Elite Beat Agents: DDR goes portable

January 22, 2008

I figure I might as well start with this game, because I got my DS solely to play it. For anyone who’s not familiar with Dance Dance revolution, it’s a music game where players stand on a four-button pad and hit those buttons as they show up on the screen. They do this while listening to music (hence the ‘dance’ in the title), and generally the step patterns follow the beat or melody. It doesn’t look a bit like real dancing, but no one really cares because it’s fun. It’s also good exercise, a rarity in a video game.

Elite Beats Agents takes this basic formula, strips out the exercise and makes it handheld in a great use of the capabilities of the DS. Instead of the floor pad that DDR uses, EBA has numbered circles and lines that appear on the bottom screen, which have to be touched with the stylus at the right times. Circles will close in on the numbers to let you know when to hit each spot. There are four levels of difficulty and 19 song total, which should keep you busy for a little while. And as any DDR fan can tell you, this type of game has a lot of replayability.

Sound

Being a game where the entire play revolves around music, this is a pretty crucial area, and EBA doesn’t disappoint with mp3 quality. One nice change from DDR is that the NA version has songs that are familiar to its audience, and a nice variety at that. There’s everything from recent hits such as Avril Lavigne and Destiny’s Child, to older groups like the Jackson Five and the Village people. Yes, that old classic YMCA is in there. The quality also does the songs justice in what is probably the best sound I’ve ever heard coming from a handheld. It sounds a little synthetic with headphones–I suspect that’s a hardware issue–but it’s worth putting up with to be able to hear all the nuances that can’t be easily made out with the speakers. (I did, however, discover that the headphone jack is in a bit of a weird position when holding the stylus in your right hand)

It also bears mentioning that all of the music in this game is covered by other artists, which makes the sounds quality even more impressive. Most of the recordings are almost indistinguishable from the originals (Indeed, I didn’t even realise this until reading the end credits), and the rest are still damn good. Overall, and excellent job was done here.

Graphics

In short, good enough. Most of the images in the game are stills, but they’re used quite well for storytelling. The style is cartoony enough to match the theme of the game, but good quality, and there is still an illusion of motion, so overall it works quite well.

The bottom screen also makes use of the 3D capabilities of the DS. While you’re playing, there will be three agents in the background dancing. The quality is about as good as can be expected, given the size of the screen and that they’re not pre-rendered. The dance moves match quite well to whatever you’re doing on the screen, assuming you’re able to pay attention while playing. Overall, the graphics are as good as they need to be, not the flashiest but nothing to quibble about either.

Story

There’s a story? Yes! 18 of them, actually (I’m counting the last two episodes as one story, since they go together). The basic idea is the the Elite Beat Agents through some mechanism that will be from now on referred to as ‘magic’ can aid people in trouble by dancing. The better they dance, the more help the can give. Each song has its own story, and there will be periodic cutscenes on the top screen that turn out either good or bad depending on where you currently are on the meter at the top of the bottom screen. Gameplay stops for these sections, so you can actually pay attention. If you finish a song, there will be a happy ending, but there are two endings (and in one case, three) for each episode, with the better one playing if you get a happy result at each cutscene.

The episodes themselves run everywhere from almost sane (football player using his moves while babysitting–yeah, that works) to completely whacked (retired baseball player using his skills to defeat a giant lava elemental at a theme park), with episode 12 being quite touching.

There’s also multiplayer functionality–up to four players can play using one cart (only five songs are avaliable though–if everyone has a cart then they’re all avaliable), and you can also save game replays to test yourself against later, or trade with friends, essentially adding a one-player multiplayer. Since in these cases there’s a competitive element, different stories are added, possibly even crazier than in the main game.

There isn’t much of an overarching story, but it’s still fun as hell. A number of the songs are also well matched to the stories, although some have no relation that I can determine.

Gayness

Alright, so it’s not a usual point that gets talked about, but when you have three men in suits dancing to pop music…well, you get the idea. The first level isn’t too bad, with Agent Spin, since the dance moves are very simple at this point. The second level you get Agent J, and more complicated moves, so the gay factor goes up a little bit. The third level you get Agent Chieftain (a big guy with long hair and a cowboy hat), and while the moves are more complicated than before, he’s macho enough that I don’t think it’s possible for him to look gay. Then, on the forth level, you get the Elite Beat Divas, three girls in red leather chaps wielding pompoms. They look a little…actually, I won’t go there, but obviously the gay factor goes way down here.

Once you finish the forth level though, you unlock Khan mode, which is basically a alternate version of the forth level where the blond chick gets replaced by Commander Khan himself. And he does the same dance moves as the girls (only, without the pompoms).

And that is absolutely the gayest thing I’ve ever seen in a video game. Not that it detracts from the fun, but, well…it’s hard not to snicker at that point.

Overall, it’s a pretty fun game. The song choice is broad enough to appeal to most players, the difficulty ramps up nicely, it makes excellent use of the touch screen, and even after you’ve finished you can go back and try for higher scores to attain the highest possible rank. I recommend it to just about anyone.

———————-

System tip: I got a DS travel case for Christmas, and I absolutely adore it. It’s made by Realtek, with space for a number of games (including a few GBA carts) and a bunch of accessories, including, of all thinks, a car adapter. Yes, I can plug my DS into the cigarette lighter if the batteries run low. Very handy.

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