Here’s something I don’t often mention, but I am a huge fan of rhythm and music games. Perhaps it’s because I play two instruments (piano and violin…so typically Asian, I know) or maybe because I just really like music, but I find actual music games thoroughly addicting. I remember Parappa the Rapper back in the early days of the PS1. I was pretty good at DDR once upon a time. I’m also pretty good at Guitar Hero/Rock Band. I’ve played many a spin-off of those types of games too and I’m generally alright at them. Elite Beat Agents though…here is a game that could kick my ass. It’s a game which basically involves tapping the DS stylus to small bubbles on the touch screen in time with the music, which sounds simple, but can quickly get out of hand.
There’s a few variations like certain beats you have to hold down and drag a line or curve on the screen, or certain segments which allow for furious free-styling stylus scribbling madness. For the most part though, the game revolves around tapping certain parts of the screen in time with the music. It sounds really simple, but it’s incredibly addicting and definitely pushes you to try and master the game over repeated attempts.
If you’ve ever played Ouendan or Osu, it’s the same basic principles. The main difference is that Elite Beat Agents is clearly a slightly more Westernised version of those games, using cool comic-book graphics on the upper screen to illustrate a story that accompanies the music. The ‘stories’ (if you can call them that) are often inane, whimsical and thoroughly hilarious. The people we follow, the Elite Beat Agents, are part of a government body responsible for helping people in need by means of dancing and motivating them. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but it does allow for a huge variety of scenarios in which you’ll dance your heart out to help, for example, a babysitter who needs to control three rowdy kids or, towards the end, saving the whole of humanity from a race of music-hating aliens. The plots are often outrageous but soon you’ll find yourself loving this game for its really bizarre sense of humour.
Like most music games, at the end, you are scored on your precision, timing and overall smoothness of your actions. You can get combos by doing sections flawlessly. You get a letter grade at the end, like in DDR, which quantifies your effort. What’s really interesting though is how your ability to play the game affects the storyline of these mini catastrophes. Doing really well during certain sections of the song can mean that the person you’re saving performs better in whatever they’re doing. However, doing badly in certain sections can make the person mess up or even, in some cases, completely fail in their task. It’s really fascinating to see how your actions influence these comic book segments because it’s all done in such a humorous way.
Of course, you probably want to know what kind of music is in this music game. Well, unlike Ouendan or Osu, this is a fully Westernised port and so it does feature songs familiar to the Western ear. Expect to play a level to the soundtrack of Sk8ter Boi by Avril Lavigne or Y.M.C.A by the Village People or The Anthem by Good Charlotte. None of the songs are particularly great, but they feature an impressive list of mostly upbeat and easy listening songs. You won’t find current top 40 hits in this, nor will you find classical epics, but rather you’ll find songs which you might vaguely remember and think, “Oh yeah, I guess I probably liked this.” They are, however, cover versions though which in my opinion, actually enhances the music selection, because at least there are slight variations to keep you interested if the song isn’t to your personal liking. It definitely isn’t the strongest soundtrack to a music game, but it’s pretty competent and it’s fairly engaging. The music quality itself is very high quality, which is often surprising for a DS game, but it’s clear they pumped a lot of effort into this aspect (as they should!).
In terms of graphics, like I mentioned, it’s all done in a comic book style. The art design is perfect for the tone they’re trying to create. The graphics on the touch screen are very clear and exactly what you need for this type of game. Even in the most hectic sections, the graphics are coloured and shaped in such a way that you won’t ever get lost in the dozens of beats you need to press.
Overall, Elite Beat Agents is a really strong offering in the music game genre with its wonderful, comical style and its solid gameplay mechanics. It’s another game which was overlooked for the DS, and it’s such a shame because I really think the concept is fantastic and it would have been nice to see more of this type of game in the future.