When you think about rhythm games, you generally envision something that's set to rock or techno with a good, driving beat. Beethoven and Bach probably aren't high on the list, nor is the "William Tell Overture" or Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries." Looney Tunes: Cartoon Conductor brings out these classics and more for some stylus-waving musical action that serves up more childhood nostalgia than real challenge.
The premise is that the Tasmanian Devil has slipped his leash and gotten into the Looney Tunes vault, shredding cartoons left and right. Bugs Bunny has gathered together the cartoon crew to restore the scenes, but you're the one who has to conduct the music. The cartoons themselves run the gamut and include Wile E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner, Sylvester the cat going after Speedy Gonzales, and Marvin the Martian and Daffy Duck carrying out their elaborate schemes. A number of these are lifted directly from old Warner Bros. material, so you'll get to reenact things like Elmer Fudd in a Viking helmet swinging a spear around singing "Kill da wabbit!" and Daffy's brief stint as Robin Hood. The gang's all here, and they'll issue a number of voice clips as you move around the game's menus, though the stages themselves are usually all about the music and a few sound effects.
If you're familiar at all with Elite Beat Agents (or even its Japanese progenitor, Ouendan), you'll find that the gameplay here is almost identical. While the animated sequences play out on the top screen, you'll be watching the bottom screen for numbered circles that you need to hit with the stylus at the right time. However, instead of tapping single circles in sequence, most of the time you'll be dragging the stylus around the screen in a way that's probably meant to evoke conducting an orchestra. Certain sections of a song will trigger a "tap note" sequence, where notes will fall from the top of the screen and you'll have to strike them when they're centered in a frame at the bottom of the screen.
The focus on conducting and dragging the stylus around is what sets this game apart, and it works better in some songs than others. Since much of the time you're dragging along the screen instead of tapping to the beat, you lose some of the rhythmic feel that music-based games tend to excel at, and the stylus motions seem imprecise. When learning new stages you can often rely on some degree of scribbling the stylus around, which divorces you from the music in a way that's distracting. It also makes the game light on difficulty, though by the time you move up the ranks from apprentice, to conductor, to maestro, to Looney, you'll have to work a little more. Depending on how accurately you strike your marks, you're awarded an orange, silver, or golden carrot, and your points at the end determine your ranking. A C rating or higher will open up new cartoons for you to tackle.
There are 18 stages per difficulty level, with 12 normal stages and six "remix" stages. The remix stages are a repeat of the earlier songs and cartoons, but with an added techno backbeat. Even though the remixes fall at the very end (you have to unlock them by playing through the normal songs), they're often easier than previous music since you have a solid beat to work with. While Bugs gives you a short grounding in the story during the tutorial stage, playing through the cartoons carries no sense of progression or buildup, nor is there any real ending since completing your last song takes you straight to the credits. You'll unlock some extras as you go, mainly character bios of the Looney Tunes cast and access to their voice clips, but liking the Looney Tunes a whole lot will still be the main reason for you to keep playing.
The character models are built out in 3D, which looks a little rough and blocky around the edges. Despite that, the characters are molded and animated perfectly for each classic toon, from Tweety's frantic fluttering to Bugs' studied nonchalance. Backgrounds have a smooth, cel-painted look to them that accentuates the scenes with color and visual interest. The music is solid for many songs, but the DS speakers were not meant to issue forth orchestral symphonies. Some of the majesty is lost when there's a tinny edge to something as rousing as Gustav Holst's "Mars, the Bringer of War." The remix versions sound silly but catchy, and they're perfectly suited to a game starring cartoon characters.
Looney Tunes: Cartoon Conductor seems like it's best suited for the younger set, but if you love Bugs Bunny and don't mind a lower level of difficulty, this is a decent handheld music game that can be enjoyed by anyone. If nothing else, it's a different experience if you've never before cursed Georg Philipp Telemann for his "Concerto for 2 Horns."