What do you do when a cat pees in your ramen shop? Call in three guys in black jumpsuits to save the day!
Team Ouendan is a troupe of motivators who roam Japan, looking for people down on their luck. If someone needs to be motivated, he or she can cry "OUENDAN!!" and in swoop three guys in matching black jumpsuits to remedy the situation. Rather than doing the job by themselves, Ouendan instead dance to music, which somehow inspires whomever called their name to take care of business himself. This is the basis for one of the most bizarre and awesome music games around, and definitely one of the best DS import games out there.
Ouendan's range of motivational gesticulation helps out a lot of different people in many different situations, and each is told in a sort of interactive manga. Selecting a song from the world map will set things up with a little story. Although the text is all Japanese, the pictures that tell the story are presented in such a way that anyone can tell exactly what's going on. (Or, you can make up your own stories if you don't know, which is just as entertaining.) The song is broken up into sections, and depending on how well you do, a good or bad thing may happen to the song's protagonist as he works to right his situation. Upon clearing the song, the resolution to the story is shown, and Team Ouendan can take pride that they've rescued another member of society from the clutches of depression.
The reasons for that depression are what make this game bizarre and awesome at the same time. The opening song is simple enough, with a student not sure if he's smart enough to pass the upcoming exam at school. Things start to get a little weird when a thief robs a horse track of all its money, and Ouendan motivates a horse to catch the bad guy. Two policemen need to be convinced by Ouendan that they can stop an invasion of battery-powered alien robots with only their handguns. My personal favorite is when a down-on-his-luck ramen shop cook who can't get any business has had enough of things when a cat walks in and pees on his floor. The look on the cook's face when that happens is priceless.
That's only four stories that unfold for the game's fifteen total songs, made up of mostly J-Rock music. That number may seem a little low, especially when compared to the 60+ you can get with Band Bros. (including the recently released expansion), but the songs come with their own stories. As it turns out, the two games share two songs (Shanghai Honey and Ready Steady Go), but you may find that it's more fun to play them on Ouendan instead of Band Bros.
Playing Ouendan is a unique experience. Groups of circles show up on the touch screen, numbered sequentially. To keep the song going you'll need to tap the numbers in tune with the beat. The timing is indicated by a constricting circle around the outside, and when that circle matches up with the numbered circle, that means it's time to tap it and go on to the next number, which is connected with a dotted line. Occasionally, a rolling ball will appear among the regular numbered circles, and the stylus needs to be dragged along the path that appears within the area of the moving ball. The ball can go back and forth along the path several times in some songs. The third task that can appear is a giant wheel that takes the entire area of the touch screen, and it needs to be spun up to speed quickly. Bonus points can be earned for a good spin.
Every time a circle is touched or a ball is dragged, the sounds effect that plays is either a cymbal clash, a tambourine hit, or a whistle blow. That's it. Amazingly, these three simple effects compliment the entire soundtrack perfectly. It seems to work so well because the pacing and rhythm of each song is very different. Instead of sticking with a common beat, the game highlights different tracks of each song by using the cymbal, tambourine, and whistle sounds in different ways.
Ouendan has a power meter at the top of the touch screen indicating how much spirit your motivators have left. It starts off full, but unlike traditional music games, this meter drains continuously. Getting perfects on the note circles and vigorously spinning the big wheel during gameplay can fill it back up to nominal levels. The meter will drain faster if you miss a note, though, which means you can fail a song within the first few moments on the higher difficulty levels. And boy, does this game get hard.
There are four difficulty levels in all, with only the easy and normal settings initially available. On easy, the game is actually not that hard at all, which is perfect for the player who has no music game experience. On normal, things don't start to get difficult until the last two or three songs. The unlockable hard difficulty, which gets really hard toward the end, will have you crying to your mommy, on the last song especially. You'll find that getting a perfect combo on it is no guarantee that your meter will stay filled. In fact, you can very easily die with a 300+ combo, never mind that missing one in a very long rapid-fire string of notes is sure to end the song.
If you can somehow beat the game on hard (and it'll take you a while to conquer that last song), your bonus is an even harder difficulty, as well as a nice surprise. While there aren't any hidden songs to unlock, at least you won't need to stare at three guys in black jumpsuits as you struggle with the smaller circles and stricter timing of the super hard mode.
As the difficulty ramps up and more circles need to be tapped in a smaller amount of time, Ouendan's only major flaw becomes apparent. If you're right-handed and need to tap a circle on the left side of the screen (or vice-versa), your stylus hand will cover up a significant portion of the screen's opposite half. Although a lot of songs have patterns as to where the next circles will show up in a sequence, when the sequence numbers reset, the next circle may be obscured by your hand. This is especially annoying on the super-hard difficulty, when the circles are smaller and won't appear until the last moment. The slower and steadier pace of the easy and normal levels doesn't have this problem, but experts are going to wish they could see under their hand for that extra edge.
Ossu! Tatakae! Ouendan overcomes its simplicity with sheer brilliance, pure fun, and a little wackiness. (Okay, a lot of wackiness.) This is one of those "Only in Japan" games that could do extremely well in North America or Europe if the decision is made to bring it west, for the simple reason of it being way too awesome for only the Japanese to have it. If you're interested in a unique game from Japan, import Ouendan right away!
If you feel motivated to import Ossu! Tatake! Ouendan for the Nintendo DS, check out our import parnters at Lik-Sang.