You Make Me Wanna La La!
Similarly, I bought Children of Mana recently as something to tide me over `til the release of Final Fantasy III (FFIII). Though it wasn't nearly the letdown Rayman DS was, I was still less than completely satisfied with it and just couldn't justify keeping it as part of a DS collection of games that I have been trying to nurture as a top-shelf library. So, out it went. Still desperate for something to take my mind off of FFIII, I said to myself, let me see what all the fuss is about with Elite Beat Agents…
Story: There actually is a story here, and surprisingly, it's a great one. The Elite Beat Agents are a secret group of be-boppers – men in black – whose job it is to help those in need by using their powers of dance. That's right – got a problem with that!? It's funky, it's funny and, best of all, it's a total party!
Okay, now I feel that with this particular game, I really am going to have to break away from the tried & true review sections, i.e. Gameplay, Graphics, Sounds, etc. Elite Beat Agents (EBA), I think, really has to be considered as a package, and to try to dissect the various elements of the game would be to distract you from really understanding what you're getting in this game.
Turning on your DS…
Start screen: "The Elite Beat Agents are at your service!"
You can begin by choosing from one of two difficulty levels: Breezin' (the easiest) or Cruisin'. Once you select your preferred difficulty, you are taken into a selection map. I love this part. The map is an actual globe of the earth that you can move around – kinda like a globe you might have at home – using the stylus. Your first mission is made available, and it will have a "Help" sign over it. You can select missions by simply tapping on the mission icon. When you do so, a preview of the mission will pop up telling you the name of the episode, with a sample of the song you'll be playing to and a description of the person(s) you'll be helping; it's like a case file. If you choose to take on the mission, just click "Ok" to begin. As you complete various missions, others will become available. There are 17 missions in all, plus 3 unlockable ones.
Once you enter a mission, you will then watch a short story of the situation, which is done using comic-book storyboards. It is really beautiful stuff! If you like this sort of thing, you're gonna love this game. Then the music starts to rev up, and your agents get ready to dance. But they first ask, "Are you ready?" Wuh!?
Well, it's your time to shine! You are the conductor in this game, and without you, the agents will be unable to stay on the beat and save the day. The mechanics are very basic, but the gameplay will progressively get incredibly complicated. The game uses a series of circles that appear on the touch screen, which you must tap at the appropriate time. Knowing when to tap the circles is indicated by rings that shrink around the circles; when the ring shrinks down to meet the outer edge of the circle, tap it. There are also areas where you must tap a circle and then follow a ball, in rhythm, along a certain line – sometimes back & forth. The last device is a spinner that is periodically thrown into the song; you must use your stylus to spin it continuously until a meter reaches the top.
Simple, huh? Not so fast…
Okay, the basic principle of gameplay in EBA is that you're accenting certain notes in a song. It might sound easy in theory, but the game, more often than not, puts the accents (circles you must tap) on notes that are not on the beat, but rather on the upbeat. If you're familiar with reading music, as I am, you'll notice the game even throws many accents on 1/8 and 1/16 notes of an upbeat, often in succession. But fret not. The game does get crazy but not frustratingly so. Let me come back to that later though.
EBA can't be summed up by its gameplay mechanics alone. I'll confess to you right now that I think this game is smack-you-in-the-face amazing! And it's not one particular element of the game that makes it amazing, but rather all the little things. The presentation – from the comic stills to the many various game options – is really as good as it gets. The artwork is very polished, and the skits are hilarious. Additionally, all the characters from all the other skits eventually come together to make for one of the finest gaming climaxes I've ever experienced. I was literally almost in tears of laughter the first time through the story mode because the timing of the moment was just so right on the mark.
Now, the game can be alarming at first in the sense of how short it is and how few songs there are. But then you get deeper into the gameplay, and you realize the set-up is darn-near perfect. You can almost think of yourself as part of a band, and the songs are your set list. As with playing in any rock band, the songs in EBA take time to perfect; when you choose to play the songs at greater difficulties, it's like learning them all over again. Once you complete the story mode in Cruisin', you will unlock Sweatin' (and by completing Sweatin' you unlock Hard Rock, the last difficulty level), the next difficulty level. Let me tell you, it holds no punches. However, though things might get kinda crazy, EBA never gets you in a frustrated mood, and the songs never get old; it's actually quite the opposite. The more you play through a mission (song), the more fun it becomes. With each pass, you'll get better at hitting your marks, and it's a very rewarding feeling to be able to start to breeze through certain areas with relative ease.
So what's missing? Absolutely nothing. As IGN stated in their review, it's hard to be critical of a game that seems to hit all the right marks with near flawless execution. Elite Beat Agents is one of those games that plays like something you'd expect to see in a Las Vegas casino, but without the cost of having to mortgage your home in order to enjoy it. It's fast but not furious; it's funny but has touches of truly heart-warming tenderness; and by the end of your first go through the story mode, you'll likely feel like the Elite Beat Agents are real heroes or at least wish they were.
If you're 10-years old or older and own a DS, get this game. Don't think it about it like I did; you may end up having to take a loss first (oh, Children of Mana…). If you're still uncertain though, since I, of course, cannot offer a guarantee you'll actually find it as mind-bogglingly amazing as I do – go to your nearest download station and try the demo.
Okay, kids, thanks for reading, and happy gaming!
The Breakdown: 9.5 (Out of this world! – people who already own this game should get the pun .)