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After the popular reception of Ouenden in Japan, iNiS brought Elite Beat Agents to a western audience in 2007. This was the first confident rhythm action game on the DS that managed to combine the console's unusual tapping controls and music.
Rhythm action games combine the enjoyment that comes from creating music with the challenge of video game scoring. The player is usually tasked with dancing on a mat, tapping a touch screen, pressing a button, singing into a mic or strumming a fake guitar controller in time with the music.
Elite Beat Agents is one of just a handful of rhythm action games on the DS. It has the unique feature of adding cartoon stories to each song that then unfold depending on your performance. Do well and you get the happy ending, do less well and things don't work out so well.
To play along, and progress these stories, you have to tap circles on the DS's touch screen that appear in time with the music. Some songs have you tapping along with the vocals, others to the guitar. Harder levels get you to tap out more awkward or off beat rhythms, such as a calypso or jazz component.
Unlike some rhythm action games (Guitar Hero and Rockband for example) the music itself is not affected by your performance. When you miss a note, your character falls over, but the music itself carries on.
The stories, comic book art style and range of popular songs combine to create a polished experience. Early levels take a bit of getting used to, but once you tackle harder songs you really feel like you are playing along with the music. For those of us who don't play an instrument this is a rare and valuable time.
Elite Beat Agent's song length levels (three or four minutes) mean that it can be played in those odd free moments in the day. When you do have longer though, it can also provide a more ongoing experience as you hone your performance on a particular song to get a perfect grade.
The timing required by Elite Beat Agents makes it prohibitive for very young players. That said, provided you have a reasonably musical ear this is enjoyable regardless of your gaming experience. Some of the stories that accompany the songs include relatively grown up themes, ranging from the absence of a father, to scantily clad cheer leaders, to escaping from jail.
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