When you come right down to it, there really aren't enough games in this world that deal with roving male cheerleading troupes swooping in to save ordinary citizens from mind-twistingly bizarre scenarios. Japanese developer Inis agrees, and so we have Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii: Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2, the impossibly long-named sequel to the original, superlatively strange Ouendan. Like its predecessor, Ouendan 2 is a Nintendo DS rhythm game that pits your nimble stylus reflexes against a variety of Japanese pop music as you guide a team of three male cheerleaders in an effort to aid the populace.
The gameplay itself is exceedingly simple. You select people to aid by using the touch screen to pan through an urban cityscape, where those in need of assistance will show up in certain areas, flailing their arms and crying for help. Tapping the person (or group of people) will let you access that stage, and each stage is set to its own song. As a series of numbered circles appear on your screen, you must tap them in order and with the music. If you succeed, the energetic gestures and posturing of your cheering group will bolster the courage of your clients and enable them to overcome their troubles. If you miss too many circles, the cheering will falter and the hapless victim will fail his or her task.
As you progress through the game, more and more scenarios become available to you, and the difficulty steadily ramps up. In addition to tapping circles, you'll have to drag the stylus from point to point along a certain path or quickly spin a large disc within a time limit. These are essentially the same mechanics that the first Ouendan and its spiritual successor, the English-language Elite Beat Agents, used to good effect. Because of the natural variety in how the stages are arranged, the gameplay holds up very well.
But a large part of the magic of Ouendan isn't the gameplay or even the J-pop; it's the sheer insanity of the scenarios. The same trio of male cheerleaders from the original is here, but this time a rival group also appears on the scene. Headed by a dashing young man with long blond hair, the group sports snappy blue dress uniforms and a competitive attitude, staking out one half of the city as their personal cheering turf. The stages alternate between the new and old groups until the final stage, where they at last join forces to save the people of Earth from almost certain combustion. Cheerleading is serious business.
Along the way, it's the people you help and the total inscrutability of the situations that will have you grinning, regardless of whether or not you understand Japanese. There's the young doctor that gets sent to a remote village to practice, only to have to heal not just people, but also horses and nonfunctioning microwave ovens. A strapping lad struggles to date a beautiful woman while not turning into a werewolf every time he sees a moon-shaped object. Haunted by visions of a watery demon on his sheets, a boy fights to make it through the night without wetting his bed, aided in his dreams by a pair of plumbers and a sumo wrestler. Whether you're trying to make sure an author finishes her romance novel on deadline or are helping a man sell performance sneakers to a race of alien cyclopes, making your way through the stages is always a bizarre and rewarding experience.
Each event is divided into three sections, and as you successfully complete a section, you'll get to see a cutscene play out on the top screen, with your position on the cheering meter determining whether you see a happy triumph or a failure. Your efforts during the game are always played out on the top screen, but during the active portions you'll generally be too busy tapping madly in the touch screen to peek up and see the sumo wrestler being towed behind a speeding car, or whatever happens to be going on at the time.
The music in this version covers a range of Japanese artists, from Ken Hirai to classics like SMAP, but most of these tunes are generally catchy and easy on the ears even if you don't know any Japanese. While each difficulty level features the same 15 songs and stages, there are bonus songs you can unlock by achieving high scores while you play, bringing the total to almost 20. Another nice thing about Ouendan 2 is that it scales very well--each of the multiple difficulty levels (easy, normal, hard, and insanely hard) causes the given stages and songs to play very differently. This makes each tier of difficulty its own entity, worthy of conquering.
This game is entirely in Japanese, but it's extremely import friendly due to the accessible gameplay and the wealth of comic-style images that accompany each stage. Even if you can't read all the Japanese text to understand what's going on, while playing Ouendan 2 you get the sense that being able to read the text wouldn't make the game any less strange or more understandable. When you're faced with a man massaging a horse, sometimes words just don't help you. If you were a fan of the previous Ouendan or Elite Beat Agents, consider giving this import a try. The chances of this ever seeing an English localization are pretty slim (Nintendo just skipped the insanity of the first game to release Elite Beat Agents instead), but if there's any news forthcoming, we'll report it. Keep an eye on this gamespace for further announcements and events in the world of heroic male cheerleading.