Platform: Nintendo DS Players: 1-4 single and multi-pack ESRB Rating: E10+ (Cartoon Violence, Crude Humor, Lyrics, Suggestive Themes) Do you ever feel like your world is falling apart? Do you ever feel utterly hopeless in despair? You’re not alone. Whether you’re failing in your career or you’ve just lost your way, the Elite Beat Agents are here to cheer you up and get you moving. Who are the Elite Beat Agents, you ask? They are a team of male cheerleaders, uniformed in black suits and ties. Using the power of song and dance, they help poor souls to get their lives back on track when they’re on the verge of breaking down. Elite Beat Agents is based on a Japanese game titled “Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan.” Rather than just a translation, Elite Beat Agents is a completely new game built around the original game’s mechanics. The characters, story, and soundtrack have all been rewritten and recreated to better suit western audiences. A few new features have been added as well.
The touch screen is used to control everything in Elite Beat Agents. Each level will have you rhythmically tapping and sliding your stylus along the screen to a different song. Numbered beat markers appear on different parts of the touch screen, and the goal is to hit them all in numerical order. The catch is that they must also be hit in accordance to the rhythm of the song. To help you get the timing right, outer rings appear around each beat marker, and gradually shrink to overlap them. When a beat marker is overlapped, it’s your queue to hit it. As much help as that is, the best way to hit the marks on time is to simply become familiar with the music. This will surely come with practice. A meter at the top of the touch screen determines how well you’re doing. It will continually drop when you’re not hitting the beat markers, so there’s no time for lazing off. It’s not always as easy as tapping the markers. Sometimes they will run along a track, forcing you to follow along without raising your stylus. Other times a giant wheel will cover the screen, and you’ll have to rapidly spin it in circles with your stylus. While the dancing agents take their place on the bottom screen, there’s a whole story being told on the top screen. The story is directly affected by your success on the bottom screen. In each level, the agents dance with the mission of helping someone in need. The person in need is shown on the top screen in all sorts of wacky situations, trying to overcome challenges. If you perform well, so will the person on the top screen. If you miss a beat, that person will stumble. Your cheering is vital to that person’s confidence and success. With multiple difficulties and bonuses to unlock, Elite Beat Agents should keep your interest for some time. It’s addictive enough to keep you playing for hours at a time, but it’s also an easy game to pick up and play for only a few minutes as time allows. To unlock everything, you’ll need to beat the single player mode at least four times, but probably more than that. There are also competitive and cooperative multi-player modes for up to four players. 2 players may compete by sharing a single game cartridge, while co-op requires each player to have their own copy of the game.
The graphical style of the game is over-the-top and sometimes hilarious. Everything has a very cartoon-inspired look to it, and the characters’ expressions are extreme and overly dramatic. Everything looks bright and sharp. The agents have smooth 3D models, while everything else is in crisp 2D. There is so much action going on during the game that it’s nearly impossible to catch it all. I’ve failed stages several times because I got distracted watching the crazy antics of the characters on the top screen instead of paying attention to the game play on the bottom screen. If you’d like to sit back and watch everything that happened during a level, however, you can save one replay for each level in the game. You can even compete against your ghost replays or trade them with friends.
Any music game needs a good soundtrack. Elite Beat Agents has 19 popular pop/rock songs from the 70’s up until today. I think it’s a pretty good collection of songs personally, although we’re all bound to have a few that we hate. The Rolling Stones and Hoobastank are fine, but I find it a little uncomfortable to let Madonna’s “Material Girl” play through the loudspeakers. Easily the most disappointing part of the soundtrack is that none of the songs appear in their original form. Different cover artists remade each song specifically for this game. I wouldn’t say that most of the covers are bad, but they can be difficult to enjoy if you’re fond of the originals. They are often shorter than the original versions of the songs as well.
It’s hard to judge the appropriateness of Elite Beat Agents, because it has so much fast-paced action and so many quick gags. The player does not take part in any violence whatsoever. The most violent acts in the game are blowing up an alien space ship and a few monsters. Aside from that, we see a couple of people get punched in the face or bitten by a dog. Some of the female characters wear skimpy outfits, including the Elite Beat Divas, who are unlockable playable characters. While there is no profanity in Elite Beat Agents, some of the song lyrics may be deemed inappropriate. One song states, “I used to buy my faith in worship, but then my chance to get to Heaven slipped.” Another informs us, “Shake it once; that’s fine. Shake it twice; that’s okay. Shake it three times; you’re playing with yourself again.” I believe the most provocative is Ashlee Simpson’s “La La.” The chorus says, “You make me wanna la la in the kitchen on the floor. I’ll be your French maid when I meet you at the door. I’m like an alley cat - drink the milk up, I want more. You make me wanna, you make me wanna scream.” Perhaps I am misinterpreting the song, but it seems suggestive to me. At the same time, most of the songs present in the game are positive and squeaky clean. After all, the music is supposed to help people. One even states “I’m not gonna compromise my Christianity.”
Elite Beat Agents is a highly addictive and original music game that is sure to keep you playing for many hours. There are a few appropriateness issues, but nothing more than children’s television programming.