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Elite Beat Agents is a system lover's dream. A perfect match for the DS's input and form factor. This is how I want to play a portable game.
The Nintendo DS is not a console I spend hours at a time holding. It has its fair share of deep and engaging adventures such as the Legend of Zelda or Pokemon that, I understand, can enthral but that's not why I own one.
I treat my DS as I would treat a book or magazine; a here-and-there gaming machine that gets merely a few page-turns when I can fit it in. At the bus-stop, in bed, or even the Throne Room are all places that the DS performs best.
This specific understanding of the hardware calls for an equally specific game. Elite Beat Agents is that game. It knows how restless I am for a quick gaming fix and crams as much hyperactive fun into four minutes as many games fit into hours.
A rhythm action game developed by iNiS, the team behind underground and hard-as-nails Gitaroo Man (PS2) and Lips (360), Elite Beat Agents is as innovative as the DS itself. You control three enthusiastically charged, microphone wielding, stylishly coiffured divas stuffed into Men in Black suits complete with shades -- the Agents. They are super-heroes of sorts, jumping into action wherever there is a problem that can only be solved with song and dance.
The Agents appear only in the direst situations, providing hope and courage with their grooves and sweet boogie moves. How you follow the choreography on the bottom screen affects a crazy crisis playing out up top, and these components make EBA an irresistible handheld game.
Of course, this rhythm game is built on simple manoeuvres; using the DS stylus you have to tap, drag, and quickly spin objects in time to the music. The melody isn't your only guide, though. Timing circles close in around each marker, giving valuable visual cues of when to make contact. The touch screen adds another element to the gameplay, because you must remember the layout of the targets. They appear in a natural stream across the panel, physically pulling you through the song. It's much more dynamic than just pushing buttons in time.
I treat my DS as I would treat a book or magazine.
A mark of a great DS game is one that completely disregards the console's face buttons in favour of the touch screen technology. Elite Beat Agents is stylus controlled all the way (unless you need to pause). Good application of the touch screen is, after all, the reason I bought the thing in the first place.
The songs are presented in batches and there's always a choice of what to tackle next, but it's the mixture of styles that keep you out of a rut. The nineteen tunes carry through loud and clear on the DS speakers. Even though they're all sound-alike covers, the quality is such that it's hard to distinguish from the original.
The tunes share billing with a variety of wacky stories that play out on the upper screen. What with the game's trio of booty-shaking secret agents, reality falls by the wayside, and these vignettes are designed to be as humorously outrageous as possible.
Adventures range from foiling a casino heist, to battling a fire-breathing golem, to staving off a horde of smooching zombies. Even a relatively mundane scenario, like helping a spoiled pair of socialites survive a desert island (set to Madonna's Material Girl, no less), is energized by the presentation.
The comic book-style panels set a playful attitude, featuring simple animation, vibrant colours, thought bubbles, and even onomatopoeia floating in the background. It's not all just for laughs, though. There's an especially touching Christmas episode about a little girl who misses her deceased father.
Although many disparage the poor online and multiplayer support, the Nintendo DS is a very social handheld. iNiS, like any developer worth its salt, has taken advantage of the DS's ability to share the love without denting your friend's pockets: download play.
Up to four friends can play in battle or co-operative modes and only one of you needs to own an Elite Beat Agents cartridge. Admittedly only a small selection of songs and modes are available playing this way but this aspect of sharing does nothing to decrease the intimacy of the console and, kudos to iNiS and Nintendo, free multiplayer is a great way to advertise.
Just as it should be for a console designed for play on the toilet.
But alone or with a group, this demanding, multi-faceted rhythm challenge and its off-the-wall humour make Elite Beat Agents one hard rockin' game that sits perfectly at home on the Nintendo DS.
This is rhythm action in its purest and most accessible. Unlike music games on home consoles, Elite Beat Agents on the DS requires no setting up of instruments, no excessive load times, no character creation or any other time wasting fluff.
Your maximum wait from inserting the cartridge to playing your first song is no more than one minute; just as it should be for a console that is designed for play while sitting at bus-stops or even on the toilet.
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