of the most bizarre, yet brilliant game concepts to come out of Japan in years. Unfortunately, Ouendan was met with extremely dismal sales in Japan. However, word of mouth spread across the Internet, and the game was imported in enough quantity for Nintendo to take notice. With a new target market in mind, the end result was the creation of Elite Beat Agents.
In the place of the Ouendan, three Agents reminiscent of the Blues Brothers take the stage, helping those in need. The Agents also bring in their 70s funk moves rather than the Ouendan’s stiffer cheers. Instead of yelling “Ouendan," the people in need simply yell a bloodcurdling “HEEEAAALP!" to summon the heroes, who arrive in a vehicle rather than the spontaneous appearance of the Ouendan.
As a rhythm game, there are only three types of actions that must be completed in various sequences. Hit markers, which feature an outer ring that shrinks down around a center circle, must be tapped at the right instant. Phrase markers start and end with hit markers, but also include a rolling ball that must be traced with the stylus. Finally, spin markers must be spun as quickly as possible using the stylus. These tasks might sound simple, but given different spatial arrangements and timing, they can quickly become overwhelming. Timing is critical. Differing amounts of points are added depending on timing, and a meter must be kept filled by completing long chains of beats.
In a technical sense, Elite Beat Agents surpasses Ouendan in nearly every way, fixing all of its little annoyances while adding a few new bonuses. The flat comic-style map has been replaced by a 3-D globe that can be rotated with the stylus. Note placement has been improved over Ouendan. This makes the game a bit easier, but also more engaging. An overall rank based on a running point total across all songs. Another new feature added to Elite Beat Agents, three bonus songs become available only after certain rankings are reached. The game also includes Rumble Pak support to provide an even more immersive experience.
Many have questioned the song listing in Elite Beat Agents. Given the content of Ouendan, which included music primarily of one type, yet including a few spanning decades and genres, the songs that make up Elite Beat Agents make perfect sense, providing a truly Americanized sequel to Ouendan. Most of the songs come from the 70s and 80s, with a few more recent hits, and for the most part, they also work very well. Whether or not you think the soundtrack is made up of good music, it is more appropriate than you might think, and most critically, it turns out to be fun. Don’t be surprised if you start to like one of those pop rock songs you previously hated. The one downside to the songs is that they are all covers, and some of the covers aren't of the highest quality.
Ouendan featured some off the wall narratives, and Elite Beat Agents goes even further, presenting some truly bizarre situations and resolutions. In one case, Leonardo Da Vinci tries to win the heart of Mona Lisa, while another story begins with a pro baseball player whose career has washed up. He ends up fighting a giant golem in an amusement park. There are 15 regular scenarios with three more unlockable. While Ouendan certainly doesn’t take Japanese culture seriously, I couldn’t help but think that Elite Beat Agents really lampoons American culture, particularly in regards to superficiality, gluttony, and the cowboy stereotype. Not that it’s offensive, but it does provide some insight on how some Japanese view the US. Ouendan seemed more about the “little guy" than Elite Beat Agents does.
With such frantic action on the touch screen, it’s easy to miss what’s going on in on the top screen. The top screen depicts the situation of the person the Elite Beat Agents are trying to help. His or her well-being is dictated by the Agents’ performance. Missing a beat will cause harm to come to those the Agents are trying to help. As the Agents become more successful, characters from the story will join in on a group wave. From a presentation standpoint, Elite Beat Agents has plenty of humor on several different levels, from the Agents’ dance moves to the story progression. Some of the levels are worth failing at different points just to see the sometimes hilarious misfortune that results. There are three outcomes to a story, depending on whether the level is failed, passed, or passed with a nearly full meter.
Elite Beat Agents features four difficulty levels. The first two start off easier than their counterparts in Ouendan, likely due to better note placement, but there is plenty of difficulty in the harder modes. The game often becomes an exercise in frustration, but in a challenging manner. Certain patterns may be hard to complete, and your hand may conceal newly appearing spots. It simply takes practice and getting into the rhythm of the music, and eventually players can perfect a level.
One oversight in Ouendan was that players couldn’t skip the intro to the song. This means players had to sit through the intro every time they failed; this was particularly agonizing in the last song, which had an especially long intro. Thankfully, Elite Beat Agents fixes the problem. Beyond that, a new replay feature has been added. After a failure, this feature will replay the last portion of the song to show players where they messed up. Full replays after a successful song completion can also be saved and can even be competed against as a pseudo-multiplayer mode.
The art style seems a little more like American comic books rather than Japanese manga. While the Elite Beat Agents serve their purpose as the American counterpart to the Ouendan squad, their leader, Commander Kahn is a completely extraneous addition. Appearing before and after each song, the Kahn sequences, which rarely change, only slow down the game’s progression. Luckily, they can be skipped as well.
Elite Beat Agents also includes a multiplayer mode. Most songs in multiplayer mode require multiple copies of Elite Beat Agents. However, one song can be downloaded from a single card. Multiplayer mode includes its own stories and mode types, making it a great party game.
The designers did a great job converting the Japanese Ouendan into an equivalent Americanized Elite Beat Agents. Some are likely to prefer Ouendan just because it is Japanese. There’s a certain charm contained in things from a foreign culture, especially when you don’t know what’s being said (or sung). Personally, I enjoyed the atmosphere in Ouendan more, but practically everything else about the game has been improved in Elite Beat Agents.
Elite Beat Agents is marketed under the Touch Generations brand, and its simple nature and welcoming presentation do make it appealing for many. Yet, the extreme difficulty of later levels provides challenge sought for by gamers. The bottom line is that if you liked Ouendan, you’ll definitely like Elite Beat Agents. Even if you haven’t had a chance to play it, there’s a high chance that you’ll have a blast with Elite Beat Agents anyway. Soon after, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were trying to figure out how to get a copy of Ouendan, and I would encourage you to do so… it’s a similar, yet different experience.