Let’s Get Funky
In the early 2000s, rhythm games were seeing a steady build-up in popularity. Guitar Hero hit the scene in 2005, spawning many imitators and the rise of plastic instruments that take up space in your living room. The portable side of the gaming spectrum was not immune to this rhythm gaming craze. Elite Beat Agents made its debut on US shores in late 2006, itself a spin-off of a quirky Japanese rhythm game. Although sales didn’t quite meet the expectations at the time, it continues to live on in the hearts and minds of those who experienced the power and the beat.
Releasing as part of the “Touch! Generations” line – a brand of games on the DS and Wii with the intent to appeal to a broader range of gamers – Elite Beat Agents was met with critical success. Featuring unique rhythm game mechanics one could only accomplish on the Nintendo DS touch screen, many fans (myself included) couldn’t put it down. You play along with the accompanying song by tapping and sliding notes according to the rhythm, with the difficulty level getting harder over time and depending on which team of agents you choose. Surprisingly simple, yet with enough depth that you REALLY need to learn the song backwards-and-forwards if you hope to overcome those tougher challenges.
I remember coming across this game at a store for dirt cheap: only $15 on sale. I had heard about the game being a spin-off of the original Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! game (translated pretty literally as “Yeah! Fight! Cheerleading Squad!”) in Japan, which focused on a group of male cheerleaders inspiring the common folk to overcome trials they face with spirit and guts. Seeing as how the male cheerleading culture in Japan is ubiquitous, that made cultural sense; however, how could you possibly localize a game like that for western audiences?
Surprisingly, the localization was actually pretty good! Instead of focusing on cheerleaders, Elite Beat Agent focused on a group of secret agents that would covertly sing and dance in order to encourage and inspire people who were facing trouble. Is it a quirky concept? You bet. Is it fun? Absolutely!
The wide array of song choices was certainly eclectic for its time, and has only gotten even more so over the years. Some of the songs on the list include:
- “Sk8er Boi” by Avril Lavigne
- “Y.M.C.A” by the Village People
- “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie
- “September” by Earth, Wind, and Fire
These are all, of course, cover songs of the originals, not sung by the original artists and bands. There really is no rhyme or reason behind many of the song choices, although many of them could possibly fit in thematically with some of the problems that the characters face, although very, very loosely. But it is all in good fun at the end of the day, and it introduced to me some songs I had never even heard of before. It expanded my musical tastes in a way because it did inspire me to search out musical artists that I hadn’t really paid attention to in my youth.
I think what is really interesting about this game – even with all of its quirkiness – is the wholesome nature of it all. Throughout the entirety of the game and in every story, you are responsible for helping people. You are not solving their problems, but are instead serving as a positive inspiration for them, and encouraging them through the power of song and dance.
In many ways, it is a lesson on sympathy and empathy. Each character’s story begins with a manga-styled vignette, showing you the problem they find themselves in. A babysitter trying to keep three disobedient children from tormenting her crush. A film director trying to create a blockbuster movie amidst adversity. A newscaster battling bad weather so she can have a picnic with her son. Even a mom and daughter trying to celebrate Christmas while grieving the death of the husband and father in the family.
There is an underlying humorous tone underneath many of these storylines, but always delivered with heart and a genuine emotional touch. By the end, there is a potential world-ending disaster that needs to be thwarted: an alien invasion. Everyone you have met throughout the story must come together to fight back against this threat. While not spoiling exactly what happens, I can say for certain that it delivers one of the best climactic moments I have seen in video gaming. You earn your victory and you see how you have helped these people during this time, and it just feels fantastic.
Elite Beat Agents is one of those must-play Nintendo DS games, a staple of any good DS collection. This kind of mixture of humor and heart is rarely seen in games today, much less rhythm games. While it is getting to be a bit difficult to get your hands on for a decent price, I would definitely say it is a worthwhile play on whatever difficulty level you find comfortable. Sit back and enjoy the music and story for what it is. You just might find yourself singing along and tapping your own feet to the beat.